When Peter Williams retired in 2021, broadcasting veteran Brendan Telfer praised him for his versatility. "He can do anything," said Telfer. "It doesn’t matter what it is — sport, news, current affairs, outside broadcasting, live broadcasting, from general elections to Olympic Games." At the close of this interview, Williams calls himself as "a jobbing, competent broadcaster" — echoing Andrew Shaw's description of him as someone with little interest in the celebrity side of television.
The origins of Williams' broadcasting career can be traced to a childhood of rugby, cricket, and golf. Born in Geraldine, he grew up in small towns around the South Island. He was the son of two primary school teachers, and sport was his "number one hobby: playing it, following it". Like fellow sporting veteran Keith Quinn, Williams sometimes thumbed through old cricket almanacs for fun, only to be told he was wasting his time. He also played golf. At Waitaki Boys High School in Oamaru he won an award for a match-saving cricket innings, and had a lead role in play An Inspector Calls.
His broadcasting career began in Painted Post, a village in upstate New York. Williams spent his final year of high school there, on an American Field Service scholarship. After guesting one Saturday morning on the school radio station, he soon became a regular. Returning home at age 18, he narrowly missed the chance to start the university year; instead he got a job with Dunedin radio station 4X0. In early 1973 he joined the NZ Broadcasting Corporation as a trainee general announcer, and did time as a DJ, newsreader and sports reporter in Masterton, Blenheim, Invercargill and Christchurch. Then he joined Radio New Zealand Sport.
In 1979 he scored a job in television as a sports anchorman and commentator, after Phillip Leishman went overseas. Decades later, Williams could still remember the names of team-members from a league test in Carlaw Park on his first day in the job: 21 July 1979. For the next 13 years Williams was working full-time for state television. Much of it was spent as an anchor on epic Saturday show Sport on One (later One World of Sport). The job was seasonal. "It was like being a freezing worker" — busy at some periods, but with "an awful lot of downtime".
In the late 1980s he enjoyed the chance to play quizmaster on hit show A Question of Sport. Much later, TVNZ executive Andrew Shaw called on Williams to host Mastermind, knowing he needed someone articulate and well-read, "who could speak with a natural authority the audience could respect and would understand ... there wasn't anybody else in the game".
Williams found his life getting far busier thanks to an offer from radio. TVNZ's management were not impressed by his proposal to continue anchoring rugby for television, while working for Radio New Zealand during the cricket season (Kiwi cricket legend Richard Hadlee has described Williams' commentating as "forthright ... fair and balanced"). Initially he was shown the door, but then reapplied to become a sports reporter, and covered Wellington for One Network News. The change helped open his eyes to news; it taught him to write concisely for the shorter time slot, and construct stories for maximum impact.
After 16 years in Wellington, it was time for another change. In 1995 he was appointed Australian correspondent for One News. Aside from one-off events like the Olympic Games, Williams left the sports desk in 1999, after winning an award from the NZ Rugby Union for his work on the Rugby World Cup.
Now based in Auckland, Williams began filling in as a newsreader across a range of shows. In 2002 he took over as presenter of late night news show Late Edition. The following year, amidst staff cutbacks at TVNZ, he managed to secure a new gig reading the midday news, and producing sport for Breakfast and Midday.
Williams continued to read the news on early bird show Breakfast, three mornings a week; he talks in this interview about working with the complicated, but sometimes "enchanting" Paul Henry. Williams co-anchored the prime time 6pm bulletin on weekends until the end of 2018.
TV Guide readers had voted him their favourite newsreader in both 2010 and 2011. That year Williams raised over $8,000 for a cancer charity, after completing a half triathlon in Tauranga.
He anchored or reported from seven Olympic Games including Beijing in 2008, for which he won the TP McLean Award for Sports Television. In 2010 he was chosen to present extended coverage of a remembrance service held in Greymouth, for victims of the Pike River mining disaster.
In a 1990 Listener interview, Williams mentioned his extended stints at the Commonwealth Games as being the proudest achievement of his career — mixing live interviews, events and prerecorded coverage for four or five straight hours on air. "That, to me, is the most fulfilling challenge professionally. Unlike most other TV disciplines you really have no chance to rehearse."
Williams wrote a column for The Herald on Sunday for five years. After leaving television he returned to radio, joining the morning team on Magic Radio in January 2019. While there he drew attention for writing opinion pieces questioning the science behind climate change, and defending his right to ask questions about Covid-19 vaccines. In September 2021, a press release announcing a staff reshuffle at Magic Radio included the news that Williams had retired. At age 67, it was time for him to "enjoy life with fewer commitments".
Profile published on 24 April 2014; updated on 10 September 2021
Infofind - Radio New Zealand Library
Peter Williams, 'They fired me…then inspired me!' (Interview) - New Idea, 18 September 1999
Hugh Coley, 'The Sporting Life' (Interview) - The Listener (TV Times liftout) 8 January 1990, page 29
Marc Daalder, 'Magic Talk's Peter Williams gives shout-out to anti-vaxxers' Newsroom website. Loaded 12 February 2021. Accessed 10 September 2021
Rachel Grunwell, 'Williams finds a new wife - and reprieve from axe' (Interview) - The Sunday Star-Times, 3 August 2003
Robin Hartfield, 'Busy Williams drives back to sports frontline' (Interview) - TV Guide, 17 April 1998, page 93
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'Peter Williams' (broken link) TVNZ website. Original version loaded 26 February 2002. Accessed 24 April 2014
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