Eighteen hours of talkback, bearded dragons and scurryfunge. Alex Casey and Toby Manhire listened to the surreal launch day of Today FM, New Zealand’s newest talk radio station.
New Zealand’s newest news and talk station launched yesterday after a few controversial months involving legal battles, dramatic billboards and Polly Gillespie announcing she had Covid-19 through the media before she even told her bosses. Replacing Magic Talk, Today’s aim is to reflect those “who are sick of the same old names talking about the same old news”. So which new names are we hearing from? And what new news are they bringing us? And what the hell does Paul Henry have to do with it? We listened to (most of) Today FM’s launch day to find out.
The top line: it was really good. There were a few technical “wrinkles”, as 5am host Rachel Smalley put it, but those go with the launch-day territory. The bar was set high with Tova O’Brien’s show (her debut panel chat featured no less than Helen Clark and John Key), and it crackled along all day with an energetic mix of news, wit and perplexing talkback callers named John, James and Jason. The task of taking on the Newstalk ZB behemoth is daunting, but the first day augurs well. Here’s everything else that you might have missed.
There were a lot of tongue twisters
It’s Tova. On Rova. Sponsored by Novus. On Today. Today. “Join us for today on Today today” said Tova, leaning into the absurdity. “Today, today, today.” Later, we had Wilhelmina Shrimpton getting to the core of The Core, a podcast that gets to the core of the issues at the core of the country. The first episode will get to the core of the city’s core, the CBD. It was set to air on Today FM, later today. On Today. On Rova. With Tova. Sponsored by Novus. / Alex Casey
Winston Peters hung up on Tova O’Brien
Shortly before 7am, at the tail end of an interview with former deputy prime minister Winston Peters, Tova O’Brien said this: “You’ve told my producer you don’t want to talk about Tauranga and whether you’ll stand in the byelection. Is that because you haven’t decided yet whether you want to stand?”
Peters: “Look, you have a lovely day.”
“Mr Peters, are you going to stand in the Tauranga byelection?” After a pause: “Beep beep beep,” said O’Brien. “I’m taking that silence as Winston Peters hanging up on me.” / Toby Manhire
This is a screen shot of the producer assuring me no questions would be asked by @TovaOBrien about the Tauranga by-election. Any wonder why kiwis don’t trust media when they blatantly lie and throw their principles under the bus for a cheap shot. https://t.co/Y6GSGrpu5S pic.twitter.com/RlKkDEvPWT
— Winston Peters (@winstonpeters) March 20, 2022
Someone stole Tova’s Winston time
It wouldn’t be day one without a hot-mic moment, and Tova O’Brien provided it when she left her microphone on during an ad break at around 6.45am, in the lead-up to the interview with the NZ First leader. O’Brien could be heard to say, enigmatically: “She took up my Winston Peters time. She stole my Winston time.” Fittingly, the ad playing was for the Supergold Card. / TM
Tova O’Brien and Mark Dye had a debate
In the first “debate club”, the pair argued for and against the moot “it’s time to bring back carless days”. Adjudicated by Carly Flynn, who determined the order “Mark, then Tova” (to which Mark exclaimed “I’m the new Jessica!”) the hosts went head to head with high school aplomb. Think of the children, said Mark. Carless days were scrapped because they sucked, retorted Tova. “So what you are saying is death to children,” said Mark, whom Carly Flynn then declared the winner. / AC
Tova O’Brien is sleeping on the floor
Supply chain delays mean that the host of Tova, Tova, doesn’t yet have a bed and has been sleeping on a mattress on the floor, as if in a “London squat scene”, since moving to Auckland in January. Sidekick Mark Dye said he had experienced difficulty getting tinned pineapples. Newsreader Carly Flynn revealed she gets her toilet paper and toothpaste via a subscription service. / TM
Paul Henry lurks over Today like The Wizard of Oz
As the official “voice” of the station, Henry popped up during most ad breaks to enforce the vision of the station (“information to make your smarter”). The notorious nudist is also on the hunt for the “100 greatest Kiwis to ever walk the planet” for a Resene competition, presented by “arguably someone who should be on that list… me”. / AC
There was a ‘China Girl’ parody song
Inexplicably, the breakfast show rounded out with a parody of the David Bowie song ‘China Girl’, as if sung by Simon Bridges, the purpose of which appeared to be to mock the departing MP’s accent. (“I loik Eye-talian food when I’m with moi Choina Girl,” etc.) Tova O’Brien laughed but she sounded as though she was in a great deal of pain. / TM
None of the music was from the past decade
The launch tune was Netherworld Dancing Toys’ 1985 banger ‘For Today’. Tova blasted David Guetta’s ‘Titanium’ ft. Sia, laughing loudly that the studio felt like a nightclub. Her co-host Mark Dye said it’s perfectly normal breakfast fodder when you work at The Edge. Other hits included Usher’s ‘Yeah’ (Garner), Run DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’ (Leah & Mark) and American Authors’ ‘Best Day of My Life’ (Lloyd Burr). “Whoever is DJing today, you are doing a fantastic job,” said Burr, as ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ by The National faded out. ‘It’s a smorgasbord,” said his co-host Wilhelmina Shrimpton. “I might have to scurryfunge the playlist.” Scurryfunge, by the way, was Burr’s word of the day and I shall never forget its meaning – to rush around cleaning – for as long as I live. / AC
Duncan Garner apologised
The nine-to-noon host began his new broadcasting gig “after nine months in the wilderness” by revisiting his mysterious and sudden departure from The AM Show on Three. “I wish it had ended differently. I very much regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye on-air. I think it’s simply bad manners to be honest,” he said. “It was out of my hands. I do apologise and thank you for the support you’ve shown me.” Garner also talked about having had Covid, delta edition, saying, “I’ve had worse hangovers and all sorts of things”. / TM
