Nostalgic times

So, let me get something clear. I am not in the demographic for Jim Sutton’s Nostalgia show on Newstalk ZB Saturday nights. For that matter, neither is my husband, on paper anyway. But if he’s working on the computer on a Saturday night (party animal I know) or is having an early night, he enjoys listening to the show.

He tells me it’s largely for the stories, but also for the history, the musical history and because Sutton plays songs his parents liked. In a funny way, it’s nostalgic for him too.

So having heard Jim Sutton say last Saturday night, during his final show, that he was essentially being forced from the airwaves after 24 years, I felt sad for him, for people who like a bit of musical history, and more importantly for the older generation.

I’ve always had visions of old people in rest homes listening to Sutton, or old people living at home alone tuning in on Saturday nights for a bit of solo reminiscing. Sutton’s assuring voice, his musical knowledge, his warmth with his talkback callers were all attributes they felt comfortable with. They are the type of people who write letters requesting their favourite songs – songs of the 50s, wartime songs, songs we don’t hear on any other radio programme.

They aren’t the type who will start up a Facebook petition to “Save Jim Sutton’s Nostalgia”. At a push some might send an email to express their disappointment it’s gone. Many will write the old-fashioned way, and chances are it will be a stamp wasted.

So while I didn’t really listen to Jim – I was more likely to catch a few minutes if it happened to be on ZB in the car on the way home from somewhere – I appreciate he provided a service to a particular demographic, and to people like my husband who just like to know as much as they can about music history.

However I am in the demographic for truth. I don’t think that’s age-specific. I posted on Twitter that I was sad to see ZB was “getting rid of” Jim Sutton. And so the @zbeditor responded: “we’re not ‘getting rid of it’, Jim’s retiring!” (with a cheerful little exclamation mark to put me in my place). The thing is, that’s not what I’d heard him say on the radio. I scouted around ZB’s site to see if there was a goodbye to Jim or anything. Nothing I could see. So I checked Facebook to see if anyone was disappointed about this “decision to retire”. Of course there were.

Sarah Perkins wrote: “My parents are both really disappointed that Jim Sutton’s show will not air after this evening. His show is a gem and the decision for it to be taken off air has created a great loss for the country.”

That drew this response from NewsTalk ZB’s FB moderator: “Hi Sarah. Thank you for your comments towards the Nostalgia Programme with Jim Sutton. After 24 years, Jim Sutton is retiring from hosting Nostalgia on Saturday and Sunday evening. Jim is a long-term, loyal servant of the station and has anchored Nostalgia with pride. This type of decision is never taken lightly, nor without realising the possible consequences, but it is backed up by a considerable amount of research and deliberation.
From April 19, we’ll have a new “music and memories” style talkback programme called “In My Day” between 6pm and midnight every Saturday, hosted by Bruce Russell. We believe the new programme will also find a place in the hearts and minds of an extended audience without disenfranchising the audience who have been so loyal to Jim.”

Hmmm, so Jim retiring, but it was “backed up by a considerable amount of research and deliberation”. Whose? His? It was “a decision not taken lightly”, but Twitter ZB had told me “Jim’s retiring!”

Rat. Smell.

Vicki Craig wrote on ZB’s FB wall: (all sic) “Am disgusted that the powers that be are taking Jim Suttons programe off!! Shame on you for taking something off that is so popular with many age groups. I think ZB will lose many a loyal listener through this. We heard on air that it was a forced retirement as the powers that be were just pulling his show. Still not happy and wont be listening to the saturdaynight show even though I like Bruce alot. It wont be the same and it should have been a case of if it wasnt broken then it should have been left alone.”

Which drew the shorter reply from ZB: “Hi Vicki. After 24 years, Jim Sutton is retiring from hosting Nostalgia on Saturday and Sunday evening. Jim is a long-term, loyal servant of the station and has anchored Nostalgia with pride. From April 19, we’ll have a new “music and memories” style talkback programme called “In My Day” between 6pm and midnight every Saturday, hosted by Bruce Russell.”

No mention of any “decision being taken lightly” in this edited response.

Chris Bennett posted to Facebook and made a point about the people who actually listen to radio on Saturday nights: “Jim Sutton IS Saturday and Sunday nights catering to an audience that still listens to the Radio and you are trying to capture a younger audience? Have you done your market research ?”

And so came the copy and paste response. “Hi Chris. After 24 years, Jim Sutton is retiring from hosting Nostalgia on Saturday and Sunday evening. Jim is a long-term, loyal servant of the station and has anchored Nostalgia with pride. From April 19, we’ll have a new “music and memories” style talkback programme called “In My Day” between 6pm and midnight every Saturday, hosted by Bruce Russell.”

The same ZB response was posted over and over (without the decision taken lightly bit).

Which naturally irritated people when they felt the explanation wasn’t true.

