I NOTICE someone has started a “Keep Jim Mora in Afternoons” page on Facebook. I wonder if this is the tiny tip of a rather large iceberg. Mora, of course, was for several years the popular host of Radio New Zealand’s Afternoons programme. In the recent reshuffle that followed the arrival of a new chief executive, Paul Thompson, former Morning Report co-host Simon Mercep took over most of Mora’s show.
Mora still hosts The Panel, the late-afternoon segment in which guests comment on the issues of the day, but it seems that many RNZ listeners are pining over his absence from the rest of the show.When I last checked, the Facebook page had attracted 288 “likes” – hardly an earthquake, but my own unscientific soundings suggest Mora is widely missed.
While Afternoons had grown tired and needed refreshing, its failings had nothing to do with Mora, who was the consummate host for that style of programme: witty, intelligent, empathetic and well-informed. Mercep, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be making much impact.This raises wider questions about what makes a good radio host. Mercep did an honest if unexciting job on Morning Report, but a news programme is all about gathering information. It doesn’t depend on the host’s personality.
Afternoons, on the other hand, is very much driven by the charm of the host. And since Mercep took over, the show has lost its spark. I would be surprised if its audience hadn’t shrunk. RadioLive, which has developed a strong roster of hosts, will no doubt welcome deserters.It’s reasonable to assume that Mercep was moved into the Afternoons slot because RNZ wanted to clear the decks for some fresh blood on Morning Report, its flagship programme. But I suspect the move may have backfired in more ways than one.
RNZ appointed Guyon Espiner and Susie Ferguson to replace Mercep and the sainted Geoff Robinson, presumably with the aim of carrying Morning Report into a new era.But that created another issue. While Espiner is an excellent print journalist (as he shows in occasional articles for The Listener) and did a good job as political editor for TV One, radio is different.
In radio, the voice is all-important. Especially at breakfast time, it must cut through the household noise of boiling kettles, humming microwaves and running taps.Ferguson’s voice has that vital “listen to me” quality, but Espiner’s is soft and his diction woolly. As a result, he’s not making the impact his bosses would have been hoping for. I wonder whether they’ve given him any voice training.
On TV, Espiner’s voice wasn’t an issue because it’s a visual medium. But radio is all about sound – a factor possibly not fully appreciated by Thompson (who comes from a background in the print media) when he approved Espiner’s appointment.Mercep, too, is handicapped by a soft voice. So I wonder whether not one, but two, mistakes have been made: first in appointing Espiner to Morning Report (and assuming that what had worked on TV would also work on radio), and consequentially in moving Mercep to Afternoons. No doubt RNZ’s audience figures will tell us in due course.
Karl du Fresne blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz. This article was first published in The Dominion Post.