He Tāonga Kōrero - a tribute to Spectrum

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 24 July 2016
Alwyn (Hop) Owen began Spectrum in 1972.

Alwyn (Hop) Owen began Spectrum in 1972. Photo: Photo Supplied

Hutia te rito o te harakeke,
Kei whea te kōmako e kō?
Kī mai ki ahau,
He aha te mea nui o te Ao?
Māku e kī atu,
he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

If the heart of the harakeke was removed, where will the Bellbird sing? 
If I was asked what was the most important thing in the world;
I would reply, It is people, it is people, it is people. 

To get a good story, you have to be a good listener, your job is to help bring out the stories in people.  

It’s simple advice from former Spectrum producer Alwyn Owen.

In 1971, Alwyn produced the Insight programme at New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) the format and genre was suited to the newsroom, so he was asked to create a segment that focused on human interest stories, this was the genesis of Spectrum.

Since 1972 Spectrum has covered a wide range of stories across the width of breadth of Aotearoa. In a few of his stories, he spent time talking with māori in their communities. Dame Whina Cooper shared her story with Alwyn when he spent a day recording her in a caravan in Ngunguru, he recalls that day in 1978;

Whina Cooper addressing Maori Land March at Hamilton.

Whina Cooper addressing Maori Land March at Hamilton Photo: Heinegg, Christian F, 1940- :Photographs of the Maori Land March. Ref: 35mm-87529-13-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22700614

“She was there in a caravan with Joseph Cooper as her minder…so I want to see her and there she was sitting up in bed with a crucifix behind. I asked her if I could record her life story, it was quite extraordinary right from the word go, here’s this women telling me how she was born in a cooking shed at night…her mother is still a teenager, and her father is 58, so there they all are in the cooking shed, and the baby is born”

Alwyn spent a few days in Te Araroa one year after Cyclone Bola ravaged the coastline to get a sense of its people amid high unemployment after the local forestry mill had closed.

“Normally you were welcome with open arms.  After you had a chat they saw that you were genuine, that you were not up yourself and you were not the ‘announcer’ from the city. On one occasion I had to wait at Mourea where I was with a Māori from the district, we had to wait for two days before we were given permission to record there”.

In 1977 he produced The Korowai Makers with Dame Rangimarie Hetet (1892 – 1995) and her daughter Diggeress Te Kanawa (1920 - 2009).

Diggeress Te Kanawa

Diggeress Te Kanawa Photo: Bridget Williams Books

They showed Alwyn around their old meeting house and the weavers explained the methods of stripping the fibre from the flax.  During production of the programme, a scene was created where Alwyn would need the voice of a kuia, he had his colleague Mahi Potiki play this role but the limited technology of the time did not enhance her voice to give it an ‘elderly’ sound. Alwyn recalls that day in the production suite;

“She read it….I said sorry Mahi it doesn’t work, you don’t sound old enough, she said I know what I’ll do, I’ll take my teeth out.  So she took out her false teeth, laid them on the table, read it again and that worked”.

Spectrum will be broadcast for the final time on July 24th after forty four years. Alwyn, who is 89 years old said this about its ending;

“For everything there is a season I guess, it’s had a good run”

Spectrum Producers Jack Perkins with Alwyn Owen (2015)

Spectrum Producers Jack Perkins with Alwyn Owen (2015) Photo: Supplied

Archival Material supplied by Ngā Tāonga Sound and Vision.

Ngā taonga Sound and Vision

Ngā taonga Sound and Vision Photo: Nga Taonga Sound and Vision