Duncan Garner revealed his talkback origins
When he was 15 years old, Garner called up newsreader Angela D’Audney and told her that his name was Dean. He did not say why he called, or what they talked about. / AC
He talked about karma a lot
“My religion is karma,” announced Garner. “I’ve always tried to be, in my private dealings, nice to people, generous to people with time or effort. Even people like Ryan Bridge who is now on the AM Show. I met him and helped him through when he was an 18-year-old – he will tell you this – because I believe in people, I believe in good people. So that’s my religion, karma. I believe I get good stuff back because I give of myself.” / TM
Before asking a lot of questions
Some of them were to Grant Robertson, some of them were to Mike King, but most of them were to himself. He even had a gameshow style sting made for all the questions. “GARNER TODAY QUESTION” yelled a robot voice “Are we at this stage of this pandemic now where we are confident enough to say that the worst is behind us and we can see the home straight?” asked Garner. “ANSWER” yelled the robot voice. “No,” Garner replied to himself, explaining that half the people predicted to get omicron haven’t got it yet. The question/answer sting went on long enough that I genuinely wondered if Garner thought he was playing The Chase against himself. / AC
Leah & Mark launched their comedy double act
If you are mourning the loss of the comedy festival this year, I highly recommend tuning into Today FM from 12-4pm with Leah Panapa and Mark Richardson. Within five minutes of their afternoon show beginning, it was clear that we were dealing with an iconic broadcasting duo for the ages. Billed as “two people with honest opinions”, their agenda for the show included bearded dragons, bumfluff and swingers. Mark did a monologue about his lawn, and the benefits of tall fescue vs fine fescue. “My lawn is my soul,” he said. “You want to roll in it and do lawn angels, romp naked in the grass.”
“Normally I would have poo-pooed your prittle-prattle,” replied Leah. “But a lawn is a great thing.” / AC
Mark Richardson had some thoughts on literature
There was a lot of discussion about literacy, and Mark Richardson had plenty to say for someone who admitted to only reading five books in his 50 years. “I did actually try to read a book with my daughter and it was about this girl band going on tour with a successful boy band, but it was just a load of PC dribble,” he reviewed. He also doesn’t think reading is “black and white”, he thinks university is a “waste of time” and he’s sick of reading articles by journalists that “use words I don’t understand”. Will henceforth be less loquacious and not mention scurryfunge. / AC
Lloyd Burr is obsessed with feijoas
“I’m obsessed with feijoas,” said Lloyd Burr. “Really big ones on Ponsonby Road.” / TM
There was a lot of cash to give away
Every single day, Tova O’Brien is giving away $5000, which seems excessive given she was also complaining about the price of toilet paper moments later. The very first instalment of The $5000 Question saw a man named Grant attempt to answer one question in under 10 seconds – who was the speaker of the New Zealand house of representatives before Trevor Mallard? He guessed David Carter, and came away with the cash. “It was a good move ditching Hosking this morning wasn’t it?” he laughed. Later, Lloyd Burr unsuccessfully tried to give away a $50 Hell Pizza voucher. / AC
Polly Gillespie recapped her Covid-19 experience…
“I have had the Covid” is a compelling way to open your show, and our Pol knows it. “Honestly, it has been like a Shortland Street cliffhanger… Just another one of those potty crazy Polly Gillespie stories.” Despite being extremely careful, to the point where she claims to have sprayed her whole body (and all her pets) with hand sanitiser, Polly tested positive a week ago. It’s not all bad news though – Polly says Covid has made her better at Wordle.
“I cant smell or taste a thing so I hope I don’t smell too bad… I just hope I don’t fall asleep mid show.” To prepare to go on air, Polly said she approached it like she “was burning down Atlanta”. Her rider on the Today FM credit card? Water, vitamins, inhalers, electrolytes, Ventilan, Pulmicort, Coke Zero, Diflam, Dimetapp, Panadol, Vics, and Ibuprofen. She said multiple times she was on a “Maxigesic high” and deeply concerned about “hair drop” – an unverified post-Covid balding symptom that her friend Janny told her about. / AC
… And then recapped absolutely everything else
With all the gusto of a daily vlogger, Polly took to reliving her day for the audience in granular detail. She woke up at 5am and texted Tova. She wished her friend a happy birthday two days early and sang her a 50 Cent cover (two days early). Then things took a sharp turn. “By midday I had somehow – now this is weird – convinced myself that Prince Charles had died,” she said, explaining that she then texted her daughter about the tragic death that didn’t happen.
“If you’ve just tuned in, Prince Charles is not dead.”
Polly then painted a psychedelic picture of daily life in her hotel apartment. First, she broke the industrial toilet paper dispenser. Then, she couldn’t figure out how to turn the TV on without the one in the other room turning on. She gave up, and watched Catfish on her phone “to avoid Putin and the war”. Then she had a little cry, then she ate a “late lunch” of half a block of Almond Gold Whittaker’s chocolate, despite not liking “the whole sweet nut thing”.
“I’m a woman who likes her nuts salty,” she elaborated. “I like my nuts in a savoury situation. I don’t like nuts and chocolate and I don’t like chocolate and nuts.” Just three hours on air to go. / AC