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Going full Spectrum

After 44 years on air, Radio New Zealand said goodbye to its Sunday programme Spectrum, broadcasting its final show last month. Hayley Gastmeier spoke with Greytown documentary maker Alwyn Owen, the man behind the programme.

Spectrum was pulled from the airways last month, after filling the slot following the Sunday midday news bulletin on Radio New Zealand for more than four decades.
Behind the long-running documentary programme was Alwyn Owen, now 89, who began it after being approached by RNZ to start a human-interest documentary series.
“They gave me another guy to help me get it started, Jack Perkins, so we stacked up a few items and we went to air with it in 1972. They said do a run of 13 programmes. So we started work on it and by the time we had done half-a-dozen programmes they said ‘oh, just keep it going’.”
Since then Spectrum aired weekly, until just two weeks ago when the final show was broadcast on July 24.
Mr Owen, who has lived in Greytown for 20 years, was the executive producer and after its inception stayed with the programme for two decades.
In light of the show’s cancellation, he said 44 years on air was a good run.
“It’s a long spin for a series, and radio changes just as TV changes, or anything changes. So it was good while it lasted.
“Privately Jack Perkins and I felt that we had the best of radio years, but I guess every broadcaster thinks that no matter when they retire.”
Mr Owen said the show brought much diversity to his life.
“The wonderful thing about it was that you were entirely your own boss. You had to produce the programmes, you carried the can if something went wrong.
“A lot of the programmes concerned oral history so you had a wonderful chance to record people – [Dame] Whina Cooper comes to mind.”
Mr Owen also mentioned having worked alongside Colin Scrimgeour, a household name who was known as Uncle Scrim, and interviewing people like Albert Roberts, who survived a shipwreck in the Auckland Islands in 1907.
“People who had had real experiences and could talk about them,” Mr Owen said.
“We had general human interest and we could let our hair down occasionally,” he said, reminiscing about one particular programme he did on dunnies.
“We went across to Australia several times and recorded in the outback, went to the Pacific Islands. I went across on the 50th anniversary of the attack on Crete by the Germans in 1941… so we did things like that.
“We’d go into a little town, talk to the people there, see what made the place tick, so we covered a lot of ground really.”
Mr Owen said he always had a tape recorder on him, as well as “a pile of 5-inch tapes”, but as a keen photographer he also donned a camera, documenting each job.
Even with his 90th birthday coming up, Mr Owen still picks up the camera on a regular basis.
He formally retired from broadcast in 1991, but continued to do freelance and contract work for RNZ.
Summing up his broadcasting career, Mr Owen said he “just loved it the whole way through” and felt “intensely prevailed”.
“You met so many great, wonderful people, and sometimes they were people you would pass in the street without noticing them, but they had marvellous stories to tell.
“You got to interesting places and you got beyond the ordinary tourism areas. You got to meet real people, so the job was exciting, just a breeze, it was marvellous. It was a sin to get paid for doing it almost.”

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