After Alex Behan’s essay chronicling his attempts to change the long-running historic mispronunciation of Radio Hauraki went viral on Thursday, a news report on Te Kaea yesterday indicates change is coming soon.
On Thursday morning, 15 minutes after finishing what should have been his second-to-last shift on the station, we hit publish on Radio Hauraki DJ Alex Behan’s description of his attempts to get Howraki to pronounce its name correctly.
It immediately took off, being read 20,000 times, with 137 shares. The vast majority of the reaction was of applause for Behan for calling attention to it, and disappointment with station management for allowing such a situation to persist for so long. It also lead to Behan being told not to complete his final shift, and being locked out of his email account, and thus unable to prove his assertion that he had emailed management asking to change pronunciation on a number of occasions.
I received a number of phone calls throughout the following days, from current and former DJs assuring me they had never been given advice on how to pronounce the name (for what it’s worth, I believe them), from senior management disputing Behan’s version of events, and one suggestion from an NZME source that a statement essentially claiming it had all been made up was imminent. (That statement never came, though one was provided to Stuff after they picked up the story).
The Spinoff also heard privately from an extremely prominent New Zealand musician that they had been told to turn a Hoeraki into a Howraki during a pre-recorded interview, and from another NZME staffer confirming that the directive existed, but was never written down. It was all pretty confusing – as if the station was at war with itself, or at the very least on-air and operational staff were deeply uncomfortable with a kind of don’t-ask-don’t-tell-style management directive.
Yesterday Māori Television current affairs show Te Kaea led with the fallout from the story, and featured a prominent interview with both Behan himself, and Dean Buchanan, group director of entertainment at NZME.
“Look, no one on NZME’s been instructed to mispronounce words in any language,” Buchanan told Te Kaea‘s Talisa Kupenga. “It’s ridiculous.”
It’s a pretty unambiguous statement. It’s hard to read it as anything but a complete refutation of everything Behan wrote. It also suggests that everyone on Radio Hauraki has been able to continue to mispronounce the name the same way for 50 years with no resistance.
Logic suggests that while many hosts might do it unconsciously – and to be fair to them, this story was hiding in plain sight, not having occurred to many Pākehā, myself included – surely some had raised it. Behan, impassioned enough to write the piece in the first place, and to personally request it be posted the day prior to his leaving (so that he could face the consequences) seems a pretty obvious candidate.
Either way, having had the issue raised, the classic modern PR response would be to own it, wear it and quickly change. The pronunciation was culturally and socially acceptable in the far less tolerant and open-minded New Zealand of 1966, but over the intervening years became less and less so. To pretend it’s OK in 2016 is not a sustainable position. And, based on what Buchanan said immediately afterwards, evolution is coming and will be swift.
“We think it’s time that Howraki does change, and it will,” Buchanan told Te Kaea. “And that’s something we’ll working on in the coming weeks.”
It doesn’t seem like a change which should require weeks to engineer. But equally, it’s great to hear that the name will not change, but its pronunication will. Because Radio Hauraki is one of the most interesting and progressive radio brands in our nation’s history. The first to be privately owned, a true piratical renegade, a pioneer of punk and recently commandeered by a generation of outsiders from the likes of Back of the Y and Moon TV who have brought a blast of compelling strangeness to commercial airwaves which can feel intensely micro-managed.
So while the way it was handled was odd and at times unpleasant, the outcome (when it comes) will be a great one. That shitty old monocultural New Zealand is on its way out, and Hauraki, both in past and in present, doesn’t feel like the kind of institution which should provide it safe harbour.