Her voice is silenced – for now

Cheery, cheery, cheerio! Bonnie Leonard signs off. Photo: Hunter Wells.

“I am trying not to blub – so I will leave you with ‘The Organ, The Dance Band and Me’.”

With that she flicked off the microphone, the red ‘on air’ lights on the studio console dimmed and died –and Bonnie Leonard wound up her final offering, a 78 called ‘Cheerio’.

This is when they say goodbye, so keep a twinkle in your eye.” A scratchy but lilting melody from 80 years ago because Bonnie didn’t want to leave on a miserable note.

She dabbed her eyes, poked her tongue defiantly at the reporter who was waiting for her to ‘blub’ and 23 years of Sunday morning broadcasts on Village Radio faded to black. A familiar voice silenced for now.

Twenty-three years behind the mic, one-third of her life – and it was all over.

“So then we will be cheery, cheery, cherry, cheerio.”

Bonnie with her warm, measured concert programme-like tones – a voice for radio and groomed for television, her appearance like her presentation – meticulous.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

“I will miss all my oldies,” says the 70-something former music teacher, real estate marketing consultant and until moments ago, radio jock and companion to the city’s seniors. “I love them all dearly.”

Bonnie called her five-hour finale last Sunday morning ‘Memories of You’.

“There’s a lovely tune the Benny Goodman orchestra plays called ‘Memories of You’ – it’s one of my favourites.”

“Your face beams in my dreams, In spite of all that I do, And everything seems to bring, Memories of you.”

And Bonnie showered her audience, her radio community with that sentiment all Sunday morning –Eddie Calvert and that golden trumpet, Nat and Natalie Cole, Harry Secombe and ‘Fascination’ by The Melachrino Strings. And the like.

It’s a format drummed into Bonnie by station founder and former director general of broadcasting, James Hartstonge himself – and one she stuck rigidly to.

“Two stage and screen, two country, two light classical. And vary it between group; female and male vocals, orchestra and band. It’s proven. Hartstonge knew his stuff.” And Bonnie learned his stuff.

“‘Memories of You’ encompassed all the people I’ve met and worked with. And the listeners, some of whom have passed, on and I played all their favourite tunes.” Music that has endured. And listeners who’ve endured.

Like Barbara from the Mount, whose senses have been surgically and immovably tuned to 1368 KHZ since Village Radio in Tauranga began in 1984, and since Bonnie began in 1993. “She wanted to shout me lunch. And she wanted to say she loved me.”

“Barbara is ‘a darling lady’ by all accounts. She just relates to me and I play the music she likes. That makes me feel good,” says Bonnie.

And there’s the payback for a volunteer broadcaster on Village Radio. “There’s nothing nicer than making someone happy. It’s hard in life but easy on the radio. You just have to know what people want. “And it’s so nice to think people are getting a buzz out of it.”

And as the clock wound down on Sunday morning the place was buzzing with buzzes. There was a call from Helen and Bonnie tells her: “Thank you Helen, you bring me joy”. The phone log is brimming. “Love, luck, thanks,” from Val. “Very sad,” says Sheila. “Going to miss you,” says Pat. “Been glued all morning,” admits Keith.

“I feel like I have just been to my own funeral,” says Bonnie. And then a telling message in the phone log. “South Island? Bloody lucky!” from Barbara.

Bonnie is bucking a trend, or perhaps starting one. Just when it seems all the migratory roads lead to Tauranga, Bonnie’s road leads to Gore in the deep South Island where they catch the biggest brown trout in the world, where they roll their Rs and houses are as cheap as chips.

“There were three houses for sale. Two were bought by Aucklanders and I bought the other.”

And so the music teacher with Licentiate of Royal Schools of Music letters in theory packed her 10,000 records – bar 100 or so – and headed south on Tuesday.

“The first record I ever bought was a 78 of ‘The Black and White Rag’ by Winifred Atwell. That one’s broken – damn it – because it was signed when she came to New Zealand. But the other 9999 or so records might make a good library for a Village Radio in a village that doesn’t have local radio.

“I might be having a word with powerbroker Tim about that.”

Also in the furniture van headed south was a crystal decanter, two sherry glasses and a silver tray.

“Keith Spooner was going to leave it to me in his will but he chose to do it now.”

Keith Spooner, at 94 a mentor and much respected friend. “It was him who got me into radio. I helped sponsor Village Radio and one day when I was giving Keith a cheque he said I had a lot of music knowledge and should give radio a try.”

She did and the sponsor became the sponsored. There was also an on-air shout to Rolly Hammond – a man who, according to Bonnie, was there whenever she needed something, or anything for that matter. Hartsonge, Hammond and Spooner, in Bonnie’s world, were “lovely men, real gentlemen and delightful fellows”.

And so it was time to sign off – the Five Rivers were calling for this angling muso.

“I would just like the listeners to know the pleasure they have given me as much as the pleasure I have given them.” So she told them on ‘Memories of You’.

“It’s time for me to go. I would like to thank you all for your lovely calls and nice comments and making a difficult day easier for me.” And, she said, it has been a privilege. “I’m very conscious of the fact I’m in their home, a guest in their home. “

Cue ‘The Organ, The Dance Band and Me’.

“This is when they say goodbye, so keep a twinkle in your eye.”  

“I’m very sad to be giving this all away.” That sadness will resonate out there in Village Radio land for a while too.