Q+A: Real Talk #6 – Wallace Chapman

In Real Talk, a regular feature for The Corner, Marty Jones talks to those in our community that influence what we read, what we see, what we hear and what we attend. This time round he speaks to Wallace Chapman, broadcaster and presenter, about his early days in Dunedin at Radio 1 to his move to Auckland and time in the media. Alongside working for the likes of 95bFM, Kiwi FM, TVNZ7 (Back Benches and The New Old) and Radio Live. Wallace is also an avid photographer and founder of the site Street and City Photos.

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So where is it that you hail from Wallace?

Well I’m from Auckland originally; I was brought up and lived in South Auckland, Manurewa. My Dad was a Methodist minister in South Auckland, and then we moved away to the South Island, to Nelson. From there I went to Dunedin, just for a couple years for varsity, but I fell in love with the place so I ended up staying there for 13 years. I only came back to Auckland for work, because I was invited back.

What was it that you studied at varsity?

Well I studied educational psychology and English. So my big thing was psychology for youth and educational thinking. I loved it! But I got really sick, I got really ill with a rare bone disease and was on a walking stick for all of my twenties. So then after varsity I was on a sickness benefit, living in a dark flat in Dunedin feeling sorry for myself. It was my friend Richard Wain who said “Wallace, mate you’ve got to get off that couch, stop watching Emmerdale Farm and do something” and then said “help me write ads for Radio 1”. He was very concerned about me as he saw my life wasting away on a walking stick. It was heavy days for me, it was pretty tough.

So from that job at Radio 1 how did you end up back in Auckland at 95bFM?

So what happened was I had this part time job which gave me the inspiration and impetus to get up off the couch each day and actually do something with my life. So all of a sudden I found that I had a calling for writing ads, I thought, Fuck I’m good at this, and so that’s how I got into radio. Then five years down the track I was listening to bFM online, and at the time they had these great ad writers, Bob and Scott, Bob Kerrigan and Scott Kelly, they work at agencies now. I started emulating their writing, they were very sharp and I started trying to get better at radio ad writing. Then one day I got a call from bFM saying “We’d love to fly you up and interview you for our creative director position, because we can’t find anyone in Auckland.” And I got that job, so in 2001 I came back to Auckland for the very first time after 18 years and started from scratch at what I regarded as the center of Auckland media at the time, and I was there for a wonderful five to six years.

When was it that you began to move into presenting rather than ad writing?

So from there I started to get more and more time on air, filling in with Russell Brown on The Wire. Then one day there was a bit of a crisis at bFM, they were going through breakfast hosts and nothing was really working for them. Mikey Havoc had just left, Hugh Sundae had left, Camilla wasn’t quite working out in the way that they thought and so they asked me if I would like to do breakfast. For me it was a dream come true.

Since those early days in radio you’ve diversified quite a bit over the years haven’t you?

I have, well I think my attitude to life has been to try something, I’ve never been a single focus guy. I’ve always said why not give this a go, or why not buy a camera and give this a go.

How was it that you started in television?

How I got into TV was I did this documentary with this friend of mine, Bianca Zander, about this old flat I had in Dunedin. It was a flat based on a principal from the 1800’s called Summerhill where basically there is one rule, there are no rules. We were bonded by this common love of Pink Floyd and philosophy, and we took ourselves fucking seriously, can you believe it?! So in our flat there were no rules, If you wanted to put out the rubbish you could do it, but only if you wanted to. It didn’t work! The place was a fucking mess and the Dunedin City Council knocked on our door and said “What are you doing?! We’re going to close the flat down, look at the alleyway theres 20 rubbish bags!” We were all too busy sitting inside discussing Pink Floyd and philosophy! So what happened was I was down in Dunedin for a conference and Bianca Zander was there and we were drinking late one night and I was telling her about this flat. I said “I wonder if that flat’s still there because I put my name on it, Wallace Chapman 88“. She said “Nah I bet it’s not!” so we got a taxi, got out a torch and there it was, ‘Wallace Chapman 1988’ and she said “My god this would make a documentary!” So we did this documentary on it and then Paul Casserly from Eating Media Lunch rang, and said “There’s only one problem with that documentary mate, it was too short!” And so he got me to do stuff for Eating Media Lunch and that’s how I got into television.

Shows like Eating Media Lunch and The Unauthorised History of New Zealand have a completely different tone to everything else on TV, why do you think that is?

Well I think what it is, is a way of thinking, I think it’s that bFM way of thinking perhaps. It’s a bit of a wink to the viewer/listener, a bit tongue in cheek. Kind of taking the piss but still keeping it real. It’s not condescending, and it’s a spirit that I’ll take with me whenever I do stuff whether it’s radio or TV I’ll never condescend.

That seems to be a pretty rare trait amongst media these days, why would you say that is?

Well this is why media are often some of the least trusted, because when you see people like Mike Hosking or Paul Henry, they’re great broadcasters but there’s constantly an element of condescension. People turn on their TVs and think, what do I see in you as a viewer? What do I get from you? How do I relate to you? And they don’t see it, because they’re in another world. And I don’t think that they realize that they’re doing it, I think it’s about living life and actually talking with people around you. I guess that’s my approach to broadcasting and media. It’s about not cornering yourself to the green room, it’s about getting out there and talking with people and engaging. Now that sounds tacky, it sounds cheesy and it sounds like common sense, but no one does it.

You’ve come along way since those heavy days in Dunedin, do you find yourself looking back at all on how much you’ve achieved since then?

I don’t really think about that, for me life has been step by step, and actually life really is always a series of ups and downs. Again it sounds fucking clichéd but when I was on a walking stick I thought to myself, this is it, and it took a friend of mine to actually say to me ‘Mate you can do it, you can believe in yourself’. Then after bFM when I was sacked from the breakfast show, after what I had thought was just a dream run, and it was, I thought to myself fuck it, that’s it I’ve done my stint, I can be an archives clipper at the library and have a simple life. But then I turned around and thought, no I can do other stuff as well. So life is a series of ups and downs and I never take it for granted. But one thing I always do have is a little bit of ambition.

Music seems to be a strong undercurrent to lot of the places that you’ve worked at over the years, is it a big passion for you?

Music has long been a passion for me, music has been my number one touchstone in life. I bought my first album at the age of eight, it was a double album and it was big at the time, it was an album called… Saturday Night Fever. That album to this day is fucking great and I’ve never stopped listening to it! I’ve always loved Latin grooves, I’ve always liked disco and I’ve always loved funk. So people like George Clinton, Prince, Bootsy Collins and James Brown for me are brothers in arms. When it comes to music I’m a huge listener and a huge buyer as well and I always will be, because music is a big part of my life.

Check out ‘The New Old’ episodes 1-13 here.

Street and City Photos

4 Comments

  1. Martyn Pepperell says:

    Good work Marty.

  2. There was no one in the bFM creative team called “Bobby Scott”. Can I suggest this has been mistranscribed? Should be “Bob & Scott”?

  3. Marty Jones says:

    Thanks for the heads up Judd! We’ll update that shortly.

  4. great I/V!

    Me and Wallace were best pals in Manurewa when we were kids.

    Top guy.

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