Deborah Coddington
Deborah Coddington

Thirty Issues On

Christians would say when the Lord closes a door, he opens another window. Buddhists would say it's karma. I say you can't keep a good man down.

In 1994 The Free Radical was born out of the fiasco which saw Lindsay Perigo and me leave the employment of Alan Gibbs, owner of BBC World Service, at the end of 1993 (and that's another story soon to be told). Earlier that year Perigo had typed out a short synopsis, describing the sort of magazine he'd like to publish. It was filed under "maybe one day"; then, when the chance to fight for freedom over the airwaves was gone, Perigo chose to go into print.

The first issue was published in May 1994 by Christchurch-based Dave Henderson. Slim, elegant and grey, just sixteen pages, it contained three articles: "Roger Douglas: Champion of Choice?" by Lindsay Perigo, "May we have the word 'Liberal' back?" by Dr David Kelley, and "Human Rights Legislation: Orwellian Doublespeak" by me.

At some stage we decided to launch the magazine in Wellington. As the stronghold of bureaucracy and Nanny State, it seemed entirely appropriate at the time. We hadn't anticipated the wimpishness of Wellington reporters, however, and what began as an elegant affair with the Turnovsky Trio playing quietly in the corner, ended up something like an evening with David Tua. Close proximity to the Beehive was needed to attract the pollies (Turnbull House), free booze to attract the media (courtesy Dave Henderson), and the publication was launched, literally, with a bang. I had not previously met Sir Robert Jones, who was the guest speaker, but he kindly invited me to stay so I went directly from the airport to his office, where we quickly downed too many drinks. I remember smiling a lot in the cynical faces of members of the Press Gallery (many of whom had gatecrashed) and clambering onto a box to say something (I remember not what). I soon noticed two reporters engaging in a bit of Jones-baiting, and what I witnessed will remain a state secret until the Statute of Limitations expires, as the reporters in question were very quick to lay a complaint with the police. (It was not taken any further.)

That same week, a profile on Perigo was published in The Listener. Anthony Hubbard wrote:

Perigo will tell the ugly truth. "I'm stating the hard-core facts from day one, expecting that there will be much shock-horror," he says, beaming. "I'm not expecting anything to happen, as a result of expounding this philosophy, for a long time yet. But there's no point in watering it down now on the grounds that it's just going to frighten the horses."...The magazine needs a circulation of about 2000 to break even. But "one-hundred-and-whatever thousand are reading the left-wing garbage that your magazine puts out. We should be able to get to 2000."

From memory, 200 copies of the first issue were printed and everyone said it wouldn't last. Today the print run is 2500 and the subscriptions increase at an average of 10 a week. Perigo took over the publishing of the magazine in 1996 after Radio Liberty folded, and poured his own money into keeping The Free Radical alive. It hasn't put him up in the Kerry Packer bracket, but now each issue breaks even, and that's without advertising.

To be sure, in the intervening years, there have been times when Perigo and I wondered if we would last, let alone the magazine. Just six months after The Free Radical came out, we helped in setting up the ill-fated Radio Liberty, a national radio network in direct competition to National Radio, drastically understaffed and undercapitalised (as we later found out). Our working day began at around 5am and on a good day, we'd leave the premises after the sun had set. Recently I sifted through some of the feedback we received after our voices of freedom and reason hit the airwaves. Some of it, predictably, was hideous and nasty, but the positive comments convince me that the eight glorious months that Radio Liberty was broadcasting were worth it. Critics today talk about "the failure of Radio Liberty"; looking at the influence we had on people, some of whom today are involved in The Free Radical and the Libertarianz, I prefer to call the network an extraordinary success, in spite of the odds.

"It is an oasis of sanity in the broadcast media."

"Please keep up your excellent work and continue to challenge the politically correct mediocrity we are all bombarded with."

"It's never too late to feel relief that Radio Liberty has burst on to the horizon."

"I have to say that absolutely, without a doubt, I love to listen to Radio Liberty...I believe that you are fulfilling a very important function for the future of New Zealand."

"I have converted friends to Radio Liberty who hold similar views. I am off at lunch time to purchase your magazine to give support."

"The benefit I have gained from your station is to challenge my learned behaviours and beliefs."

"Your station is just brilliant, I don't bother with any other radio station and I hate TV."

Unfortunately for freedom, but perhaps fortunately for our own personal sanity, Radio Liberty did not return to air in January 1996. But throughout this drama, The Free Radical survived. We certainly had a surfeit of material to cover — issues which no other media outlet (with the exception of my column, "By The Right," which Metro magazine was brave enough to print) would cover. We coined the phrase "NaZis on Air" and started the ball rolling to fight the insidious broadcasting fee. In one of my editorials on "Freespeak" (9am to noon, weekdays), I attacked NaZis on Air, and the head of it, Ruth Harley, for just "doing her job," calling her Commissar Harley. This was taken up in The Free Radical and eventually, the Broadcasting Standards Authority ordered us to broadcast an apology. Young graduates and school-leavers who came to us muddle-headed from a state education would contribute to the pages of The Free Radical, as they focused their ideas and discovered what freedom, and the non-initiation of force, was all about. They had not considered the difference between "rights" and "needs." Sadly, it was all too hard for a few, who reverted to their "cool" world of cynicism, nihilism, and subjectivism.

