Before he became one of New Zealand's best known newsreaders, Tom Bradley was a teenager starting off in radio. Born in Wellington, and educated at Mana College, he joined Palmerston North station 2ZA as a radio announcer at age 19. “That was really young for an announcer in the mid 60s," says Bradley. "But I was tall, looked older, and had a mature voice for my age.”
His next port of call was Hamilton’s Radio 1ZH, where he also cut his ‘baby-teeth’ as a television newsreader, presenting short Waikato news breakouts on the Auckland version of Town and Around.
In 1969, he moved to Auckland to become one of the ‘good guys’ at Radio Hauraki, while it was still a pirate radio station. At Hauraki he indulged his passion for singing, recording a 45rpm single, 'Fly with Me'.
Bradley jetted off to Sydney in early 1970, to try and break into the Australian TV industry. He pitched 'Fly with Me' to Channel Nine and, within a few weeks of hitting town, was singing it on Bandstand, a high-rating music show that had been running since 1958. When he performed the song again for the breakfast show on opposition channel ATN-7 (now Seven Network), he learned that they were looking for an on-screen daytime newsreader, plus an off-screen voice.
“I auditioned, got the job, and within a couple of weeks of singing on Today, I was back on the same show, reading the news while their regular reader was on holiday.”
Over the next three years at ATN-7, Bradley co-hosted a Saturday morning children’s show, worked on their regular Telethons, and sang on variety shows. He also launched a cabaret act around the local nightclub circuit.
Bradley, by now with a young family, eventually grew tired of the hectic Sydney lifestyle. He was offered a job in Wellington radio, and worked for 2ZM and 2ZB while freelancing as a voice-over artist on commercials. But he kept his eyes open for television gigs. In 1974 he got the job hosting religious quiz show Jacob’s Ladder, which was produced in Dunedin. He also conducted occasional TV interviews for the Wellington newsroom.
When state television was split into two channels in 1975, Bradley did a short period as the continuity announcer for the revamped TV One. But his Australian TV experience made him a target for the new second channel, and he quickly jumped ship and moved north to Auckland.
Bradley was there on TV2's opening night in June 1975 — as part of a twin newsreading team fronting News At Ten, with ex producer Sam Gardiner. Soon TV2 teamed Bradley with veteran Philip Sherry. Bradley argues it created a milestone in Kiwi television: “we were the country’s first two-city tandem, with me in Auckland, and Phillip in Wellington”.
Bradley soon moved into the primetime spot, teaming up with John Hawkesby to co-host TV2’s 6pm news show, First Edition. There he faced one of the biggest stories of his career — the 1979 Air New Zealand crash on Mt Erebus. “The effect on the country was so profound, I suggested to the Head Of News that perhaps John and I should wear black armbands on that night’s bulletin. He made the right call and said no, but I can’t think of any story over the years that affected me more as a newsreader.”
When New Zealand's TV channels — and their news operations — were combined into one organisation in 1980, Bradley and Sherry were handed all the newsreading duties, this time working solo. “Over the next six years, if there was a news bulletin on NZ TV screens, it was usually either me or Philip fronting it.”
More changes at TVNZ in 1986 saw Sherry's departure, while Bradley stayed and rotated through a number of news roles. In 1988 he joined Eyewitness News, then began fronting Foreign Correspondent in 1990. He also presented TV breakfast news in early 1991; six weeks of bulletins covering the First Gulf War. During this period he regularly filled in for Richard Long on One Network News, partnering with Judy Bailey, and in the mid 90s, joined Angela D’Audney to host TV One’s weekend bulletins. There was also this memorable moment when protesters crashed the set, and a short newsreading gig for TVNZ-owned regional station ATV.
By the time he left broadcasting in 1998, Bradley had clocked up over 30 years as a professional broadcaster — either behind a microphone (including narration for a number of promotional films), or in front of a camera.
En route, he has worn many other hats — including that of a British Army cavalry officer. While acting in 1979 kidult drama Children of Fire Mountain, he "got to wear a false moustache, ride a horse, and steal the heart of a local girl. It was a lot of fun”. In 1998 he sang 'God Defend New Zealand' before an All Blacks vs France match at Eden Park.
But beyond newsreading, Bradley’s professional life has mainly revolved around his writing. Amongst the theatrical projects he has written, he has a soft spot for 1981's Dr Luke, a stage musical he wrote with composer Sir William Southgate. Bradley played the title role of Saint Luke. "I was reading TV news at the time, and sometimes I’d duck out between bulletins to attend evening rehearsals, then rush back to the studio, put on my make-up again, and read the late news."
In the early 90s, Bradley began writing the first of more than 20 children’s books, mainly family comedy-dramas and teenage thrillers. He has been published in Australasia and the United States.
Bradley's television work also includes writing comedy material for Pio!, the TV3 comedy show starring Pio Terei. In the early 2000s he scripted over 100 episodes of Kiwi animated TV series Buzz and Poppy, which sold internationally and featured the voice skills of Ray Columbus and Chic Littlewood.
Profile written by Simon Smith
Published on 30 July 2018
Stephen Dowling, 'Over to the writing desk' (Interview) - The Evening Post (TV Week pullout) 25 January 1993, page 3
Caroline Martin, ''Fabulous' things ahead for Bradley' (Interview) - The Otago Daily Times, 2 December 1992
Toni McRae, 'After news-reading, songs and shows...' (Interview) - The Auckland Star, 31 March 1988
Geoff Minchin, 'Voice Over' (Interview) - The Dominion Sunday Times, 20 April 1975
Tracey Palmer, 'Bradley gives up reading for writing' (Interview) - The Evening Post, 26 November 1992
Barry Shaw, 'Newsman Tom turns soldier' (Interview) - The Auckland Star, 6 October 1979
Unknown writer, 'TV1 'Voice' Signed Up By TV2' - The Evening Post, 12 June 1975
Unknown writer, 'Tom Bradley is happy to stay with his evening news' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 17 May 1982
Unknown writer, 'Face on Foreign Correspondent' - The Evening Post, 15 February 1990
Unknown writer, 'Bradley joins ATV news' - The NZ Herald, 16 January 1996