If you live in Mahurangi and turn the radio on first thing in the morning, there’s a good chance you will be listening to Brent and Jacque on More FM Rodney. James Addis talked to host Brent Harbour to find out about the man behind the mic …
I grew up in Avondale and went to Avondale College. Mum and Dad owned a furniture business in Glen Eden, and my father was into racehorses, as well. Part of my job was to take the racehorses to the Avondale racecourse first thing in the morning before school. I got to wash them down, feed them, groom them and all those kinds of things. Initially I wanted to be a race caller. I got to hang around with famous race callers like Keith Haub, but I had another great passion and that was radio.
Growing up, I was influenced by Kevin Black on Radio Hauraki and Pat Courtney on 1ZM. I liked the music and the way they talked and the way they had so much fun. So, I used some of the money that I was earning working part-time in Dad’s factory to buy a microphone from Dick Smith electronics. I plugged it into the cassette player at home, and I would practice introducing songs, read stories out of the newspaper and pretend that I was on air. I did that for years. After leaving school, I worked for Para Rubber as a salesman in central Auckland. The good thing about working in the city was that it was an ideal place to be for radio auditions. A friend of my father knew Barry Holland, who was with Radio New Zealand at the time. He put me in touch with Barry and set up an audition for me.
It was quite intimidating in those days. They put you in a room in Broadcasting House where they used to record the big orchestras, and they would get you to read a page of news, read a commercial and then ad-lib for a couple of minutes on a subject of your choice. There would be three guys sitting behind a glass screen watching you. I took the audition three times and failed three times. The last time they sent me a letter saying, “Hi Brent, you have got a nice voice, it’s medium to deep, but you have lazy lips and tongue. Suggest you see a speech therapist and then re-apply when you are 25.” I was disappointed, but I did not give up. I wrote a letter to all the radio stations in Auckland and got a “Dear John” back from most of them, but two radio stations said they would chat to me – one was Radio Hauraki and the other was Magic 91FM.
During one lunch hour I went to do an audition at Magic 91. They called me up the next day and said, “Oh, I think you should throw that cassette away”. I went, “Oh really, was I that bad?”. They said, “No, we are actually going to hire you.” So, I started part-time on midnight to dawn while still working in retail. I was allowed to speak three times an hour – read the weather and introduce two songs. Back then, I thought that was great. Eventually, the station decided to take me on full-time. Initially, I was doing 10pm to 2am and then 6pm to 10pm. But what I really wanted to do was “drive time”, from 2pm to 6pm. When you are on nights – all your mates are out when you are working and you have no social life. And I considered breakfast too early a start when I was 20. Luckily, when the drive announcer left, they offered me the job.
I loved it because there was a lot going on in the city at the time and celebrities would come in for interviews. I’ve been very lucky to have interviewed people like Billy Joel, Dave Stewart from Eurythmics, Meat Loaf and even Milli Vanilli. I was a nervous interviewer to start with. At first, I was asking those close-ended questions that generate yes or no answers, which is death on the radio. But I had some good mentors around me and over time I learned to craft better questions. One of the nicest people I interviewed was Billy Joel – both on-air and off-air he was just great. He was so gracious in thanking us for the airtime.
I became interested in programming a station and at some point I was lured to Tauranga to become a programme director for a station there. But I missed Auckland and came back to work for a new station Kool 93, doing the drive show and became the station’s operations manager. My job was to make sure all the songs sounded good together with plenty of variety and different tempos – not all slow songs or all fast songs. In radio, you need to have an appreciation of all types of music. I don’t favour specific genres; I like songs in any genre. It also pays to remember music goes through cycles. For example, when there is a recession, older music becomes more popular again because it brings back memories of good times and that’s an escape for people. So, you have to understand these cycles and what will appeal to listeners.
Kool 93 was sold after a couple of years, and I floated around doing shifts for all sorts of radio stations, including trying to set up one of my own, Big 106.2, but sadly we got hit by a global recession and had to fold. In 2010, I headed to Dubai. A friend of mine was working there and said they were looking for a programme director for Radio 2, which broadcasts right across the UAE, reaching around 10 million people. It was run by a lot of British ex-pats who loved Radio 2 in the UK. But when I got there, I found the station was all over the place – sixties show on one morning, then a rock show at night and an easy-listening show at some other time. It wasn’t rating well. So, we did a lot of music testing to find out what would be a good mix and what people would like listening to. Based on that research, I totally reformatted the station and within about six months we got to number one in our targeted demographic. It’s interesting, because the UAE is made up of so many different ethnic groups, but it turns out that the music that tests well in New Zealand, Australia or the UK – big songs like Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams and Take on Me by A-ha – test well in the Middle East too.
After that I went on to work for Heart and Capital Radio in the UK. My wife is from Guildford and I’ve always wanted to live in England – there is so much to see and so much history. The radio stations sounded really good too, and the presenters were great. At the same time, I didn’t feel I had the freedom to make too many changes or get as much local content on as I wanted. It’s all very well having these big flashy stations but people still want to know what’s going on where they live.
After a year in the UK, we really wanted our girls to be settled and for them to go to Mahurangi College.
We decided to moved to Warkworth because it’s such a great community and nearby we’ve got the best beaches in the world. Now I’m the operations manager at More FM Rodney and do the breakfast show with Jacque who is a long-time friend from my days at Kool 93. Because Jacque, and I know each other so well and get each other’s sense of humour, I think that comes across well on air. Being on-air locally has opened up other doors for me to get involved with the community. I am a trustee for the charity I Got Your Back Pack, which supplies essential items for women fleeing domestic violence, and right now I’m helping Murray Chapman organise the Mahurangi Winter Festival of Lights. Murray is such an amazing guy – such an inspiration in our community.
What makes a good breakfast show? I think it’s when we have lots of local content in there with as many local voices on air as possible, and having a bit of fun with people and with the competitions. There are some days when you think it’s been a disaster but usually that’s only in your mind. And when everything has come together well, it’s a good feeling. It’s a great way to spend four hours every morning.