The impressive sideburns of Te Radar — aka Andrew J Lumsden — occupy a special niche among New Zealand's television presenters. Diving cheerfully into challenging topics like sustainable living, Lumsden has hosted a run of TV shows whose educational value is sweetened by his distinctively down to earth comic style.
Lumsden grew up in Ohinewai, near the Waikato town of Huntly. At high school he dabbled in debating, after being impressed by a live celebrity debate. At Otago University, law, psychiatry and filmmaking were all under consideration. After failing his first year of law, he ultimately majored in Philosophy and Drama. Lumsden and some friends (Jesse Griffin, Duncan Sarkies and Aaron Watson) formed Spleen, and came in first equal in a comedy contest. The group soon dissolved; but it opened his eyes to the world of live comedy.
Lumsden was amazed that "you could turn up and speak", and get paid for it. He slowly built up his routines over successive stand-up gigs, persuading himself he would be "a better comic if I just turn up and improvise". Improv, he argues, provided a valuable grounding for his future presenting work (Lumsden talks in detail about his comedy beginnings in this interview, for 2019 series Funny As.)
First year students at Otago were often given nicknames. Each year one bespectacled student found themselves labelled Radar, after a character on classic TV series M*A*S*H. The name Radar stuck, although Lumsden procrastinated for a few years over using it professionally. Later, during a national tour with Mike King, King suggested he "Māorify" the Radar, by adding 'Te' to the front.
In 1994 Te Radar made his television debut on stand-up contest A Bit More After Ten, then appeared on six seasons of Pulp Comedy, a series he rates as instrumental in improving the standard of Kiwi stand-up comedy. When he joined sketch show Newsflash in 1998 — the year he shared the prestigious Billy T Comedy Award — he was credited as Andrew Lumsden. He played a peroxide haired reporter, and later described it as "the greatest and worst experience".
One-off documentary Gather Round - Radar Goes to the Gathering (2002) marked one of Lumsden's earliest turns on-screen where laughter wasn't the main aim. The doco saw him visiting a legendary dance festival near Nelson.
Thinking comedy might entice viewers to watch subjects they'd otherwise avoid — and keen to become "New Zealand's first comedy war correspondent" — he visited East Timor and Palestine, with former Spleen mate Aaron Watson. The visit to East Timor resulted in award-winning multimedia show Timor ODDyssey. Subsequent visits included a stand-up tour of New Zealand Army bases with other comedians (captured in documentary Project Timor), and a return trip with Ewen Gilmour (Project Timor - A Job Well Done). His mission to eat chicken in Bethlehem on a shoestring budget was chronicled in 2005's War Tourist: Christmas in Bethlehem, for which he and Watson scored an interview with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Later Radar encountered a scorpion in Mali during this episode of Intrepid Journeys (he'd turned down Borneo, because he was terrified of leeches).
Radar cemented his television fame with a run of prime time shows about sustainable living. Off the Radar (2009) was the first. Originally intended for Marcus Lush, the series saw Radar spending ten months attempting to subsist off a paddock, while living in a tent. As he mentions in this video interview, Radar believes Off the Radar's success owes much to the way humour bubbled up through it naturally, thanks to his own incompetence.
Follow-up Radar's Patch (2010) swapped the countryside for "a classic Kiwi quarter acre paradise" north of Auckland. This time the aim was to see if an overgrown backyard might sustain him. The show won a 2010 Qantas award for Best Information/Lifestyle programme, and Radar's third nomination for Best Presenter.
His next two shows scored NZ Television Awards in the same year. Global Radar (named 2012's Best Information Series) travelled in search of those trying to create a sustainable future, from Dubai to Borneo. The workaholic presenter denies accusations of swanning around on the job; he recalls a day on the shoot which spanned three countries and 38 hours. The other award-winner was travel show Radar Across the Pacific. When the second season rolled around in 2014, NZ Herald writer Nick Grant praised Radar's "unfeigned, enthusiastic interest" in people and their customs, and "his willingness to play good-natured buffoon abroad".
