Sullivan marks 50 years of 'voices in the air'

New Zealand radio has remained unchanged in the 50 years veteran Dunedin broadcaster Jim Sullivan has been on air.

''Radio hasn't changed at all since I started. What's changed is technology. Radio, to me, is made up of voices and voices haven't changed in 50 years,'' he said yesterday.

''Once I push that button and the red light comes on, the next 10 seconds is going to make or break you. Even after 50 years, you still have to get it right. Those old-time pips wait for no-one.

''I always loved the live part of it. Broadcasting gets in your blood. There's a bit of the ham actor in the game. You can't do it and be completely retiring and shy. You have to have a bit of hoopla,'' the 66-year-old said.

''You get the chance to perform and deal with things you're interested in. It's a privilege to have some people tell you their story and you're just filled with respect for them.''

The popular broadcaster marked 50 years on air this week.

''I wouldn't say I feel pride - that's not the right word - but there is satisfaction spending 50 years doing something you like,'' he said.

Mr Sullivan started on air on January 14, 1963, at 3ZC in his home town of Timaru.

''I was keen to be a journalist and was on my way to the Timaru Herald for a job, but there was a radio station next door, so I thought I'd pop in to see if they were taking on any cadets. My only qualification was I liked The Goon Show,'' he recalled.

''Local radio stations in those days were a type of mini National Radio. You did everything, from working in the accounts department and archives to doing breakfast, writing current affairs and being a disc jockey.

''In the old days, you also did television and radio. Television was interesting, but there's just something about radio.

''I was never really that interested in music. There's more to radio than gramophone records. It's about ideas and voices in the air. That's what fascinated me; voices in the air. Radio is a word game.

''It's the historical aspect that's kept me interested. I've always been interested in history. [Late 19th-early 20th century premier] Richard Seddon seems much more interesting to me than [present prime minister] John Key.''

Mr Sullivan later worked in Palmerston North, Christchurch, Wellington and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, before moving to Dunedin to host the 4ZB breakfast show, alternately, with Colin Lehmann.

''If anyone famous came to town, you rushed out to the airport and interviewed them,'' he recalled.

However, 50 years in the public arena brought both bouquets and brickbats, he said. Late New Zealand prime minister Sir Rob Muldoon once accused Mr Sullivan of ''not doing his homework'' before an interview.

The broadcaster later had the last laugh when the Alexander Turnbull Library commissioned him to produce the official history on Muldoon.

Mr Sullivan is also a prolific author and has written more than 30 books and commissioned company histories.

And he knows what he would be doing if not for radio.

''I'd probably have your job,'' he says, with a smile.

Mr Sullivan can be heard every Sunday from 8pm-10pm on the Sounds Historical programme on Radio New Zealand National.

nigel.benson@odt.co.nz

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