The Wireless: youth site a brave step into the net for Radio NZ

by Toby Manhire / 31 October, 2013
A youth radio network has long been mooted, but The Wireless, RNZ's boldest innovation for years, is definitely not radio.

On Labour Day morning, Ben Uffindell, the wunderkind behind the Civilian satire website, tweeted that he was about to appear on Radio New Zealand.

Which, he added, “I find is always sort of like visiting your grandparents”.

And that somehow encapsulates a strength and weakness of RNZ: a cosy familiarity, something reliable, but also undeniably, how to put it, mature.

For some some the challenge for the national broadcaster has been how to attract younger listeners. The proportion of the audience under 30 is said to be puny.

The idea of a “youth” station has long been mooted, with some arguing it should replace Concert FM.

But years of discussion have at last borne fruit.

The Wireless is the boldest innovation from the cash-strapped grandparent for a long time, probably since the RNZ website added news and audio in 2005.

Crucially, however, this is not an online radio station: more a digital magazine, with features, blogs and plenty of video, aimed chiefly at 18-30 year olds.

And it looks very promising indeed. Each month will be themed, the first of which is “Free”, starting with a feature by Megan Whelan about personal finance, majoring on, unsurprisingly, debt.

There are blogs on music – written by National’s excellent Music 101 team – as well as film, TV, sport and gaming.

Here’s Marcus Stickley, in an introductory post:

The Wireless aims to produce inspiring, insightful and entertaining stories for New Zealanders who have grown up in the digital age.

Our work was born out of idea of a youth radio network, which has been kicked around in New Zealand for the past 20 years.

But the time for a radio network has passed. We live in an age where you can tell a story anyway you want on one platform – the internet.

You’re going to find stories told in video, photos, audio and text. Some will be told in two types of media, some will be told in all four, or maybe even more depending on where technology takes us.

And Whelan (Lena Hesselgrave and Elle Hunt complete the editorial team of four) has written for Public Address to mark the launch. She says:

The Wireless is aiming to tell entertaining, informative New Zealand stories for those people that have grown up in the digital age. We’ll tell their stories without advertising, without shying away from controversy, and with all of Radio New Zealand’s core ethics of accuracy, fairness, independence, respect and diversity.

Radio New Zealand has an obligation to serve a wide range of interests, and all age groups. And while there are parts of the organisation who do that last part well, only a small percentage of its audience are younger listeners. The Wireless is reaching out to them.

Glance about the crisply designed front page of The Wireless, however, and there’s no obvious sign of RNZ-ness.

Scroll right the way to the foot of the page and, look, there it is, the Radio New Zealand logo, in the bottom right corner. For better or worse, it does feel a little like the Wireless doesn’t want to be seen with its elders.

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