History is another long-standing interest. As Te Radar says in this interview, New Zealand history contains stories "just as vivid, just as exciting, and just as funny" as anything from overseas. Early Mike King comedy show Welcome to King Country — which Radar directed and co-starred in —made him appreciate "that not only did we have some magnificent stories that were utterly bonkers, but that people loved hearing them celebrated”. Radar went on to write and perform 2005's Hitori, a history of the South Island, and award-winning history show Eating the Dog.
Eating the Dog fed into 2017 TV series Te Radar’s Chequered Past, which looked into little-known — and often bizarre — slices of Kiwi history, from Johnny Wray’s homemade yacht, to MP Bob Semple’s bulldozer tank. As Te Radar put it on website The Spinoff, "every story is about a person, people just like us with hopes and dreams, or murderous intent, or some odd thing they knocked up in the workshop that changed the world.”
His other presenting credits include three-part documentary Hidden in the Numbers (2006), which used statistics to examine changes in New Zealand, and part history, part future series Homegrown (2008), which examined how the country's produce and natural resources have shaped it. In 2012 he wrote and presented one-off documentary Our Far South, which documented a voyage to Antarctica, the Subantarctic Islands and the Southern Ocean by Gareth Morgan, along with a number of scientists and everyday New Zealanders.
Te Radar let his comic side run rampant with Māori Television series B & B, which debuted in 2005 and ran for three seasons. Shot before a live audience, the show merged a chat show with sitcom elements. Radar and Hori Ahipene played a mixed race couple who interviewed two guests each episode, at their fictional bed and breakfast. In one episode Radar's nerdy anthropologist character donned a suit of armour to marry Ahipene's character.
Radar has also hosted comedy clip show Best Bits, and been a guest presenter on prime time shows Seven Sharp and The Project. His many comic awards include two awards for Best Local Show at the NZ International Comedy Festival, and two Qantas Media Awards for Best Humour Column (in The NZ Herald). He has been a regular fixture on Radio New Zealand National’s show Nine to Noon and across 12 seasons of current affairs quiz show Off The Wire. His busy diet of public speaking sees him working across the Kiwi heartland.
The Journey, Radar's first entry in Aotearoa's annual 48 Hour Film contest, won the Auckland heats in 2004. The prize of a free airfare was used to fly to a town in Nevada, where Radar began making a film about successive American elections "through the eyes of residents of a small swing state". He hopes to finish it one day when he gets the time.
Profile written by Ian Pryor; updated on 31 January 2020
Te Radar website. Accessed 31 January 2020
'Te Radar - Funny As Interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 25 September 2019. Accessed 31 January 2020
'Te Radar: Sustaining the laughter...' (Video interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 30 November 2009. Accessed 31 January 2020
Te Radar, 'Te Radar on why New Zealand's chequered past is worthy of Hollywood', The Spinoff website. Loaded 14 March 2017. Accessed 31 January 2020
Andrew Lumsden (Te Radar), '48hour film stars' - The Sunday Star-Times, 30 April 2012
Nick Grant, 'INTERVIEW: Putting the Te in Radar' - Onfilm, September 2006
Nick Grant, 'Te Radar is going global again' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 3 May 2013
Nick Grant, 'Sunday tv preview: Radar signals from the Pacific' - The NZ Herald, 20 July 2014
Karen Holdom, 'Comic confusion' - The Sunday Star-Times, 13 September 1998, page F11
Steve Kilgallon, 'It's all on Te Radar's screen' (Interview) -The Sunday Star-Times, 18 September 2011
Unknown writer, 'NZ-made and taking centre stage' - The Dominion Post (TV Week pullout), 7 October 2008, page T11
Unknown writer, 'Te Radar Interview' - Prime Hamilton issue 21, October 2018, page 33