OMC will never escape the shadow of their hit single 'How Bizarre'; Karyn Hay will always be associated with her first television gig. In the early 1980s, Hay found fame for a five-year stint hosting music show Radio with Pictures. As Listener writer Diana Wichtel puts it, Hay's unreconstructed Kiwi vowels "were, depending on your point of view, the end of civilization as we knew it or a breath of indigenous fresh air". Civilization continued; and so did Hay's rich career.
Hay grew up in the Waikato township of Waitoa. Growing up, Hay watched local music shows Happen Inn and C'mon. Her father worked at a dairy factory and played banjo; her uncle was a member of Tauranga pop band The Four Fours, later to morph into successful blues rockers The Human Instinct.
After leaving high school, Hay took up a cadetship in Hamilton with Radio New Zealand. She began copywriting (writing advertisements), and the job took her to Napier and Auckland's Radio Hauraki, where she was awarded for a punk rock poem advertising a gig at famed venue The Gluepot.
At Hauraki she began working as a DJ, shortly before the channel went commercial. Then she wrote to TVNZ, suggesting they might like a new presenter for alternative music show Radio with Pictures. Female music hosts were a rare species on Kiwi television. "She was right for the times", said RWP producer Peter Blake in 1984. "After the whole punk new wave thing, the music was changing, and the programme with it."
Initially Hay came in for her share of flak - partly from obsessive music fans disappointed she didn't know Traffic's entire back catalogue, and partly from Sunday night viewers mortified to hear her particular brand of Kiwi accent coming from their televisions. Radio with Pictures director Simon Morris argued that the haters seemed to be mainly women: "They would come and complain: 'It's her voiyce. It's tearible.'"
Hay stayed for five years, winning many fans in the process. In 1987 she exited New Zealand for London with one of them: partner Andrew Fagan, ex-lead singer of pop band The Mockers. The couple bought their new home, motorboat the Moonfleet Smuggler, within a week of arriving. Hay later hosted a radio show. The couple talk about their time in London in the Gary McCormick documentary Connections - The London Connection.
Returning to New Zealand in the early 90s, Hay was "absolutely shocked" at how local television had become so ratings-orientated. She began training as a studio director at the company Kids TV. Feeling that involvement was better than complaining, in 1992 she took over presenting duties on late night music show Coca-Cola TVFM. Hay also worked on scripts and programming for the show.
When arts magazine programme The Edge launched in 1993, Hay was enlisted to direct some pieces, and do occasional film reviews. But it was hard to keep her away from music for very long. In 1995 she joined fellow ex-RWP host Dick Driver to produce a new music show, loosely modelled on Radio with Pictures. Music Nation was hosted by Bic Runga and Ian Hughes (now Hugh Hughes).
The 90s also saw Hay directing a number of music videos, including songs by The Verlaines ('Mission of Love'), Shona Laing ('Mercy of Love'), and an almost hit from The Dribbling Darts of Love: 'Hey Judith'.
Having decided long ago that in her 30s she would become a writer, Hay's first novel Emerald Budgies emerged to acclaim in 2000. A darkly comic tale of drugs and betrayal, it won the Hubert Church Best First Book Award in the Montana Book Awards.
By 2004, Hay was alternating mornings co-hosting a Channel Z radio show, with writing in the afternoon, after becoming a Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellow. A long time supporter of Kiwi music, Hay was made general manager of Channel Z in 2006, after it had been reborn as 100 per cent New Zealand music station Kiwi FM.
In 2004, Hay spent a fortnight in East Timor, for an episode of the travel show Intrepid Journeys. In 2008 she jokingly talked about her latest show as presenter, Rocked the Nation - a show which involved "trawling through 500 hours of footage, followed up with a series of discussions that eventually resulted in a punch-up".
These days Hay is a regular night-time host on Radio Live.