Hard News by Russell Brown


Radio being made

It wasn't television, it was radio being made. And that is a virtue. The debut episode of Checkpoint with John Campbell went out yesterday and while there are still a few moving parts to be bedded in, it seems clear this is going to work.

I watched it sitting at my computer, ducking away occasionally to look at other things and see what my social media friends thought, while staying engaged with the audio. So it passes the ADD test nicely.

Many other people seemed to be doing the same and there was a notably positive response on social media to seeing "real people" on screen. In contrast to television news, which is controlled and inviolable, seeing reporters and a newsreader who hadn't been corporate dress-coded made the programme seem accessible and engaging. There's so much of the theatre of television that can be dispensed with at no real loss to anyone.

There are, on the other hand, some different skills to be learned. Katrina Batten, a fine newsreader, struggled a little with her autocue (it gets easier, believe me) and there was the odd bit of awkward body language. But, you know, it's day one.

One thing is clear: the lapel mics don't cut it. Speaking on radio is about being (or at least sounding) close to the mic and the voices without the pictures weren't quite up to scratch for radio. I don't think bringing in proper microphones would really detract from the programme. Indeed, it might contribute to that sense of radio being made.

Similarly, I don't mind seeing Katrina get up and leave after her bulletin (although could someone please install a hook for her to hang her cans on?). If you've sat in the control room for a programme like this, you'll know how in-motion it is. That's something the show should be happy to convey.

The video links went off quite well (I thought the medical cannabis interview was particularly effective, sync issues notwithstanding) and the switches to simple audio were smooth enough. The one part that felt odd was the Nadene Lomu interview, which felt like a chunk of Campbell Live dropped into Checkpoint. The human-interest orientation of 7pm TV current affairs and the imperatives of a 5pm daily news roundup on radio are quite different things.

Apart from that, the host was excellent. He dialled it back a bit for radio, but it was good to see him walk around a bit at the end. I think there's no reason he can't venture out into the control room again, if that's where the action is. Again, they can do things TV wouldn't.

If you tried to watch it on Freeview Channel 50 and couldn't find the channel, you'll need to do a quick retune of your set – easy enough, but perhaps off-putting for RNZ's older listeners. But the potential for RNZ to expand on Freeview – where as a full Freeview partner it has rights to the Freeview Plus real estate for catch-up programming – is considerable.

This really is the toe in the water for a more comprehensive move to illustrated radio. And, as Lizzie Marvelly observed on Twitter, the wairua was good. It felt right. Bravo.

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