MediaJuly 28, 2016

Don’t rock the boat: the real reason Radio Hauraki refuses to pronounce its own name right


Soon-to-be-former Radio Hauraki DJ Alex Behan explains why everyone has been pronouncing the station’s name wrong for years – and why it needs to stop.

UPDATE: The station appears to have indicated it will soon change its pronunciation.

The first question I asked when I was offered a job at Radio Hauraki was “Am I allowed to pronounce it correctly?” The answer was no.

Howraki is a brand. It is the oldest commercial radio brand in the country. We are currently going through a transition phase and we have a loyal middle New Zealand audience. We can’t risk losing the audience we currently have.”

I was a bit surprised. They had changed logo from the cool pirate boat. They were changing music direction and their presenter line-up. Their new tag line was ‘It’s Different’. Pretty much everything was on the table for change, it seemed. Why not change the wilfully ignorant (if not outright racist) pronunciation of the brand name?

“Not everyone is as open minded as you.”

Listening to that answer I started thinking that maybe I was totally out of touch with the New Zealand audience. Maybe I live in a bubble of like-minded people who value our bicultural heritage?

I rolled through some facts in the back of my mind.

I know that Hauraki is targeting an 18-44 year-old male demographic and is the only male-focused music station in the media conglomerate that it belongs to. It’s up against The Rock, The Sound and George, all male-focused, all owned by the opposition. None of those three opposition brands make any notable effort in regards to Te Reo Māori.*

The assumption by both MediaWorks and NZME, therefore, is that the listening audience don’t care. Management’s assessment is that they stand a better chance of pleasing a largest number of people if they continue to say Howraki.

But I really need this job. I’ve just arrived back in New Zealand, and I have Grey Lynn rent to pay.

“Would you like to sign this contract?”

“Yes please.”

So I started working at Howraki. It was made very clear to all of us on staff that the reinvention of Hauraki was an important final attempt to save a languishing brand. They needed relevance and cultural currency. The way I saw it the cheapest and most efficient way to do that was to start saying the name correctly after 48 years of ignorant pronunciation.

Different logo, same incorrect pronunciation
Different logo, same incorrect pronunciation

Yet every time I raised the issue with management there would be some well-meaning chat, then the buck would get passed to invisible upper management and life would go on.

I understand your point of view Alex,” they’d say. “But it’s not up to you to rename or mispronounce the name of the radio station. It’s not my call, it’s not your call. That’s a board decision. I don’t mind if you drop it in once in a while during Māori language week, but you can’t do it all the time, that’s out of step with the marketing of the whole station. The history of the station has been this pronunciation and that’s just how it is.”

It’s not an answer that satisfies me but it’s the only kind of answer you get. You never really get to fight the power. I’m not even sure which board decides. Is there even a board? I certainly don’t know who’s on it.

At Newstalk ZB when they read the weather for the greater Auckland region, they never talk about the Howraki gulf – it’s Hoeraki over there. ZB and Hauraki share the same management. The Board is the Same Mysterious Board! They know how it is supposed to be pronounced. But Hauraki isn’t a word anymore, it’s a brand. Brands can only be changed by edicts from on high. Who are these mysterious string pullers?

Sage advice from Radio Hauraki
Sage advice from Radio Hauraki

Are they mostly older white guys? Sure. Are they racist? Casually maybe? Who’s to say? Even if they were, that’s not what drives decisions like this. What drives these brand strategies is maximising profits and audience and they do that by giving you what they think you want.

They think you want Howraki.

During Māori language week the first two years I didn’t drop a beat. I Hoeraki’ed all over the place. I mean, that was the one week where they couldn’t touch me yeah? It really stood out, I thought it sounded great and the majority of feedback was positive. (To be honest, there were one or two racist call outs which didn’t surprise or bother me). As soon as Māori language week ended, I was pulled aside and asked to go back to the regular program. I continued to do my job – I had Grey Lynn rent to pay.  

Those of us working in corporate environments make a lot of decisions based on things like having Grey Lynn rent to pay. The people who work for Radio Hauraki are neither racist nor ignorant. Much of the work they did the last few years to bring the brand out of the stone age has been admirable (I can’t tell you how relieved the entire staff were when the NSFW page was pulled from the website thanks to our amazing social media guy). Many people on the inside of brands try to instigate change but they are working within a system that supports conformity. It’s hard to stand up to that.

The mispronunciation of the word Hauraki continued to rankle me though. I started to feel like this is the kind of systemic cultural appropriation by the corporate world that us little guys are supposed to stand up for. I was hardly alone in my thinking at the station, yet I still felt powerless.

Of course, not everyone conforms.

Mikey Havoc. The man they cannot control. The man they took off daily radio mainly because they can’t control him. Not just on this issue – on any issue. Mikey used to Hoeraki the shit out of it. Mikey Havoc is walking cultural currency. He knows how to respect a word, how to respect a culture and his audience.

Let’s be clear: I am no friend to Mikey Havoc, but the guy has mana and he would never Howraki without his tongue firmly in his cheek. Mikey is heard less on air these days which is a shame for the whole radio landscape. Not conforming, it seems, doesn’t pay the Grey Lynn rent.

This is business. These decisions are based on what a certain group of people think you want. Their assumption, rightly or wrongly, is that Howraki is the safer of two options and will appease the widest audience.

My assumption is that increasingly New Zealanders are more upset by racism, sexism, cultural appropriation and discrimination in the media now than ever before. But that conversation doesn’t seem to have penetrated to Mysterious Board level yet.

Maybe part of the issue is this: the radio we consume is increasingly controlled and meticulously calculated by a very small number of people and it’s not the people you hear. They make their decisions based on what they think you want and the ratings tell all. Which also means every time Thane steps over the line, or Dom offends half the nation, these are also brand strategies – just like the one to say Howraki instead of Hoeraki.

As the world gets smaller and information travels quicker, I have seen broadcasters surprised out of their old media thought patterns and forced to U-turn their choices based on audience reaction. Radio stations, like all brands, monitor very closely their listeners’ feedback and social media. So if you want them to update their pronunciation, there’s a place to hit them where they’ll listen

* George fans will be quick to point out that they occasionally have Te Reo Māori place names and numbers. I would just as quickly point out that they operate on a frequency license that requires them to promote Māori culture – considering that fact the effort they make is appallingly slight.

UPDATE: The station appears to have indicated it will soon change its pronunciation.

Keep going!