Boggy McDowell - Radio legend

4 minutes read
Posted 3 July, 2024
Celebrating 33 plus years behind the breakfast radio microphone Boggy McDowell on his last day at 4ZA in 2012

Celebrating 33-plus years behind the breakfast radio microphone - Boggy McDowell on his last day at 4ZA in 2012

He was New Zealand’s longest running breakfast radio announcer, starting out as the youngest at 24 and clocking more than 40 years in the game. ‘Boggy’ (John) McDowell and his on air, alter ego 4ZA mascot, Bertie Budgie, who joined him for daily breakfast birthday calls, were as essential as a cuppa and toast to kick off Southland’s day.

Starting as a NZBC (NZ Broadcasting Corporation) cadet at 18, Boggy’s job ranged from wrestling celebrity cook Alison Holst’s feet free from camera cables during TV show recordings, to choosing music for radio stars like Neil Collins. He was taught by the best, quickly promoted from programming to announcing in 1979 where he infused his own unique style.

“All the other announcers were embarrassed by Bertie, but I embraced him,” Boggy grins. The pair became Southland celebrities, visiting schools and community shows.

Unfortunately, a 4ZA receptionist put paid to that taking Bertie, who lived in a birdcage in the station foyer, to a vet because she believed he was suffering from nervous tension. The vet agreed and Bertie was supposedly sent to Hollywood for ‘a movie role’, a staff member flying to Christchurch and returning in a large budgie costume to mass crowds of hundreds waiting to greet the bird ‘on return’ at Invercargill Airport. “So many people turned out that they were worried the terminal tunnel would collapse,” Boggy chuckles. “I still get people in the (hospice) shop here in Queenstown who remember me, and Bertie.”

His 33-plus years in breakfast radio gained him national acclaim, earning him a QSM for broadcasting and community service and the country’s top honour for outstanding contribution to broadcasting.

Not bad for a farm boy from Boggyburn in Central Southland, the place that would earn him a nickname that stuck when an American consultant asked for one, as the newsreader was also John (O’Connor). “The DNTV2 staff in Dunedin rolled around laughing when I said I was from Boggyburn so this guy said, ‘Great! You’re Boggy’.”

A strong tennis player from age seven at tiny Otapiri School, Boggy was soon under the watchful guise of Southland kids’ coach Neville Hoskin and playing at national tournaments. “Kevin Hamilton and I fancied our chances in the NZ U15 Doubles, but we played Russell Simpson and 12-year-old Chris Lewis in the first round and that was it,” he grins. He raised funds for national tennis trips plucking dead sheep and ‘rouseying’, while at 14, an entrepreneurial Boggy and his brother raised up to 100 piglets which they sold for a handsome profit.

Rugby was always strong and while Boggy was a self-confessed ‘ratbag’ initially at Central Southland College, new English teacher Michael Deaker swept clean, and Constable Cooper soon put paid to the underage drinking in the main street. “I got my act together.”

After 4ZA’s Ross Fenton gave him his big break, Boggy was sent to Dunedin as floor crew boy on TV shows. “I had to hide under the sink ready to free Alison Holst when she turned to the oven and always got her feet caught around the cables,” he grins. That progressed onto the Miss NZ Show, cueing the contestants left and right, making his country mates back home very jealous.

Flatting with his student brother, the partying was sometimes a bit much. “I wound the auto cue for the likes of Charles Joye’s gardening show, lying on the floor under the hot lights. I fell asleep once and they had to start again.”

He and Winton Kindergarten sweetheart Ann married in 1977 and, after training in Wellington, Boggy started his 4ZA breakfast role in 1979, private station Foveaux Radio arriving in 1981, requiring 4ZA to keep ahead of the game.

“I was never in radio for my own ego,” he says. “I was driven by what radio could do for the community.” Boggy’s been at the forefront of so many high-profile fundraisers. From raising money to get NZ’s first heart-lung transplant recipient Ann Crawford to London for lifesaving surgery, and telethons, to pushing old baths from Edendale to Invercargill with teams of nurses and police, and organising All Black celebrity matches, it’s all been immensely satisfying.

He’s also served on the founding board for Southland Stadium and Velodrome for over 20 years.

But after short stints for Coast and Hokonui Radio, Queenstown beckoned and Boggy bowed out of radio.

Cleaning out to move to Queenstown in 2015, he went to Southland Hospice where regional manager, powerlifting champion Sonia Manaena, suggested he apply for the Queenstown Hospice Shop manager’s role. “It was the last thing I thought I’d do, but I love it.”

At 69, while there are no more super early rises, current work hours mean a little less time for his beloved golf. Boggy played to a single figure handicap for more than 25 years and has won club championships at Green Acres Golf Club, where he was also president, and twice at Queenstown Golf Club.

BoggyJ leftJ and Bertie doing their thing back in the day copy

Boggy, left and Bertie doing their thing back in the day

At work in his current role as Hospice Shop Queenstown manager Boggy McDowell

At work in his current role as Hospice Shop Queenstown manager - Boggy McDowell


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