Before she went home to Ruatoria in 2010 to run Radio Ngāti Porou, Erana Keelan-Reedy had been a reporter for Te Karere and Mana News, an associate producer for Te Kaea, a reporter and director for Marae and Te Hēteri, and a freelance contractor.
With a review on Māori media looming, she offers some insights into the world of an iwi radio station and the community it serves.
It’s hard to focus on the job of running one of the 21 iwi radio stations when there’s so much uncertainty in our sector these days. It feels like there’s been an axe hovering over the whole network for some time now — and it could drop on us at any minute.
It doesn’t help either when there’s been so much talk about “rationalising” stations because “no one is listening to iwi radio”.
Nor is it helpful to hear that there’s uncertainty about the future of the news service provided by Radio Waatea.
I know there are loyal listeners in Ruatoria, Mangamuka, Kaitaia and so on, but we’ve never had the resources to conduct the surveys that would tell us how many. What we do know is that our listener numbers reflect the number of people living at home.
And there aren’t that many people in Ngāti Porou.
For many years, there’s been a steady exodus of our people from the tribal regions and into the cities and overseas to seek work — and, as a result, our potential radio listening audiences have been shrinking.
So we’ve been looking at other ways to engage and maintain that connection with our people.
Over the last five years, Radio Ngāti Porou has been embracing digital technology. We now have a functional website, social media networks and online platforms to reach our people who no longer live at home. And we’ve done most of that without any extra funding from the government.
We not only do live radio broadcasts of hui live. We’re video streaming as well. Our people, youth in particular, like their content in pictures, too. So we’ve been adapting to the appetite of our people.
We were the first iwi station to live stream a tangi. Our stream of Parekura Horomia’s tangi had 69,000 viewers, on the funeral day, in more than 100 countries. We helped manage the media at the tangi as well. And, subsequently, most of the outside media shared our video-stream link to their platforms.
Not only did we broadcast four days of tangi apakura, karanga, whaikōrero and mōteatea, but we also captured that historic occasion for our archives.
We also have a learning resource rich in iwi mita, karanga and whaikōrero. And we’ve already started replaying some of those whaikōrero in our daily broadcasts.
I marvel at the technology of today. I started in broadcasting 33 years ago as a cadet for Te Karere. There was no such thing as the internet or a smartphone. Typewriters, landline phones, videotape, and your trusty notepad and pen were your main work tools.
Oh, how the times have changed.
Digital provides instantaneous and relatively affordable access to news and information. And you can access information when you feel like it. Not to mention statistics at the push of a button. Today, field footage is saved to a card which can be sucked up by your computer and edited and loaded to an online platform in a fraction of the time it took us back in the old days.
So we’ve all had to move with the times. Our business isn’t just radio any more. We’re also live video-streaming hui: National Manu Kōrero, the Māori Affairs Select Committee, Ngata lectures, 150th anniversary of the Ringatū Church, and the ordination of the youngest archbishop in the history of the Anglican Church.
They’re images you wouldn’t see on national television either — other than, most likely, just briefly in a news story. But when it’s happening in your backyard, how can you not cover the event? You can be guaranteed there’s an audience. Not your normal radio audience either. A highlights video we produced of Archbishop Don Tamihere’s ordination had 31,000 views.
Last year, Radio Ngāti Porou celebrated its 30th birthday. That was marked by the blessing of our refurbished station building and the opening of our new Tuini Ngāwai multimedia studio — a far cry from the little old Skyline garage where we started.
In the early days, kaimahi worked for love, ably led by Kura Whangapirita. At the time, the station ran a MACCESS archiving programme where a team went out to pakeke and events and filmed them for our archives. We’ve just started repatriating some of that footage from storage at Ngā Taonga and packaging them as learning resources for our platforms.
When Ngahiwi Apanui assumed the helm in 1992, he dealt with some significant developments in iwi radio. Ngahiwi has been a prominent muso and is the CEO of Te Taura Whiri. But, in his stint at Radio Ngāti Porou, he navigated us through the early days of Te Māngai Pāho, of Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori, and of our national advertising agency, Mana Māori Media.
We also started running the Manu Waiata competition to encourage Māori language song composition — and the Ngāti Porou contemporary anthem “Taku Manawa” was a product of that.
In the new millennium, under Ken Eruera and, after him, the late Heni Tawhiwhirangi, there was the introduction of digital technology. That meant live streaming of iwi radio online and Punga Net, which enables the 21 stations to share content. And, since then, the technology has just got better and faster.
We continue to film and capture the stories of our pakeke, not for the shelf but to pump out on radio and through our online platforms. We’re also producing online Ngāti Porou reo learning resources and we’ve just launched our He Pataka Kōrero — Rongomaiawhio online archive portal.
We managed to get funding from TMP to cover our two tangi video streams, but with the rest of our video streams, we’ve either paid for them ourselves or managed to get sponsorship.
Our average monthly online reach is around 250,000 people. Monetising our online presence is the next step for us. We just need the expertise and guidance. We don’t have that in Ruatoria. Yet.
Each station receives $500k a year to run a 24-hour, 7-day a week operation. With that funding, we deliver 10.5 hours of reo Māori content a day — either spoken reo or music. A percentage of that time has to be local and new content, but that varies from station to station. The costs are also covered by advertising income and whatever you can generate in sponsorship and grant funding.
All our stations are pretty resourceful. When you’re the poor cousins in the Māori broadcast industry, you get really good at operating on the smell of an oily rag and sniffing out funding opportunities and new income streams.
You also become very protective of your patch. When Te Upoko o te Ika had their funding frozen by TMP early this year (because of issues around their broadcast licence) we were ready to march on Parliament. So God help the bureaucrat that decides to cut an iwi station. You’d not only have 21 station managers to deal with. You’d have their iwi as well.
I’ve been told there are some exemplary performers in our network and some non-performers — although no one has named the non-performers or spelled out what constitutes non-performance.
Te Puni Kokiri, through its relationship with our iwi licence holders, is responsible for monitoring our work in promoting reo and tikanga Māori. But we haven’t heard from anyone at TPK for some years. So we can only assume that means we’re all doing a bloody great job.
For me, the Māori media review is timely. It’s time for a stocktake of what we and others are doing. Every station is different and so is its connection with its people.
For Radio Ngāti Porou, we are a constant in the lives of our people. We’re their window to the outside world. The source of local news. An extra telephone directory. A lifeline of up-to-date information during times of civil emergency. And where you go for help when you’re looking for your missing pig or your nanny’s medication that fell off the back of a truck.
We provide a special service, in our language, in our own unique way. Technology has just made our job easier.
And, whatever comes out of the Māori media review, I’m hoping it includes a better appreciation of iwi radio.
Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and non-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going. If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider contributing $5 or $10 a month.