Roy's time machine

I was going through some old radio reviews I did for the Listener, back before I was making much in the way of radio myself. Among them was this review of Roy Torlesse’s Saturday morning show on Wellington’s Radio Active FM. In the piece, I marvel at the fact that Roy has been broadcasting as long as the station has been running – 21 years at that point. A further 16 years have passed since then and Roy is still presenting Saturday’s breakfast show at Active, now aptly called Roy’s Time Machine.

I’d like to nominate Roy Torlesse for a radio award, but they would have to invent a new category: Long Service to Student Radio, or perhaps Most Encyclopaedic Mind in Broadcasting. I’ve been listening to his shows on Wellington’s Radio Active since the student station was launched and, after 21 years, I’m still amazed by his musical selections and the ingeniously convoluted links he makes between them.

Torlesse can currently be heard in Active’s Saturday morning breakfast slot, and at that time of the week nobody works harder than he does. Station policy insists that he include the obligatory “playlist” selections: recent tracks, with a techno-dance bias. I wonder who wants to hear Friday night music on a Saturday morning, but Torlesse takes it in his stride. In between the compulsory stuff, he’ll take fascinating side-trips in musical time. In a typical hour I’ve heard Head Like A Hole, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Otis Spann, the Buzzcocks, Link Wray and a song from Hair.

 For Torlesse, music is clearly more than something that goes between ther ads and talking bits. It’s cultural information. It can help set scenes, trigger memories, help us comprehend the world and our own lives. Torlesse fills in the broader picture behind the hits. Over a vintage reggae track, he’ll recall the first West Indian riots in London’s Notting Hill Gate. A soundbite of Jimmy Carter announcing his 1978 Middle East peace plan segues into a medley of Paul McCartney’s cheesy disco ‘With A Little Luck’ and Public Image’s self-titled punk anthem, from the same year. The jarring juxtaposition makes its own comment on the conflict-ridden times.

 From psychedelic ‘68 we hear the Moody Blues’ effete ‘Timothy Leary’s Dead’ . Torlesse points out that Leary was, in fact, alive when the song was recorded, then spins Nico’s tribute to Lenny Bruce, who wasn’t. Next he plays an early interview with Elvis Presley I which the King contends that rock’n’roll will never die, and the following tracks by PJ Harvey and Chris Knox seem to prove it.

Torlesse’s style is defiantly non-commercial, but there’s no one like him in public radio, either. Scholarly, eccentric, passionate, digressive. Through changes in musical broadcasting trends he has kept the original spirit of student radio alive. But there is a sign of the times: these days his show includes phone-in competitions. The prizes? Vitamin pills.

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