When I speak with Andrew Dickens on a Friday afternoon he tells me he’s had a busy day. As our conversation continues, it becomes clear being busy is his happy norm rather than an inconvenience.
The broadcaster’s new venture is the morning host slot on the recently announced, NZME-owned station Gold. The music station is aimed at listeners in the 45+ age bracket.
“There are two types of radio guys. There’s guys who stay in one place forever, and they never get fired. Then, there’s everybody else who is basically always ducking and diving and chopping and changing.”
Dickens’ new hosting gig fits into the “chopping and changing” category. He is giving up his Sunday slot on Newstalk ZB because he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a frontline station job.
He says he loves talk radio, but his passion for music pulled him in the direction of the new job. What’s more, it’s the best of both worlds because he keeps his Monday afternoon slot on Newstalk ZB.
“I’m not a yes man, but if you have a long career, you go through a whole lot of things, you know, and what keeps you going is actually something new,” the 57-year-old says.
“I understand my new role as it stands: it’s six o’clock in the morning, I walk into a studio with a pile of records. Every single one of them rock bangers. Hit after hit. Then at nine o’clock, I’ll walk out.”
Dickens felt that he fitted into the radio world almost immediately. Anyone who has been across from him will get the impression he certainly has the gift of the gab, interviewer or interviewee alike. He started out acting when he was young, briefly considered a law degree, before discovering that radio was his ultimate performance.
“From that moment on, I was sort of in the machine.”
And what a machine it is. He began his career on Radio B (rebranded to 95bFM) before being thrown out of his course for “insufficient academic achievement” because he dedicated most of his time to the station. Pivoting to journalism, he got hired at Radio New Zealand as a presenter and journalist.
So began Dickens’ ducking and diving throughout New Zealand (and the world) with his radio talents. He began stints at stations in Hamilton, Whanganui, and Greymouth. In a full-circle moment, the programme director of Gold, David Brice, was Dickens’ programme director when he worked in Greymouth.
His next big jump was back to Auckland for Radio Hauraki for the drive time show when he was in his mid-20’s, before catching the quarter-life itch to head off on an OE. He got a job at an English-speaking station in Monaco and lived in the South of France for almost three years.
I ask him why he returned to New Zealand.
“My Mum and Dad were getting old and getting ill, and I had a fundamental question about who I was. Am I French? Is this my home or is New Zealand my home?
“I came home and I immediately regretted it,” he admits. “I regretted it for about a year, but it was absolutely the right choice.”
Dickens soon began the job he describes as “the big one”, which was his 13-year stint as breakfast show presenter on Classic Hits (now The Hits) with Jacque Tucker and Justin Brown from 1997-2010. During his stint, the show became the number one music breakfast show.
“That was awesome until of course I got fired,” he jokes. Coincidentally, he was let go by Brice – the programme director at Greymouth and now his boss at Gold.
“I don’t know anyone who works at two stations [ZB and Gold] at once like this,” he says, for a fleeting moment contemplating the gravity of what he has taken on with his new role.
Something I wanted to know was if he found it challenging announcing he had prostate cancer on air. He spoke about his journey last October, announcing he was having an operation to have his prostate removed the following month.
“Oh, it was very easy actually,” he says without missing a beat. He explains he felt he could do more good sharing his story than not, mentioning he argued his way to be properly tested. He says he is “fixed” now, joking he doesn’t have to wear nappies.
“So it saved my life, so why wouldn’t I, in the public eye, come out and use that, and say ‘just get yourself tested’?
“You’ve got to be honest and real in radio and in public life, and if you aren’t, then how can you expect people to be honest and real back?”
Over the years, he has realised radio isn’t talking at people, but a far more significant performance.
“Suddenly, you realise it’s not talking at people, it’s talking with people. And that there is one person sitting on the other side of the radio, and it’s you, and you’re telling them stories, and hopefully, they’re telling you stories back.”
•Andrew Dickens begins his hosting role on Gold tomorrow on 105.4FM. You can also catch him on Monday afternoons on Newstalk ZB.