Although Barry Holland's face won't be recognisable to all, his voice is surely familiar to many. A 50 year plus veteran of broadcasting, Holland has presented and commentated sports shows, beloved programmes Top Town and On the Mat, and had an extended career as a radio announcer.
Barry Holland began in radio after visiting Auckland station 1ZB on a career advisory day, while still at high school. Liking the look of it, he applied to be a technician, and got the job. That was 1962. After being headhunted by pirate station Radio Hauraki, he instead joined Radio I in Sydney; “I was a young bloke, so naturally I went where the money was.” Then he returned to New Zealand and 1ZB in 1968; he would continue to work there as an announcer until his retirement.
As his radio career blossomed, Holland began taking up roles on television. He first presented on screen in the late 60s, with a role as a newsreader and weather presenter for Auckland station AKTV-2. As the 70s progressed the television work expanded, and he found himself hosting game show Break 21, and hosting a live broadcast in 1973 of the NZ Recording Arts Talent Awards (which had replaced the Loxene Golden Disc Awards).
In the mid 70s, Holland began to specialise in sports broadcasting. He hosted and commentated the International Track Series in 1976, which saw high profile athletes like John Walker, Peter Snell and Dick Quax participating in varied events, not just the events they normally specialised in. “It was interesting. The upper body athletes were good at all the upper body events … and the same with the lower body athletes, like the runners were also very good at cycling. But Peter Snell, he could do anything.” In 1983 Holland was in Christchurch to commentate on Superstars, an international series based on a similar idea. For six years from 1975 he was one of the hosts of Sunday Afternoon Sportsworld for South Pacific Television, and in the late 70s it earned him a nomination for Sports Personality of the Year.
In 1981 homegrown wrestling series On the Mat was looking for a new compere, after host Ernie Leonard moved behind the camera to become producer. Holland got the call up and became the new co-host, alongside professional wrestler (and the show’s promoter) Steve Rickard. The popular show saw him introducing the fighters, and providing a more sensible voice against Rickard’s braggadocio. Holland's decision to host the show caused some bemusement, even from his wife, given its shoestring budget and the falsified air of pro-wrestling. But his reasoning was solid. “They were all absolute professionals and Steve Rickard, he was a lovely guy.”
During the 80s Holland also joined Mark Leishman as co-host on the ever-popular Top Town. He was on the show for three seasons. The show featured teams from around small-town New Zealand competing in a series of quirky physical challenges for the ultimate prize - bragging rights. According to Holland, “the wonderful thing about it was that it catered to people in the regions”, which made it a welcome change to the mainstream, which broadcast television focused on the main centres. Under his watch Kawerau took away a win, with Timaru winning the other two seasons. “Timaru always seemed to be the strongest team.”
In 1987 Holland was still working in his radio sports presenting duties for 1ZB, when lead breakfast host Merv Smith decided to leave, heading to rival station Radio i. Holland was in line for the position, due to take over the high profile breakfast presenter role. But less than a week before he was to move to breakfast, management told him they'd found someone else — a presenter from Wellington named Paul Holmes. Holland seems to have handled the situation with composure. “Was I disappointed even? I don’t know… I had actually questioned whether I was really the right one for the job. They said 'no no, you are it', and I said 'no I don’t think so, I don’t think you’re really sure'.”
As well as his local television and sports presenting, Holland has done his share of radio coverage of international events. In 1988 he attended the Seoul Olympic Games as a commentator for Radio New Zealand. He has also commentated three Commonwealth Games, and three editions of the America’s Cup — two in Auckland, and one in San Diego. In 1998 he was awarded an New Zealand Radio Award for Newsreader of the Year.
After a career spanning six decades, Holland retired from radio announcing in 2011, 43 years after returning from Australia to the New Zealand air waves. However he’s not one to give it all up yet. He still tutors students at the Whitireia Radio School, and journalists at ZB’s parent corporation, NZME. In 2012 he was given an NZ Radio Award for Services to Broadcasting in 2016 Holland was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit on the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours List.
Profile written by Simon Smith
'Barry Holland: On a varied and interesting broadcasting career…' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 19 December 2016. Accessed 19 December 2016
'Real Life with John Cowan: Barry Holland' (Radio Interview). Real Life website. Accessed 28 July 2016
Michele Hewitson, 'Michele Hewitson interview: Barry Holland'- The NZ Herald, 26 November 2011
'The Queen's 90th Birthday Honours List - Citations For The New Zealand Order of Merit'. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website. Accessed 28 July 2016
Unknown writer, ‘Holland Taking Smith’s Place’ - The Auckland Star, 5 January 1987
Unknown writer, ‘Personality Profile - Barry Holland’ - Median Strip, February 2000