Radio host Robert Scott is on a high when we meet for coffee at a Ponsonby café having just interviewed British screen idol Billy Nighy whom he describes as a “gentleman” with “a beautiful voice”. Robert soon picks up on my British tones (alas, they’re not quite in the same league as Nighy’s), and admits that he too was born in Blighty. Robert’s accent is most certainly not British, however. He made a conscious effort to shed his very early on—funnily, around the time he discovered his talent for talking.
“We moved over here when I was eight,” says the broadcaster. “When you emigrate when you’re young, it’s quite unsettling. Things were very different in the 70s, it was tough and I got bullied about my accent, so, by choice, I lost it very quickly.” Robert tells me he also developed a skill for making kids laugh. “It’s a very common theme when you speak with others that were bullied at school, as soon as you can find a way to entertain, then the bullying stops. I also began getting into theatre and school productions, that’s when it all came together.”
The Scott family first settled in Palmerston North, Scott Senior was an aircraft engineer. “In London, during the 60s and 70s, my father worked on the jets that were used by the likes of Rod Stewart, the Stones and the Beatles,” says Robert. “He thought them very messy and uncouth! He has some great stories, but he’s in his 80s now and you really have to prise them out of him.”
British radio stations at the time were national, based out of the capital, so the local setup down under was a real novelty for 10-year-old Robert. “I used to be able to bike to the station and watch the person behind the glass who I listened to at home,” he says. “That’s when the connection happened. I realised I wanted to work in radio, and I was very lucky to find out so young what I wanted to do.”
Now into his fourth decade of broadcasting, Robert says his longevity is among his proudest achievements. “I love the changes in technology,” says the DJ. “I love the adrenalin, interviewing people. I’m a huge Kiss fan, and I got to chat with Paul Stanley a couple of years ago and it was everything I hoped it would be. He was eloquent and elegant, and had this incredible, rock star presence. I’ve interviewed about five prime ministers. John Key was always the most open and fun. I interviewed David Lange when I was 22, which was quite overwhelming. He had a great sense of humour and was very quick.”
Robert is thrilled to have bagged Bill Nighy’s autograph that morning, for his son. He has two kids, 20-year-old Sam, and Molly, 16. I presume they must consider it pretty cool having a dad on national radio. But “they’re well over it”. “They used to think it was cool when they were younger,” chuckles Robert. “The poor kids have had microphone thrust into their faces their whole lives. I played Molly’s heartbeat on the radio before she was even born.”
Robert and his wife, Carmel, first crossed paths in Palmerston North while she was a nursing student, but, he jokes, she doesn’t remember the encounter. A while later, he hosted the Miss Vanuatu contest in which she was runner-up (she remembers him then), and four years later, “mutual friends hooked us up”. They soon married. By then Robert, now based in Auckland, had established one of the nation’s most listened-to morning shows, on 91FM, having “cut his teeth” doing the graveyard shifts in Palmerston North getting paid “nine-and-a-half grand and free records”. (He tells me he misses the free records.) In 1999, Robert was offered a gig in the UK, and the couple moved over for three years. “I sat outside the house where I was born and listened to the radio show I used to work on,” he says. “It was touching how it had come full circle.”
The DJ has won a heap of awards, recognised in New Zealand and internationally, bagging a pair of New York Radio Awards (“a very surreal experience”). In 2015, having spent a total of 17 years hosting breakfast shows, including the wildly popular Two Robbies show on The Breeze, Robert took over the station’s afternoon drive-time show — a far more relaxing affair. He still finds time to wield a guitar and sing backing vocals for Shane Cortese and the 8-Track Band who play to sizeable crowds all over the country, covering classic Aussie and Kiwi rock. Robert admits to being a frustrated rock star: “In fact, every DJ seems to be able to pick up a guitar!”
I ask him what makes a good DJ.
“The ability to connect with listeners. My best friend is Dominic Harvey who does the breakfast show at The Edge. We were best men at each other’s weddings and we started off at the same station in Palmerston North. I really admire him. He always has these great ideas, and the ability to make me both laugh and cry. I think he’s one of the best.”
I wonder how difficult it is to be radio-ready with positive vibes every day — especially during some of life’s crueller moments. “It comes naturally,” says the host. “I still get the adrenalin rush when I turn on the mic, which helps. Even during the tough times, you have to see it as a chance to go on air and have some fun. It’s an escape. You say, ‘Right, let’s do this’, then you put on the very best show you can.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces