Dom Harvey breaking the news of his departure live on The Edge breakfast show on Wednesday. Screenshot from The Edge website

A top, controversial DJ hangs up his earphones as an industry struggles with how to limit offence, and his station’s owner prepares to release a lawyer’s inquiry into its culture and misconduct.

MEDIAROOM: Dom Harvey and his repertoire of pranks, jokes, personal comments and controversies leave the airwaves Friday morning after 20 years as the host of hosts on The Edge radio station’s nationwide breakfast show.

His sudden announcement this week that he’s walking away from one of the country’s highest profile radio jobs will be a wrench for the show’s loyal morning listeners. His verbal capacity to jog blindly through broadcasting standards minefields, his offhand comments about others, his over-sharing from his personal life (details of one sensitive biopsy cannot be unheard) and his ability to make listeners smile, wince and gasp simultaneously have been legend. 

Harvey’s unlikely to have a radio award named after him like the industry’s late, great joker and prankster Kevin Black, but his stint on The Edge‘s flagship spans an entire generation and the on-air achievement is indisputable.

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The Edge had been an audience powerhouse, regularly the most listened to station in the country across an average week – until 2019, and briefly again at the start of this year. It currently ranks third of the commercial stations across New Zealand, with 631,000 listeners across the week, behind sister station The Breeze (671,000) and NZME’s Newstalk ZB (651,000).

But in the breakfast slot, its allure has ebbed and its ratings share has fallen away both nationally and in Auckland over the past five years. Harvey’s co-host and wife Jay Jay Feeney left in 2017, the opposition has probably got better, and The Edge overall has lost some of its edge.

 As Harvey steps out of the studio, The Edge breakfast is placed 8th nationwide and 9th in the crucial commercial market of Auckland. Its share in Auckland has gone from 6.2 to 3.4 over the past five years in the GfK ratings survey, while rival station ZM has steadily moved up from 4.5 in 2016 to 6.9, and into fourth place among City of Sails listeners, from 8th. (See graphic below).

ZM‘s breakfast team – Fletch, Vaughan and Megan, who sensationally left The Edge‘s drive time show to go head-to-head with their previous breakfast colleagues, Jay Jay Feeney, Mike Puru and Dom in 2014 – are now the country’s number one morning music station, measured by cumulative weekly audience. (The news and talk on Hosking’s ZB show and RNZ’s Morning Report historically record higher listenership than the music stations.) In Auckland, Mai FM‘s breakfast with Nickson, Tegan and Jordan still has a comfortable lead over ZM in music.

So, while it has been a long battle for ZM to breakfast success, the decline at The Edge will have been exercising radio chiefs at MediaWorks for the past few ratings surveys. 

Harvey is going out on his terms, citing a need for sleep, exercise and improved mental health and leaving open the possibility of a return to radio in some other slot in the future. The Edge is a young person’s game, young person’s music and young person’s station and you can only be King of the Kids for so long. During the last show, playing that sentiment up, Harvey mock-complained at the in-studio dancing and loud music. “I’m too old for this shit.”

The departure also sees him leave a commercial radio industry which is struggling with public demands for more accountability from staff and programmes that cause offence or behave in ways regarded as inappropriate or unacceptable in 2021.

The sector is currently beset by controversies over hosts’ behaviour and attitudes.

MediaWorks is believed to be about to release early next week its independent inquiry by lawyer Maria Dew QC into the business’ culture. Dew’s report has been looking into allegations since 2018 of sexual or racial harassment, discrimination, bullying and misuse of drugs and alcohol.

One of MediaWorks’ other stations, The Rock, was the subject of online and media reports of a culture of bad behaviour, which the company said after an inquiry did not relate to current staff. MediaWorks also banned former Auckland Mayor John Banks after his on-air support for racist views from a caller. 

Separately, it faced criticism over comments by morning host Peter Williams on MagicTalk and, for unspecified reasons, ended the afternoon host Sean Plunket’s show.

At competitor NZME, internal and independent inquiries into claims over Newstalk ZB‘s sport host Martin Devlin’s conduct have concluded with allegations against him not being substantiated. 

Harvey has, over the years, had more than his share of complaints about his on-air comments and behaviour. He has said things about people that went beyond the pale and for which he has had to apologise. Type his name and ‘controversy’ into Google and the headlines require a decent scroll down. Here’s a screenshot:

Some of the low points in a career of broadcasting highs.

In some ways, Dom Harvey was a creature of his early time in broadcasting, when men were men and everything was an acceptable target for humour or provocation. A time when people would just get with the programme rather than cause a fuss. But when people aren’t, literally, getting with the programme in the numbers of old, and the tides of public pressure demand different approaches and responses from broadcasters, the commercial imperative of commercial radio has its say.

On his final show on Friday morning, Harvey acknowledged those he might have hurt. “To anyone I’ve pissed off over the years… I apologise. It was never done with malice.”

Jay Jay Feeney appeared in the studio and in an emotional few moments talked of a sensitive soul using his radio persona to mask that sensitivity by mocking, taking the Mickey and joking to divert any praise or sentiment that came his way. She said Dom deserved and needed this break, adding ‘You’ll come back a better broadcaster.”

Harvey, diverting, without missing a beat, had one word: “Impossible.”

He has been part of a radio success story, made a lot of people smile and a lot of others reach for the dial – for what seems like an impossibly long time. We may not see his like again.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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