Edwin Maher 05-18-2004 15:13

There have been many highlights in my broadcasting career, but this has to be the tops - becoming the first non-Chinese face to read news on CCTV International. It was more like an honor than a job-offer when the channel’s director, Jiang Heping asked me to join his team of anchors. Actually I have a two-fold purpose. You can see me on three days of the week (Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday 8 a.m 10 a.m. and noon Beijing time) but on my other two days I am voice-coaching the other Chinese anchors, reporters, and voice-over staff.

In December 2003, I completed a six months engagement as Voice Trainer with the English Dept of China Radio International (CRI) so the work environment at television is similar, but busier. As with any organization, it's best asset is the people, and like CRI, everyone at CCTV International is friendly and welcoming, yet fiercely determined to put out the best possible product.

When I was asked to write my story for the CCTV website, I thought, where do I begin and not become boring? Since broadcasting has been my only working life, I have been seen and heard on several services in Australia where I have lived most of my life, and the country of my birth - New Zealand.

As a Kiwi - the bird that can't fly - my own career was hatched with the New Zealand Broadcasting Service in Wellington. In those days, the news was brief and only just emerging from a once-a-day only national bulletin, consisting mainly of government press releases. So it was interesting to be there at the time of rapid expansion.

I learned to not only read news, but be a DJ, and then eventually appear on the fledgling television service from which I still have a video recorded in black and white, speaking in a very "put-on posho" voice. As my daughter, Elizabeth told me when she saw it many years later: "Dad, that's a shocker."

While still very young, I wanted to try the bigger opportunities across the Tasman, and landed in Australia to take up a job on a television station in the New South Wales (NSW) provincial city of Wagga Wagga - pronounced "Wogga". Now I was reading news, commercials, and even compering a daytime panel show where viewers sent in questions about everything from their untidy children "who won't clean up their bedrooms" to husbands and wives "who won't stop snoring". The "experts" were local women, so now you can understand why the show was called, Pettitcoat Panel.

After 18 months I thought it was time to get out from under their skirts and find some more experience. This time I worked for a TV channel in Hobart, the capital of Australia's only island state, Tasmania. Now I was reading more news, more commercials, and hosting another panel program - a junior quiz challenge. At least I was expanding my horizons. But still not quite far enough.

My job train made its next stop in the nation's capital, Canberra, and now a chance for a taste of Australian politics - or so I thought. But my most memorable story was about the installation of new toilet seats in Parliament House, and I can still remember the closing line - "we hope they'll be a great convenience".

There had to be greater challenges. Sydney (NSW) was the place to go - the hub of television in Australia, and despite my toilet tale, it 's off-beat content and play on words actually got me a job at the Seven Network as Associate Producer on a morning current affairs show. Plenty to get stuck into there.

My wife, Robyn, and I now had little two boys and a girl, so you would think we would be settled. But a friend of mine running the news department of a new radio station in Melbourne offered me a job as Senior Journalist and morning newsreader. We decided to go south to the state of Victoria, and then things did start settling down. Well almost.

The radio station was great, but I wanted to take an even bigger step, without having to move cities. I auditioned for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and in 1979, was offered a position to work on radio and television as a presenter of news. I actually covered the full spectrum of programs, ranging from news and weather forecasts on television, to filling-in several times as host of the network's breakfast and other radio shows.

I stayed with the network for 20 years - that's a long time in this game. They were filled with memorable moments including the night when asbestos was detected in the walls of the news studio, less than half an hour before the main 7 p.m. news which I was to read.

The staff union immediately imposed a ban on anyone going inside the studio and we were faced with the choice of having no news, or taking a relay of the ABC's bulletin from Sydney, which would not have been entirely relevant to Melbourne viewers. I suggested, "let's take the cameras outside and do it somewhere else". Within minutes, long cables were attached, and the studio cameras rolled into the foyer of the ABC building.

With the clock ticking rapidly towards 7 p.m., I sat down between potted plants, and everyone walking around was told to keep quiet, while we got the Victorian bulletin to air. Viewers were fascinated when I opened the bulletin by saying "this is Edwin Maher coming to you from the foyer of the ABC". It went without a hitch, and there was great excitement in a job well done by all involved. The city newspapers and even a rival television network sent reporters to cover the event.

Between those 20 years I wrote three books including Now to the Weather - Confessions of a TV Weatherman, which a looks at weather presenters around the world. In 1988 I was invited to attend the International Weather Conference in Paris. A rock band even approached me to record a song about the weather. "Why not?" I thought, and wrote the lyrics to a weather-rap, called Your Weekend's Gonna Be Ruined and it's Not My Fault. My singing - or should I say, rapping, wasn't going to rewrite the pop charts, but then, you never know. Well I do know we didn't make the Top 100, or even the Top anything, but it did get some airplay and laughs.

Late in my career at the ABC, I took a special interest in broadcast voice training, which was severely lacking at the time. I was asked to give some lectures and take tutorials in the School of Journalism at Australia's biggest university, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). I recorded a tape (now on CD) called Teach Yourself the ABC of Speaking Naturally, and created a website at

CCTV International is my workplace for the next 12 months. I arrived early in March 2004 just three months before the channel's expansion as a television news leader in China's growing media sector. There are more challenges ahead, and I am happy to not only be part of them as a presenter, but contributing to the skills of my new Chinese colleagues. The days of Petticoat Panel are well behind me.


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