Wendyl Nissen’s new role in radio

The former Woman's Weekly editor, TV producer, newspaper journalist, and current Weekly columnist opens up about her new gig as a radio host.

Magazine editor, TV producer, newspaper journalist, our very own Green Goddess – and now radio host.

Wendyl Nissen has never been afraid of a little Madonna-style reinvention – “I’ve done it 100 times, people must just roll their eyes and say, ‘Oh, there she goes again,’” she says with a laugh – but her latest regeneration is her biggest challenge yet.

So it’s fitting that the former editor of the Weekly has named her new afternoon show on RadioLIVE after her most valuable secret weapon she used during her time as queen of magazines.

“The Long Lunch,” she nods as she settles herself down with a martini for our chat.

It’s day four of the new gig and she’s shattered – and this is her first drink of the week. Perfection, she says, demands a clear head and Wendyl’s nothing if not a perfectionist.

“I was queen of the long lunch, back in the day,” she continues. “You got so many good stories, that’s why I did so many lunches. Men aren’t too good at them, but women, we relax, we tell our secrets, we laugh, we fall over, all that stuff.

“That’s what I was thinking when I named the show – it’s a chance to relax, to talk and to learn.”

Radio is the last great challenge, Wendyl nods, the final box to tick off. After years of false starts and almost-deals, she finally signed on the dotted line earlier this year, following a year of editing The Australian Women’s Weekly, with a firm vision to deliver a magazine-style show on the radio.

“I’ve spent a lot of time planning it,” she reveals. “We do news, gardening, TV, just interesting stuff. It’s fantastic, it’s like being back in newspapers, and it’s instant. But it’s exhausting!”

After moving up to her piece of paradise in the Hokianga with her husband Paul Little (60) in 2014, a daily three-hour radio show doesn’t seem conducive to the secluded, calm life Wendyl was searching for. However, it was an opportunity she felt she couldn’t pass up.

“It’s definitely the start of a new chapter… and when you’re my age and you’re offered a job, you’re really grateful. I’d be an idiot not to try it out.”

The lack of women aged over 50 in the media has long irked Wendyl – “I mean, look at what happened to Judy Bailey, she’s still one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen and the most talented… she should still be reading the news. It’s disgusting that women should have to go home at 50 and never be seen again!’” she grumbles.

It’s a view echoed by her good friend, fellow Weekly columnist and now radio competitor Kerre McIvor, who encouraged Wendyl to go for the role despite the fact it would mean their two shows would be directly competing for listeners.

“I had the difficult task of telling one of my closest friends that I was going to go up against her, which could have gone horribly wrong,” says Wendyl.

“She could have said, ‘Why are you coming into my territory, you b—-?’ which, I’m sure, went through her head. But she’s been amazing, telling me ‘we need more women’s voices on the radio’. It’s a test of a friendship, if you can move past it and she’s got my back. Plus, she’s the queen of radio, so I’ll be listening to any advice she gives me. I’m really glad to be another woman on the radio.”

Despite plenty of encouragement from friends and family, Wendyl admits to almost crippling nerves the week before her first live show. The prospect of trying something so new at the age of 54 was daunting, she says.

“Well, that’s the other thing – I am menopausal!” she hoots. “I’m getting hot flushes. Physically, I’m a mess. I am older and I’m more prone to getting tired. But, in saying that, when I was editing magazines, I had five kids. When you’re a woman, there’s always something. It is what it is.”

However, the minute she turned her microphone on, the nerves dropped away. During the three-hour show, there’s no time to be nervous, with Wendyl conducting up to an average of nine interviews a day.

“It’s breaking my brain!” she laughs.

“My daughter Pearl [19] used to say that when she was little, ‘You’re breaking my brain!’ The nice thing about this chapter is the fact I’m sharing it with Pearl, she’s doing radio on bFM with her own show and working in the newsroom there. We’re both incredibly proud of each other.

Despite the “broken brain”, Wendyl says she’s loving hosting the show and has had plenty of support from her co-workers, including The AM Show host Duncan Garner, who enveloped her in a big bear hug and told her to just focus on being herself, rather than pushing the buttons at the right time.

“It was the nicest thing anyone could have said to me,” Wendyl smiles. “And [Mark] Sainsbury, he’s been amazing too, and I have a great producer, John Budge, who keeps me calm.”

She’s just weeks shy of celebrating her 55th birthday, and Wendyl says she’s “much, much” more confident than she was in her 20s and 30s – “though I’ve never had too much trouble with confidence” – which comes down to age, wisdom and maturity.

“I think people are realising that older women still have something to offer,” she explains.

“As Kerre keeps saying, it’s about living a lot, having empathy. There’s stuff a 20-year-old can’t talk about, but I’ve done it all, I can. I think we’re really starting to value that in the workplace.”

However, she admits she still sometimes struggles with how others perceive her.

“There’s a little bit of that imposter syndrome, you know, I’m thinking, ‘Are they going to come into the studio and realise I have no radio experience?’

“It’s a terrible thing! I think women generally battle with low self-confidence in that area, it’s a shame. It’s the same with all the high-achieving women I know, all of them have it. I don’t think men ever do, they’re just born to be confident and stride ahead. If you are a bit strident as a girl, you’re called bossy, if you’re a boy you’re displaying leadership and you’re a future All Black!”

While she’s always been numbers-driven – she’ll be looking at her ratings for validation, like any other radio host – Wendyl says she’s going to try and not be too hard on herself in the beginning, accepting it takes a while to build up a loyal listenership.

Her dream, she smiles, is overhearing a couple of women talking about something she’s featured in her show when she’s in line at the supermarket – while hoping they don’t turn around and recognise her.

Ironically, for a former magazine editor, and despite the fact she’s a self-confessed chronic over-sharer, she’s actually rather shy.

“Yes, I see the irony in that,” she laughs.

Still, she’s dreaming big. Her dream guest would be Jamie Oliver – “I love him, I believe in everything he says.”

She continues, “I would have loved to have had [Sir Paul] Holmes on, I’m really sad about that. He taught me so much about radio. I used to do Friday mornings with him. He was so generous, as he was with so many people.”

And as for that idyllic life she and her husband have dreamed so much about? Thanks to the magic of the internet, Wendyl will be able to do the show from her Hokianga hideaway and plans to do two weeks up north, followed by two weeks in Auckland.

“Paul and I have basically lived up there this year, so we’ve had a really nice taste of what’s to come. I’m only 55 this month, so there’s plenty of time in the future to go fishing, do some gardening and read books.

“For now, I’m about to create my perfect life. I can’t wait.”

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