Bill Ralston is the everyman of New Zealand print and broadcast media, his career spanning several decades and mediums. His strongly expressed views have made him a controversial, but always interesting broadcasting figure.
Ralston studied politics and history for his Bachelor of Arts at Auckland University, and in 1979 joined second channel South Pacific Television as a cadet. The following year, when the two channels were reorganised under the mantle Television New Zealand, he worked as a general news reporter in Christchurch and Wellington.
In 1981 Ralston was seconded by TVNZ to the BBC for six months, and worked as a reporter for a Welsh news programme in Cardiff. He returned to TVNZ in 1982, joining the parliamentary press gallery as a political correspondent for One News.
During his time with TVNZ, Ralston faced off against Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, and rushed to get footage on-screen during the 1981 Springbok tour, before becoming a foreign correspondent in the mid 80s. He reported for TVNZ from across Asia, and was shot at in a Soweto school during a 1986 rebel Cavaliers tour of South Africa.
Ralston spent two years as a reporter for TV1 current affairs programme Frontline, before joining new channel, TV3 as Political Editor. Ralston would be at the channel for five years. During his time there he hosted a 10-minute current affairs slot for TV3's 6pm news bulletin, while offering a far more irreverent take on politics on late night show Nightline - introducing his slot with the infamous catch-cry "Yo Nightliners". Clips and memories from Ralston's time on Nightline can be glimpsed on the last clip of the show's 20th Anniversary Episode. Ralston recalls his time on Nightline as wild, crazy, and "the best time in journalism that I've ever had".
Ralston has been at the forefront of some of television's most innovative moments; good and bad. Aside from the gonzo satire of Nightline, Ralston wrangled politicos, journos and other opinionated hard heads over multiple seasons of talk show The Ralston Group , which was inspired by America's long-running The McLaughlin Group. After leaving TV3 he spent three years hosting successful arts and media show Backch@t, and editing Metro magazine. Much like Ralston, the programmes were irreverent, informative, sometimes intelligent and always provocative. Backch@t won the NZ Film and Television award for best lifestyle running every year it was on air. Post TV3, Ralston also presented the short-lived Ralston Live at TVNZ.
In mid-2003 Ralston begin arguably his most controversial role, as head of TVNZ news and current affairs. During three years in the position, Ralston fought for the channel to break more stories on its primetime bulletin, and was one of those caught up in newspaper headlines over allegedly exorbitant salaries paid to Paul Holmes and newsreader Judy Bailey.
Ralston left TVNZ in January 2007. Since then he has worked as a freelance journalist and columnist (The Listener, The NZ Herald), and Radio Live host. He has also had cameo roles in satirical show The Jaquie Brown Diaries, and in the opening scenes of Peter Jackson classic Braindead.
'Bill Ralston - a lively life in TV news' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen Website. Director Andrew Whiteside (Uploaded 8 August 2011). Accessed 19 August 2011
Julie Middleton, 'Ralston goes from making news to running it' (Profile) - NZ Herald, 1 July 2003
Claire Trevett, 'Wild Bill Ralston - behind the bravo of TVNZ's maverick' (Interview) - NZ Herald, 5 November 2005
Diana Wichtel, 'Three's a crowd' - NZ Listener, 31 December 2005, Issue 3425