Pamela Kerr wrote: “Seems like all you guys at Newstalk can do is post the same message over and over. I myself didn’t tune in to Jim much but when I did I enjoyed the songs and banter. You are saying that Jim is “retiring” but in fact if you were honest with your irate listeners, Jim is being forced to “retire”. Tell the truth why don’t you – at least give your listeners that! I think you should change your posting to “Jim Sutton is being made redundant”.

Oh – and by the way – as much as I love Bruce Russell (my favourite talkback host) I definitely will not bother to tune in. They won’t have the nostalgia of the war years and fifties that Jim had.”

Delma Pike added: “This is the same crap ZB told me in an email. He never retired, they put his show off!! They’ll regret it!!! I hope he goes to another station, would serve them right. No need to lie about what they have done.”

I agree with Pamela and Delma on this issue of truth. Truth is easier because it means you don’t end up looking silly by saying two different things to different people.  Telling the truth means you are treating your audience with respect. They might not have liked it but “We decided it was time for a change” is at least being up-front about what was likely a business decision.

I’ve worked with people who were well past their prime but were kept on because they were untouchable. Maybe Sutton was really annoying to work with? Maybe he was a pain as an employee? But having worked in TV, some of the best broadcasters are a pain – but they turn it on when it counts, on air. They are performers.

I don’t know if Lionel Mandrake even knows Sutton but he wrote on Facebook (sic): “Oh yeah? We know the truth, Jim was a renegade who refused to be tamed, a wildman who was too hot for ZB bosses to handle…’Nostalgia’ was fostering a generation of Grey Power rebels with its high-octane blend of 1930s torch songs and singalong favourites…and at the centre of it all was Jim, one part guru, one part easy listening lounge lizard, dancing a dangerous polka while the Wurlitzer played on. The king is gone, but he’s not forgotten. This is the story of Jimmy Sutton…”

Goodness, who knew? (And if I had, I might have listened occasionally). So maybe Sutton was a grumpy ol’ buggar who just didn’t like being told what to do by a 25-year-old marketing graduate. Who does.

So what’s it all about? I appreciate that times change. And I rate Bruce Russell as a host apart from one rank comment about broadcaster Ali Mau.

But apparently his show will be called “In My Day” and feature “70s music”.  What? Because there aren’t enough shows, nay whole stations featuring 70s music! (My turn for an exclamation mark now.) It’s laughable to think they will think they’re going to attract younger people ie 30s/40s because they’re usually out and about or dead with exhaustion with children. Who will actually listen to a show about such music – you can get that on The Sound, Classic Hits, Coast, The Breeze, Hauraki to name a handful. And who will listen to the “memories” of that time. The 70s? Hardly a shit-kicking era of social change, and historical significance bar the Vietnam War.

No offence to Russell but was he even born by then? And again, no offence intended to Russell but “In My Day”? What, you mean like yesterday?

John Maffey on Facebook makes a good point that Nostalgia catered for the music interests of listeners largely ignored by mass commercial radio.

 Problem is, NewsTalk ZB is commercial radio so perhaps it’s made a business decision based on future-proofing its business. Which is hard to do if you are happy to cut off the old faithful. People who call talkback radio are largely older too. Would ZB consider killing its talkback format too? Unlikely. But I would have thought straight talkback was a far more risky format in radio that a specialist interest programme that’s gained a loyal following.

Take Kerre McIvor’s show and her popularity. Again, if I’m driving I’ll often have it on the radio. She’s entertaining and it can be interesting. But the minute some rambling halfwit comes on and she doesn’t ditch the person early enough (perhaps there aren’t enough calls on the board at the time) I change the station. I can’t stand it. It’s such a bizarre concept really – that you allow people of the narrowest of minds or most limited mental capacity to have their time on the airwaves of a commercial station for which ratings are the lifeblood.

On the other hand, if you have a “themed” show like Jim Sutton’s was, at least you can space out the crazies with interesting info, music and social history.  Which makes this decision all the more mysterious. It had people who had stories to tell. As Evelyn Jarvis Osborne wrote, again on Facebook, the social media equivalent of talkback radio: “The music wasn’t why I tuned in, it was the stories… The people that ARE the stories are losing so much more”.

It’s coming up to Anzac Day, which was a special programme Sutton always enjoyed putting out so it’s a rather cruel irony he won’t get to do it this year. (Perhaps it would have been nice if he could have done that as his last show.) Anyway, Anzac Day is traditionally the day we drag ourselves out of bed at an ungodly hour and head to dawn services to stand alongside men and women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. We may sing old songs. We will reflect on a time when young men and women scarcely old enough to breed were thrown into wars  and expected to give up their lives if need be. Through the day, young people may learn something about those people, the history of war, and New Zealand history. We dedicate our older generation one day a year when we think about them.

But we can’t afford to give them one radio programme a week. Kind of sad really.

(Listen to Jim Sutton’s last sign-off through the link on Dannews’ page. )