But it was after Radio Liberty was silenced that The Free Radical really began to soar. Issue 22, published December/January 1996/97 sported a bold red cover with a white swastika on a black sphere, with the quote: "I seriously wonder where freedom is going in the country. Hitler would have been proud of our Human Rights Commissioners." (John Kirk, General Manager, Greenacres Golf Club, upon being ordered to stop running golf tournaments for married couples as it was discriminatory.) People were outraged by this cover and Perigo was summonsed on to Bill Ralston's TV3 show to explain himself — a task he had absolutely no problem with whatsoever, and Ralston was left gasping. Predictably, TVNZ, the state broadcaster, studiously ignored that brat who, four years earlier, had called them all "braindead." (To this day, Perigo is still banned from appearing before any camera which films for the SOE.) They might have hated the cover, but sales of the magazine jumped, and continued to climb.

Then there were the tragedies. While in London in July last year I received a telephone call to say Jessica Weddell had died suddenly. This was truly unbelievable. Someone so alive, so full of passion, so unswervingly supportive and positive was not allowed to die. I had been wanting to write a profile of Jessica for North & South magazine, but had put off the visit to Wellington until I returned from overseas. How we regret those times we don't act on impulse; the last words I heard Jessica say were on Perigo's (supposedly final) Radio Pacific Politically Incorrect Show, when she said to Lindsay, "Walk tall, you have much to be proud of. And when one door closes, another door opens." Thankfully, just the day before she died Jessica learned that Lindsay's show was being reinstated, and looked forward to contributing to it in her usual inimitable, cojones-curdling manner.

One welcome contributor to The Free Radical was a person known to readers as Glanville Somerset, in real life Alan Jones, whose sense of irony produced masterpieces such as "See What You've Done Sir Michael" (TFR #7). Inspired by "a deranged letter in The Dominion" about how important it was to NZ's egalitarian society that the media publish how much Sir Michael Fay had spent on his holiday, Glanville wrote a short script with just two characters — Sir Jock and Lady Strapp:

The scene is the Auckland residence of Sir Jock and Lady Strapp. Adorning the front gate is the lemon-shaped, envy-green seal of the acronymically-challenged Directorate Of Private Expenditure. A scribbled signature and date on the seal show that the property was last inspected, and the seal revalidated, by an officer for the Directorate nearly four weeks ago. Interior. The rest room (formerly the drawing room, renamed by DOPE Equity Regulation 478/32, 10 June 1998).

...and I'm sure you get the picture. But Glanville had a stroke. He bravely fought to recover his powers of speech, and thought patterns logical enough to be able to write again for The Free Radical, but died at the end of February this year. A chill went through me when a few weeks later, going through some files, I found a hand-written letter of congratulations Alan Jones had written to Lindsay Perigo when Relda Familton died of cancer in 1995, and Lindsay had spoken about her, on Radio Liberty, with Jessica Weddell. Like Jessica, Glanville was another supporter we could ill afford to lose.

The past four years have been packed with drama and drunkenness, heartbreak and happiness, trials and triumphs. It's felt like struggling up ladders and slipping down snakes, but by every indication, the ladders get taller and the snakes ... well the snakes are still there, we're just more adept at side-stepping them. Through his magazine, Lindsay Perigo has brought inspiration not just to New Zealand libertarians (and those aspiring to be), but has been held up as an example of the voice of reason in the former land of the free, USA. Dr Larry Sechrest, an economist at Sul Ross University, Texas, said: "The Free Radical is the freshest, most daring, most honest, clearest-thinking libertarian magazine I have ever seen. It positively trounces Reason, Liberty, The Freeman, etc. ... I am proud to have written for it." And in a Letter to the Editor, Issue #21, Michael Vardoulis, Californian libertarian, wrote: "Overall, The Free Radical is the best libertarian publication in the world."

When the magazine has run with stories which should have outraged the entire New Zealand population but have been deliberately ignored by the mainstream media (the Ngai Tahu settlement in particular), it's been hard to summon the energy to carry on the fight. A game of tennis is played in one's head: Is it possible to persuade people to change? Or is it just pearls before swine? One percent of the time I believe the latter. The other 99 percent I know that The Free Radical, in conjunction with Perigo's radio programme, and the Libertarianz, does make a difference.

In a toast to the next thirty issues devoted to the pursuit of liberty, I quote John Galt:

"The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours."

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