It’s one of those nasty winter days, when your meant-to-be-rainproof jacket soaks through while you’re trying to lock the car. But, inside the beautiful ‘Town Board’ building – easily recognised among the colourful Historic Village houses – it’s cozy and warm. The building belongs to the Village Radio station, which first started broadcasting at the site back in April 1984.
Shirley Hanly has just arrived. She is not announcing today, but will spend a good 3-4 hours getting ready for her next ‘live’ broadcast. She needs to choose music from the impressive collection available at their library – 120,000 tracks from the 20s to the 90s. It’s the fourth largest collection of nostalgic music in New Zealand – an amazing achievement for a small radio station, broadcasting on AM band and run entirely by volunteers.
Shirley joined the radio station 14 years ago when a friend from Carmel Country Estate Retirement Village invited her to join the team.
“I had only just moved to the retirement village and he asked me, ‘Would you like to give it a go?’. I came here one day, listened to what he was doing, and have been here ever since. I love what I do!”
And she means it. Besides eagerly donating about 10 hours per week of her free time to the radio station, Shirley never skips a chance to go out with her colleagues or cheer them up with her signature ginger biscuits.
“I don’t cook enthusiastically like I used to, but boys love my biscuits, so I often bring some to work. If I ever had to give up Village Radio, it would be a disaster,” she says.
Shirley has always been passionate about music. As a teenager she participated in musical shows in Rotorua and later joined the Hamilton Operatic Society. After that, she sang in a Tauranga band.
“We went all around Tauranga, entertaining in the retirement villages – they loved us! I did that for several years. I just love singing and dancing. I think I got it from my dad. He used to sing and also played at the Majestic Theatre in Rotorua.”
Shirley has also joined the Tauranga Organ and Keyboard society to play Clavinova.
It is incredible how this one-woman band keeps the momentum going. She left school at 15 and since then has never stopped creating, trying new things and discovering new hobbies.
“I’ve been in business and had some shops, but those were hard times and I just couldn’t keep them going. So I went dressmaking – wedding dresses and ball gowns – I’ve always loved sewing. I even drove a school bus for a couple of years in Reporoa where I lived with my first husband. He was a country boy and had a farm with milking cows. What a wonderful time it was!’
Her other projects have included travel to some of the most remote and mesmerising corners of the world. Once she toured around Alaska with a girlfriend, bravely climbing up all the glaciers and exploring wild nature. In the 80s she took herself off to South Africa for a three-week Shongololo Express train tour. But her most unforgettable experience was a spontaneous journey that turned into several years away.
“My daughter went exploring overseas and rang one day to say, ‘Why don’t you and dad come over?’ And there really was no reason why we couldn’t go, so off we went and stayed away for 2 ½ years. We took a campervan all around Europe, travelled through America and picked grapes in France. It was the time when I fell in love with reading because I had to entertain myself at nights.”
Shirley’s daughter and son now live in Tauranga as well. Spending time with them and the younger generation of volunteers at the Village Radio creates the spark in her life.
“We had a few school boys come in recently. They were learning what it’s all about, got a little bit of the insides of what we do, and ended up working at the big radio stations! We are very lucky to be supported by such lovely people.”
As a reward to their volunteers, listeners and subscribers, the Village Radio team organises a wonderful party twice a year.
“It’s always a lovely afternoon. They are curious to put a face to the voice and so do we. A lot of our listeners ring us and it’s interesting to find out who they are.
“Of course, sometimes I have those days when I don’t want to do anything. But something inside me says, ‘Come on, Shirley, keep going!’”
A firm believer in being active for physical and mental health, Shirley declares,
“Women can do anything! You can do anything, if you try”.