express sat down with The Edge Breakfast Show’s Mike Puru, Jay-Jay Feeney and Dom Harvey to discuss the lifestyle of successful shock jocks, being out on radio and their advice for the presenters that remain in the closet.
Mike Puru is New Zealand’s go-to guy for presenting youth programming. The 38-year-old who heralds from Gore made his name in television, presenting the likes of Sing Like a Superstar and Flipside, but that success has been all but eclipsed by his decade-long run hosting The Edge Breakfast radio show with Jay-Jay and Dom.
2014 is shaping up to be their year. In the highly competitive TNS NZ Commercial National Survey, The Edge was ranked as the number one commercial network station, and followed up at the NZ Radio Awards in May winning Network Station of the Year for the first time in its twenty year history. The awards confirmed the breakfast slot deserved much of the credit for the station’s success, awarding the trio Best Metropolitan Music Breakfast Show and the Paul Holmes Broadcaster of the Year gong.
The team’s hard work has given them the opportunity to work even harder, as this month The Edge was NZ’s first commercial radio station to launch it’s own TV channel. Edge TV promises to offer the same irreverent banter and new music as it’s audio counterpart, Jay-Jay sums up, “We want to entertain people, and we try so hard to do that.”
She’s not lying. Her and husband Dom are in work by 5am, which gives them an hour to do final research for their show, while Mike checks the audio cuts. They are on air from 6-10am followed by meetings to review the show and plan for the next, before going home and spending the rest of the day online looking for further inspiration and flicking ideas to each other. They are in bed by 9.30 with alarms set for 4.30.
The three have worked this schedule together for ten years now and naturally have become very close.
“Jay-Jay was one of the first people I told I was gay,” Mike confirms. “I was shocked because Mike is one of the least gay people I know.” She retorts. “I would have been less shocked if Dom had come out.” She goes on to confess her and Mike even, ‘pashed’ once. “Was that an on-air thing?,” Dom enquires, “No we were just twenty and drunk,” she casually replies.
Mike told her he was gay in 2001, nine years before he emotionally came out to listeners live on-air. At the time he was taking then-partner Regan Wallis to industry functions but describes being fearful every time he picked up a Sunday paper that he could be outed.
It wasn’t till he and Regan were living together that he came out to his parents. Unsure how they would react he told his mother by email before she was due to stay with them in Auckland. When he later went to stay with his dad, the subject went unmentioned. Mike says, he wondered ‘what the hell was going to happen’, when his father took him on a long drive down a dirt road, but turned out to be taking him to meet a friend’s daughter who was a fan of Flipside. When later dropping Mike at the airport, his father revealed he had seen the email and just wanted Mike to be happy.
His parents acceptance added fuel to Jay-Jay and Dom’s encouragement that Mike should come out on radio. “Mike withheld a lot of himself on-air because he was afraid of accidentally outing himself, so it was difficult to really get the wheel turning,” Jay-Jay reflects. “It was difficult to penetrate Mike,” agrees Dom, tongue placed firmly in cheek. “We were trying to show him it wouldn’t be as bad as he thought, plus he could be himself,” Jay-Jay explains.
On 24 January 2010, Mike came out live on-air stating, “this is a very hard thing for me to talk about and for years I’ve never really mentioned it… for my sake and for your sake, because we’re all just friends here, I think it is time that I came clean. Yes, Regan is a dude. I am gay.” He later announced that he and Regan were engaged and celebrated with a party attended by the Prime Minister.
Even after he publically came out Mike admits, there was a period of 3-4 months that he remained worried. But he soon realised “it was the tipping point for our show because the response was so overwhelmingly positive. It gave us a point of difference and a great scope of material.”
Jay-Jay adds “there’s someone on our show who can actually relate to the gay community. Dom and I are supportive, but we’re straight and married, so it’s like ‘so what’, but when it comes from Mike it’s really real.”
Dom feels Mike, “breaks down a lot of stereotypes because he’s not flamboyant and is probably easier for a lot of gay people to relate too.” Mike agrees, “it’s probably helped a few people growing up and questioning their sexuality to be able to say, ‘oh he’s a normal dude who just happens to be gay’.”
In 2012, Mike and Regan’s nine year relationship ended. Mike was devastated. “I had to heal myself and find myself again. Work out who I wanted to be.” He tells us, recommending exercise as the best aid for a broken heart. “I started running, which helped clear my head. I brought a house and lived there on my own. I was heartbroken for a while, but you just have to look after yourself mentally and physically. Don’t go looking for anything. That’s how I met JP.”
JP stands for Jean-Paul the third, a name the DJs gave Mike’s new partner who did not wish to be named on their show. Mike tells us JP is a French born 25-year-old who was raised in Keri Keri. Mike describes him as, “calm, motivated, on to it and non-scene.”
In 2014 it is still not typical to hear a male DJ talk about a male partner on commercial radio. Mike admits, “I know a few who are gay and aren’t out.” Our conversation moves to one specific radio personality who remains closeted on-air. Surprisingly, in the closet is where Mike feels he should stay. “Because I know him I think he’s better suited to not being out actually.”
Jay-Jay agrees, “I just don’t think it would sit well with him because he’s not open at all in real life. With Mike he is, so it matters that he’s also open on the radio and comes out, but for that guy it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t share anything of himself anyway, so it won’t make a difference to how the[ir] show works.”
“What do you think ultimately though? Each to their own?” Asks Dom.“Do it when you’re ready, there’s no pressure.” Mike confirms, adding, “I wish I had done it sooner, because there’s nothing like being who you are in your day-to-day life. Giving a fuck what people think has always been a problem for me but as soon as you let that go, you make better decisions in your life, because you make them for yourself.”
While the profile of out-New Zealander’s like Mike have made coming-out easier than it once was, we still have ground to cover. As Mike puts it, “when there’s an openly gay All Black, you know that this country’s come a long way.”
Article | Oliver Hall