Passionate about radio and playing music: Leanne Malcolm says being behind the mic's her "happy place"

She’s shy, socially, but comes alive behind the mic, whether that’s as a TV or radio journalist, news reader or anchor or as a singer/guitarist in a band. A youthful-looking
Leanne Malcolm talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about her illustrious broadcasting career, spanning more than 40 years, and reveals what she didn’t like about TV

Life’s almost come full circle for Queenstowner Leanne Malcolm.

Though best known in New Zealand as a much-loved TV broadcaster — think Nightline, in particular — she’s had a lifetime passion for radio since joining her local Whakatane station for a cadetship, aged 16.

Now, more than 40 years later, she’s doing afternoon shifts for Alexandra-based Radio Central that couldn’t make her happier — along with singing and playing in local bands, which is picking up again after lockdown.

Malcolm’s story really goes back to when she visited that Whakatane station for work
experience while still at school.

‘‘I just felt immediately comfortable and thought, ‘gee, I want to be a radio journo and a broadcaster’.’’

After Whakatane, she worked for Radio New Zealand — learning to speak in that ‘‘very proper’’ voice you needed then — and ZB in Auckland in the late Paul Holmes’ heyday.

At 25, she joined her then-boyfriend in London — he’d been posted there as a Radio NZ
sports correspondent — and after ‘‘a lot of shitty little jobs’’, joined BBC Radio 1.

Initially a sub and a writer, she got more speech training ‘‘for my vowel sounds’’ and became a reader/writer.

She then had about a year reading news on legendary music man John Peel’s Radio 1 show.

‘‘He had an audience of 13 million, which used to put the willies up me every time I turned
the mic on.’’

Back in NZ, she was offered a reporting role with TV1 — ‘‘it was like learning the whole craft again’’ — before starting her stellar TV3 career.

Her four years presenting Nightline set her up, she says — she later presented other programmes like consumer show, Target.

‘‘It’s really nice when people say, ‘I loved you on Nightline’, and I still get that.’’

But as a presenter, she says ‘‘you had very little say’’.

‘‘They cut your hair how they want it, they do your clothing, it’s like being a doll.

‘‘You can’t have wrinkles or any flaws.’’

Queenstown came up in ‘99, the year before she had her only child, Joel, when she and TV
producer/husband Phil Smith — they’d met at TV1 — joined media personality Jeremy Wells to shoot a skiing/snowboarding series here that winter.

The couple had already bought a rural spread which then only had a woolshed.

After that stint, Malcolm says, she didn’t want to leave, unlike her hubby.

‘‘I ended up getting a flat with a woman in Goldfield Heights.’’

Invercargill-born Smith eventually succumbed, and Queenstown’s been a great place for his production company, Great Southern Television.

Malcolm became local TV3 news correspondent for 10 years, but is happy her TV days are now over — apart from, bizarrely, voicing Civil Defence earthquake ads.

For the past 12 or so years she’s also played in several bands.

She’d played guitar in her school’s orchestra and sung in its choir, but got back into music
after lessons with Arrowtown School teacher Karen Neill.

‘‘She said, ‘look, you’re not really that good at guitar but you can sing’.

‘‘I still play guitar — I’m a lot better now.’’

Her latest band’s called Lumsden’s Calling.

It’s an outgrowth of Werewolves of Lumsden, after a couple of personnel changes including the addition of lead guitarist Sam Ross.

She loves singing — ‘‘I’m going to do it till I drop’’ — but is also thrilled to be announcing for a music-focused station, Radio Central, which also transmits into Queenstown.

This arose after she met the owner at last year’s Alexandra Blossom Festival.

He complimented her on the band and asked her for an interview and she asked if he had an announcing slot.

‘‘Radio, I think, is my absolute passion.

‘‘It’s where I started and probably where I’ll finish, but hopefully I’m not finished just yet.

‘‘It takes me back to what I was doing when I was young, and so it keeps me young.

‘‘I can be quite socially shy, but behind the mic is where I feel really comfortable.

‘‘That’s my happy place.’’