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MediaFebruary 24, 2021

I listened to Magic Talk for 12 hours straight and I think my brain melted


It’s been controversy upon controversy for the talkback station in recent weeks, so Alex Casey embarked on a Magic Talk marathon to find out what the hell is going on.

It has just gone past 6am on a Friday morning. My eyelids are firmly welded shut, the sparrows have barely begun farting, and yet we’ve already got our first encounter with a conspiracy theory on The AM Show. Granted, Mark Richardson doesn’t believe that the moon landing was faked any more, but he did have his suspicions about the rippling American flag once upon a time. 

“I think you do get an afternoon sea breeze,” says Mark. 

“What, on the moon?” asks Ryan Bridge. 

“Yeah,” says Mark.  

In the event that you too have been busy surfing on the moon for the last few years, Magic Talk is a radio station rich in controversy far greater than the hoax moon landing. In recent weeks, the station has barely left the headlines, and, perhaps most disappointingly of all, has never delivered on the promise of actual magic. Or has it? As Michael Caine once taught us, sometimes you simply have to look closer. Every great Magic trick consists of three acts. 

The first was John Banks wowing the crowd with how one deplorable racist exchange can turn advertiser dollars into dust. The second was showstopper Sean Plunket silently falling into a trapdoor in the floor. And the third, of course, was Peter Williams muttering the word “reset” enough times last week that he made Grant Robertson vanish into thin air. Dynamo could never, Cosentino is quaking etc. 

It is in the midst of this gritty pitch for Now You See Me 3 that I’ve decided to tune in and find out what the hell is actually going on out there on the Magic Talk airwaves for a full day. “She might get there, she might not,” says Ryan, reaching through my headphones and jolting me out of my early morning slumber. It takes a minute to realise that he isn’t talking about me doing this stupid task at all, but the Perseverance rover heading to Mars. 

“I think Mars is what they call a ‘wet planet’,” says Amanda Gillies. “What that means, I’m not sure.” Whatever a wet planet is, Mark seems to want Serena Williams to jump straight into a Space X wah-mbulance and take up residency there for crying in an interview. Save the tears for the changing room, he reckons, insisting he’s not being a “sexist, racist old white guy” in his critique. “If Kieran Read did the same thing, I’d be annoyed too,” he barks.

What else is news today? Well, a survey has found that 20% of people love their pet more than their partner. “Who was in your bed last night?” asks Amanda. “Fanny was in the bed last night,” says Ryan. “My beagle, I should say.” The AM Show! It’s not even eight o’clock yet and the Three/Magic Talk simulcast is on fire with raunch! Just a few minutes later during some vax chat we get more smut: why is the jab in the arm and not in the bottom? 

Turns out it’s because bums have too much fat on them and they need more muscle to work. “There’s too much fat on my bum,” quips Amanda. People, this is not a drill. We’re talking “fanny” AND “bum” within 10 minutes of each other! I’m giddy. I’m now chuckling alone, propped up with pillows like I’m dying. But I’ve never felt more alive. Maybe this could just be my new life? Laughy laughy with my good friends who live in my ears?

Unfortunately, I fall asleep again. The next time I come to, it is five minutes to eight. “We’ll be back soon to continue celebrations for the Wellington cable car’s birthday”. What did I miss?! Continue celebrations? Did the cable car already jump out of a cake in a string bikini? Turns out the CC has made it to the ripe age of 119 and I couldn’t be happier for it. But before we get too carried away with festivities, there’s still plenty more news to chew through. 

Jacinta Gulasekharam from period equity group Dignity gives a great interview about free period products in schools. Ryan asks whether it would be a good idea to provide free menstrual cups for every student and Jacinta explains that it should be all about choice and offering a diverse range of products based on comfort. I am distracted thinking about the time I got a moon cup stuck so high that I had to essentially lie on the bathroom floor and give birth to it. 

Not everyone is stoked with free period products in schools. “When oh when is it going to end?” writes in listener Brian, who is steamed about the use of his taxpayer money to help people with periods have access to the same education as people who don’t. Mark is not having a bar of Brian, decreeing that the decision is a good spend. “We want to spend the money to be the best we can be and to-” he stops himself, “-I nearly said Make New Zealand Great.” 

The final hour is an epic run with Melissa Chan-Green and Dr Renee Liang talking about the vaccine rollout and concerns around misinformation, Edward Cowley aka Buckwheat the drag queen on Staircase bar, and some very important skincare advice. Don’t use hot water on your face, advises Ryan, or you’ll end up looking like Mark. The whole gang laughs past 9am with McDonald’s on the horizon – Sailor’s Double Beef Burger for Mark, Spicy Chicken for Amanda. 

I am yet to find out just how much I’d miss them. 

Just like that, it’s time for Magic Mornings with Peter Williams. It doesn’t take long for Peter to bring up The Great Reset, the conspiracy theory he first raised with Grant Robertson the day before. Robertson’s press secretary has since informed Magic Talk he won’t be returning to the show, as shutting down conspiracy theories is “not really a constructive use of [Robertson’s time]”. Peter isn’t letting it go that easy.

“So that’s that – a couple of questions about The Great Reset and the minister throws his toys out of the cot,” he says. “What exactly is his problem? It’s not as if The Great Reset doesn’t exist. There are websites, videos and a book written about it. It’s not a conspiracy theory.” Except for the fact that it very much seems like it is. Peter concludes that Robertson should stop using the word “reset” entirely, if it has people all over the world “highly suspicious”.

Look, he makes an interesting argument, but he’s only really seeing the tip of the iceberg. “Reset” is also an anagram of “trees”, which I personally find highly suspicious because trees make paper and isn’t paper what makes money??… And with Grant Robertson as the minister of finance, doesn’t that just seem a bit… off… to you?? I don’t know, I’ve just seen him near quite a few trees on his Instagram and I just think it’s quite an interesting coincidence???

Grant Robertson trees meme Alex Casey

“Oh well,” says Peter. “The sun came up this morning, I’m playing golf this afternoon, and it’s Saturday tomorrow.” Que sera. The next big topic of the day is Facebook banning news in Australia, which is a chance for Peter to reveal his own news habits. “I open the New Zealand Herald, or I give myself a good spray of wokeness deodorant and open up Stuff.” As for Facebook, he’s only used it to make three posts this year – two on cricket and one on “Nancy Pelosi stupidity”.

The calls start coming in thick and fast. Conspiracies and wokeness will do that. Andrew from Rotorua recommends a Great Reset video in which a YouTuber with a very long beard talks about having to borrow a dummy for your baby from the government by 2030. Leslie says that Grant Robertson is being “a bit of a chicken”. Peter agrees. “It’s really… weird,” he muses. “It’s all very strange, Leslie.” 

Another listener warns that he should watch he doesn’t join Banks or Plunket. Peter laughs with a slight edge. “I don’t know what went on there behind the scenes,” he says, extremely not laughing any more. “I don’t want to comment on that any further and I will not be.” Strange, bemusing, interesting, suspicious – one mention of Banks and Plunket and he throws his toys out of the cot? All coincidentally wearing glasses? Very weird, Leslie. 

When I took on the task of a Magic Talk listening marathon, I naively didn’t realise just how much talking back there would be. “There’re so many articles about this agenda and the big reset and the same with the vaccines,” says Duncan from Kāpiti, before admitting that he’s “quite a conspiracy theorist” himself. It’s only when he starts to muse that the vaccine could be, and I quote, “poison”, that Peter steps in. 

Hmm. Associate Professor Byram Bridle from the University of Guelph in Canada had just been on for 20 minutes to talk about the vaccine, but never mentioned poison once. What is he hiding

It’s after 10 o’clock now and Peter is still muttering about his suspicions around Grant Robertson using the phrase “ready for the reset”. It’s after 10.30 now and Peter is talking about how Grant Robertson should be ashamed of pandering to cancel culture. Admittedly, around 11 o’clock I have to take a break to go to a meeting.

Weirdly, nobody in the meeting talks about the Great Reset or Agenda 2030 or the vaccine being poison. Interesting. I also find it bemusing and weird that you can’t spell “meeting” without “tegmen”, which is of course the roof of the ear, and don’t you find it strange that the very part of the body I have been using to listen to Magic Mornings? Just asking the question. 

The Magic Afternoons website, nee Sean Plunket, is a bit of a graveyard. I wasn’t even sure who was going to be hosting when I popped my headphones in on the train home from my meeting. Today, it’s Leah Panapa. The sun is out, it’s Saturday tomorrow and we are talking all about how to solve gang violence. These are not the gangs of old, says Leah, these are gangs with “fantastic bikes and flash cars” and not the “manky” ones down the pub from 30 years ago. 

