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Napier Radio Throws Out Thousands of 1972-82 Hit Records

Napier Radio Throws Out Thousands of 1972-82 Hit Records:
Memories on vinyl, and a reminder that local radio is long since gone

The soundtrack of our lives

It was in the spring of 1978 that Glen Clifford toured Bay City Radio, 2ZC in Napier. He was then nine years old and Bay City, as a regular gesture of community involvement, invited Glen’s boy scout cub group to visit the broadcast studios, watch the on-air announcers in action, and explain the inner workings of a radio station. “I can remember a lot about that initial visit… Back then broadcast equipment had bigger form factors and many big bright and square flashing buttons”. By global standards, Bay City Radio was well equipped, with three studios, and a production-control/voice-booth combo for making commercials.

Glen continues, “they aired a number of 1978 hits like Nick Gilder’s ‘Hot Child in the City’… As the record played, the backlit VU meters reflected on the studio windows, and even illuminated the brown wood paneled walls - it was a rainbow of colours, from mixing desk to the on-air signs”. In the control room there was also a lot of audio activity, with news feeds and programmes coming in from other cities and more strange tones, pips and signals than Doctor Who’s Tardis. For a kid, the atmosphere was entirely warm and alluring, like being in a little playhouse under a huge Christmas tree. For Glen, that tour resulted in a long term goal: to work in radio.

Two weeks ago, the current owners of the former Bay City studios threw out thousands of records. Almost three thousand of them found their way to Gordon Stevenson who owns ‘Just for the Record’ in Napier. Most were released between 1972-1982, but there were also a few hundred from the 60s and the later 80s. They sat untouched in Gordon’s shop before coming to Glen’s attention…

Glen: “I walked in and immediately Gordon, in his normal but rather unique manner, said ‘I’ve recently received something you might be very interested in’… I knew straight away that he had got something special because being a former announcer, I approach collecting the same way as Gordon does… It’s like we are guardians of sound memories… But when I found that it was Bay City stuff, it was xanadu all over again” … In three days of visits, Glen thumbed through over 2900 singles, and enjoyed playing shop DJ on Gordon’s high-end turntables. He eventually narrowed his purchase down to 106 singles. Buying a decent chunk of the collection, he got some free, but wants to think that his in-house DJing skills also did the trick.

Gordon will sell most of the remaining gems for about two dollars each. Gems there still are: with many other beautiful singles by The Eagles, Barbra Streisand, The Carpenters, and Glen Campbell still waiting to be purchased… Glen says, “I would like to think that I got the best of the best, and I definitely bought many diamonds”. He later added, “but musical taste is extremely subjective, especially in later years… For example, I didn’t buy any singles by Bread and Heart… While they are very good, it’s not my type of diamond”.

Glen did miss out on one gem that he considers a diamond: the 1979 NZ pressing of Kiss’s ‘Shandi’. The song was much bigger in NZ than other countries, and is a collectors item for many Kiss fans. Glen found, “Gordon accidentally put his eyes on that one before me, and put it aside knowing too well how enthusiastic Kiss fans are”. Within five days it was snapped up for $NZ25.00 by a fan in Sweden.

Glen: “For me, the most amazing thing about this collection, is that the records I bought were the actual ones broadcast while my family used to listen to Bay City Radio. I now have Minnie Riperton’s ‘Lovin’ You’, which they played repeatedly while my mother cooked dinner in the mid 1970s… I now have Kate Bush’s haunting ‘Babooshka’, which my sister used to listen to - again on Bay City - very loud in her bedroom… At a more personal level, I now own Billy Field’s ‘You Weren’t in Love with me’ and Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical’ - both hits I clearly remember from my family’s final year in Hastings. I even found a couple of very quirky songs, ‘Happy Talk’ and ‘Da Da Da’, that were popular in 1982 - our first year in Australia. At a different level, I got a replacement copy of Dolly Parton’s ‘Love is Like a Butterfly’ - the first single I ever bought - at age four - in Joll Road, Havelock North”, and LRB’s debut single ‘Curiously Killed the Cat’ which was the first song I ever played as a salaried announcer - albeit already a minor classic having been released 14 years before”.

Glen spent 13 years working in Australian commercial radio and still owns a modern, fully equipped digital studio setup capable of broadcast standard voice work. However nowadays, it is used mostly for recording and mixing educational CDs related to his current career: For the past 12 years he has lived across Asia, where he eventually started to specialize in the training of customer service English and intercultural communication. Glen: “As life has had it, I have seldom returned to New Zealand - 12 days in February 1985, 80 days in 2006, and 10 days in 2009… This current trip is the longest ever - exactly five months, as I prepare my own background info to start a high profile job for a Chinese government agency”. He adds, “I feel so lucky to have been in Hawke’s Bay at this time to find these records, as the only other time I had come back was during my 1985 trip”… “To use the rather corny cliche, these records are ‘the soundtrack to my life’, but also the life of many other local people”.

CD albums had gradually become widely available since mid 1983 and had coexisted with vinyl albums for at least seven years. But by 1990, mainstream recording companies suddenly announced the end of vinyl and quickly started releasing all material - albums and singles - on CD only. There was public confusion and companies wrote the words ‘CD Single’ over cover artwork in order to educate people that the disc wasn’t a full album. Glen: “I found a couple of singles that represent the end of the vinyl era; Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has it’s Thorn’ and Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze of Glory’, no doubt two of the last main-stream vinyl single pressings in New Zealand. Ironically, in the same batch, I found a very early CD single; a ‘Made in the UK’ pressing of Robert Palmer’s 1990 ‘Mercy Mercy Me’… Somehow it got mixed in with the vinyl, and is in excellent condition”.

Glen says “there’s something very organic about possessing an actual record or CD… With both mp3 downloading and music-on-demand, we’ve definitely lost that nice feeling of picking up and holding music”. The end of music as a material object is a debatable subject… Many music aficionados claim that a major part of the listening experience is buying something solid that can be kept in a cabinet, occasionally taken out, admired and played. Then there are others, including many current musicians, who say that the artistic value is in the sound recording itself, not the storage medium or how it is packaged. But something that most people would agree on, is that local radio, and radio in general, is dead. In many ways, by throwing out most of the ‘old’ record library, the network owners of the former Bay City Radio studios in Napier - have broadcast an unintentional message: that local radio is not in their interests, not even the preservation of its heritage.

Read Glen’s staunch critique of radio networking, and how it has killed local radio, in the following opinion piece.

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