Wed, Oct 12, 2022 6:00 AM

Life of Brian (FM)


Tessa Jaine

Broadcasting from a crappy little building in beautiful downtown Blenheim is a radio station that is making waves across the country. Megan Smith sat down with its founder and asks the important questions like ‘why name a radio station Brian?’

What happens when you throw a bunch of long-standing mates together for a barbeque and a few beers? Anyone would quickly assume that the evening would soon make way for inappropriate jokes, laughter, and negotiating close friends out of sticky situations. Though that very evening, apart from those things, was, in fact, what gave rise to what is now a local radio station that’s unconventional take on broadcasting has some cringing, but for the vast majority of kiwis, delivered a frequency dedicated to providing its listeners with only the best in music, and with no interference of commercials, requests, and DJ’s (their website states that these things get in the way of the music). That radio station is none other than Brian FM.

Brian FM director Andrew Jeffriessays the night in question produced some of the best business ideas to date, all of which were fervently jotted down. “Naturally, the ideas got more ludicrous as the drinking got more out of hand. The following morning, when I looked among the ramblings, there were some concrete ideas. I remember us listening to music over an iPhone that evening, and the topic kept cropping up that some songs were played constantly, and other epic songs were never played. As none of us could play musical instruments, we thought what better way than to launch a radio station and honour the music greats!”

You see, radio stations do not just appear out of nowhere, though to the general public they seem to magically show up as you scroll through frequencies on a car trip. It takes careful planning and industry know-how. Andrew has been managing radio stations globally for over 30 years and has recently settled back in Blenheim with his family. After all, “it is where Brian FM first started.”

Andrew’s first taste of broadcasting came into play after school when he passed by a local radio station in Wanganui and thought to himself, ‘I would love to try that.’ The rest is history. Not to mention career highlights that include lunching with Elton John, impromptu office shows by Ed Sheeran, rubbing shoulders with Lorde, Alice Cooper, and the Black Keys, being dropped outside your home at 5am by a band tour bus in the UK, or even getting a police escort to a U2 concert in Phoenix, Arizona. Whichever way you look at it, the man knows his stuff, and when mentioning bands he loves, such as Kate Bush, 21 Pilots, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Split Enz, listeners will always be in good hands.

Brian FM is not a commercial radio station, and Andrew says there is no desire to be one either, costs to do so are phenomenal. The name Brian has a mystique of its own. If you take to social media, there is plenty of speculation about where the term originates. The name Brian FM is a combination of Andrew’s two sons’ names, Blair and Ryan. “The name Gary did not sound right either! There is also a familiarity with a name like Brian. It could easily pass as the name of a farmer having a conversation with a neighbouring farmer at a fence line,” says Andrew.

The mystique of Brian FM is only fuelled by the establishment’s lack of address or contact telephone number. “It does not matter about the people running the show in the background. What does matter is to play what people like, keep up the fun identity, and stick to our motto of playing what we feel like from a crappy little building in beautiful downtown. If you do not like what we play, listen to something else. Variety is the spice of life, and it still beats listening to 5 minutes’ worth of commercials on other radio stations. Think of us as your personal playlist that got out of control.”

The radio station first aired in Blenheim in 2015 and has expanded to include over 12 regions located on both the North and South Island, with plans to expand the network even further. “It takes a lot of planning, logistics, and fully-licensed frequencies are hard to obtain. Plus, the one thing they do not tell you about running your own radio station is that when stuff breaks, you are single-handedly meant to figure out a way to repair it, versus large organisations with teams dedicated to restoring equipment and keeping it running. We have learnt a lot along the way and continue to do so. We still are a bunch of mates, drinking beers and having barbeques, but who now have an accountant.”

Brian FM is on air 24/7 and run by a few dozen folks. “We are not independently wealthy, so if there are any multimillionaires with a bit of extra cash lying around, we could easily help you spend it (insert evil laugh)”, quips Andrew.

The rise of Brian FM without input from large organisations is a testament to the team’s devotion to music and saying and doing what they like in a non-pc fashion, of course. Jokes aside, there is a time when Brian FM can get serious. The station earned an innovation award at the inaugural Emergency Media and Public Affairs Conference for its work with Civil Defence. Civil Defence can override their frequency in times of crisis and transmit any necessary information to the public, a first for New Zealand. An example of this was in 2016, after the Kaikoura earthquake, when essential news needed to be shared with local communities. The radio station frequency reaches areas such as Golden Bay and Murchison, where town folk only have access to two or three stations, Brian FM being one of them. Thus, you can see why it makes for an essential beacon in times of crisis. “We can get serious, and often it is at times of tragedy and adversity. We will always help where we can. Brian FM will also honour passed music legends for their musical contributions over the years, such as David Bowie, and most recently Taylor Hawkins, drummer of the band Foo Fighters.”

Ultimately delivering what they very well feel like playing, an ever-increasing rise in popularity and the ability to step up and help in times of need implies that Brian (a man doing his thing, apparently) is in no hurry to kick off the jandals, crack a beer open and call it a day. When pressed with what the end game for Brian FM is, Andrew jumps in with a witty comeback, “World domination or to become world-famous, but in New Zealand!” – I will leave it there.

Tune into Brian FM on 100.9 for Blenheim.

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