The texts are rolling in like a swarm of fantastic gangster bikes in 1991. “NZ is a gangster’s paradise,” says Enzo, the police are “bloody pathetic”, says Carol. Graham thinks they should build a gang-specific prison on the Desert Road. “Once they are out, they can walk across the road, spend some time in the army,” he reckons. A man whose name I missed suggests moving them all onto an island with a gun and creating a kind of Survivor situation. 

“Just a random Friday thought,” he chuckles. 

In keeping with this hilarious and random collection of TGIF Magic Moments, Wellington is experiencing the worst rate of crime in over 20 years. A hospitality stalwart tells Leah about the “violent and feral” situations his staff frequently find themselves in. The vivid descriptions continue as Leah recalls going into central Auckland and seeing a woman who “had eyes rolling back in her head making all sorts of noises” and “hardened snot all over her face”. 

I don’t doubt either of these accounts, but parcelled up together with the rest of the gang chat, conspiracy chat and vaccine chat I’ve sat through for many hours, it’s hard not to see New Zealand as a vision of fresh hell. A Levin listener rings up to talk about the violent young thugs who assault and pillage at night. Someone in Kaikōura rings up and attempts to draw a direct line between crime in central Wellington and people refusing to wear a tie in parliament. 

Having never listened to talkback at all, let alone this many hours of it, the pure volume of takes is making my head feel like it is full of moths. Yet another person proposes that we round up all the gang members and put them in their own private prison inside Eden Park. Someone else rings in to talk about the “mongrels” they’ve encountered in Gore. Another calls up to talk about getting punched in the face when they were out with friends one night in Christchurch. 

“Aren’t we putting together quite the picture here?” says Leah. Indeed. Although there are moments of banter and levity across the afternoon, mostly about The Martian and Simon Bridges wanting to down-trou, the conversation favours these jagged takes and dark anecdotes so often that it’s no wonder everyone calling in seems so furious and scared. 

The lines are open again. “I wanted to touch on homelessness in the CBD…” I inhale slowly and steel myself again. “… Maybe they don’t have a choice, maybe they have an unhappy home life.” Exhale. “I blame this problem on decades and decades of social welfare problems.” Hmm, a gentle reminder of compassion and nuance and no mention of any agenda videos on YouTube? Not for me THANKS, time for the next slot.  

Suddenly it’s time for Magic Drive, usually with Ryan Bridge but, as we all know, Ryan partied too hard with the cable car this morning. Today, it’s Stephen McIvor. His focus for the evening is going to be on Facebook’s decision to ban news in Australia, and whether the government or big tech is really in control. He also wants to talk about drunk e-scootering, but it’s the conversation around news that blows up the phones. 

“The media isn’t real news,” barks a caller, “it’s just the views of the guys that own them.” McIvor calls that a cynical take, before the caller responds that “the scientists have been bought too”. Stephen: “You’re sounding like a conspiracy theory, which is absolute bollocks.” Another bloke tries to make a confused point about free speech, suggesting Stephen talk about anal sex for half an hour. He’s shut down soon after – this guy easily seems the most ruthless host of the lot. 

“I feel so left out,” says a caller named Carol. “I have no idea what you are going on about. Hopefully by the end of this show I will know more about this ‘Facebook’.” Oh to be Carol on a warm Friday evening! Perhaps for Carol’s benefit, the conversation broadens to be about opinion journalism. One guy is sick of hearing from Jenny-May Coffin (Clarkson) in the mornings, as well as getting constant opinions from “Mark Richardson, Duncan Garner and… the lady”.

“Amanda,” Stephen helpfully corrects. “What do you think? Do you think opinions are important? Let us know what you think – 0800 844 747.” The show goes to an ad break and someone’s already made a promo from the show this morning ft. Peter Williams harping on about The Great Reset. I also can’t help but notice that many of the ads and sponsors are all in the realm of keeping people revitalised – Sanderson vitamins, Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C. 

I for one am feeling deeply depleted. Although it hasn’t been there for every moment, it’s hard to shake the general mood of mistrust, anger and fear that has crept into my ear holes from every corner of the country over the course of the day. It’s past 6pm now, aka 12 hours of Magic Talk, but I’ve got time for one more caller. Gareth from Whangamatā has rung to say he doesn’t trust anything he hears in the media and doesn’t know where to get news. 

“So, if you want to know what’s going on in the world, what do you do, Gareth?” 

Gareth pauses. 

“I just listen to talkback.”

Keep going!