• RocKwiz’s Brian Nankervis. (SBS)Source: SBS
A chat with the man behind the musical questions.
By
Gavin Scott

10 Jun 2016 - 3:18 PM  UPDATED 10 Jun 2016 - 5:25 PM

It can’t be easy coming up with trivia questions week after week, year after year. And yet, that’s exactly what Brian Nankervis has done for music quiz mainstay RocKwiz since its first episode back in 2005.

As you’ll discover, it’s not a one-man process, but Brian is the driver of TV’s Chattanooga Choo-Choo, the chairman of the music quiz board, the leader of the pub trivia pack, the… OK, you get it.

And, as the man in charge of RocKwiz’s questions tells us, he follows a simple seven-step process to ensure his trivia show remains top of the pops (well, rocks actually).

 

Step 1: Know your stuff

“I’ve always loved music quizzes, whether it be from books or making questions up with friends, so I had years of questions to draw on for the first few shows. But as RocKwiz has developed, it has become more difficult, given that each episode might have between 40 and 60 questions (and the pre-show selection process might need another 80 or so). It’s like a musician or band that draws on their whole life for their first album, then has to quickly write a whole new set of songs for the follow-up.”

DID YOU KNOW?: "Apart from five shows in Canada, Elvis Presley never played a concert outside America because his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was an illegal immigrant and if he’d left the US there’d be no guarantee he’d be allowed back in."

Step 2: Admit you need help

“I realised quickly I’d need help, which is where we came up with the idea of The Brains Trust, a group of likeminded music fans (public radio announcers, journalists, musicians, old and dear friends, etc.) who get together once or twice a series. We meet for a (long) lunch and everyone brings 25 or so questions, which I ask to the group. It’s a good way of testing the questions. We also find many questions inspire discussion, gossip, tall tales and true… which in turn lead to other questions."

 

Step 3: Make sure you’re not being too tricky

“We learnt very early that balance was crucial. Too easy and everyone knows the answers, and it becomes predictable and dull. Too difficult and there are awkward silences and contestants can feel exposed. Viewers will switch off if they have no idea what we are talking about. So we try for a range of questions – a few that are accessible so everyone can have a go, then some tough ones which enable the real rock brains to shine. It’s something we work very hard at.”

DID YOU KNOW?: "German singer/songwriter Frank Farian took the pseudonym Boney M. after watching an episode of Australian detective show Boney."

Step 4: Get side-tracked

“I constantly disappear down a trivia wormhole. It just happened now! One minute, I’m checking on which of The Beatles suggested the Pyramids for a concert; two hours later, I’m watching the Grateful Dead sing “Row Jimmy” and “Candyman” near the Sphinx during a total lunar eclipse in 1978, and then The Rolling Stones and Dylan performing “Like a Rolling Stone” live in Rio de Janeiro instead of finishing questions. Mind you it was an entertaining few hours!”

Step 5: Learn a few things yourself

“Here’s a few things from this last series I didn’t know:

  • Apart from five shows in Canada, Elvis Presley never played a concert outside America because his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was an illegal immigrant and if he’d left the US there’d be no guarantee he’d be allowed back in
  • German singer/songwriter Frank Farian took the pseudonym Boney M. after watching an episode of Australian detective show Boney
  • The Beatles’ famous rooftop concert was originally planned for a variety of locations, including the Sahara desert, the Giza pyramids and the QE2 ocean liner before someone suggested they simply do it on the roof of the Apple offices.”

 

Step 6: Check – and check again

“The questions go through a pretty rigorous process. I go through them all, modify the wording and add some similar questions that might follow a particular theme. I’ll double check them for accuracy and find a few more as I go!”

DID YOU KNOW?: "The Beatles’ famous rooftop concert was originally planned for a variety of locations, including the Sahara desert, the Giza pyramids and the QE2 ocean liner before someone suggested they simply do it on the roof of the Apple offices.”

Step 7: Face the inevitable pedant

“There have been plenty of letters and emails to RocKwiz HQ debating, discussing and disagreeing! Our viewers are a passionate lot, and take music and music trivia very seriously – and so do we. The occasional slip-up still sneaks through, but we happily own up to our mistakes. Someone last night reminded me of the episode with a Slim Dusty question we completely botched. I confused “A Pub With No Beer” with “Duncan”, was corrected by one of the contestants and walked off set in shame. But as Julia often says, “We’re not playing for a car here!”

 

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Watch RocKwiz Salutes the Legends on Saturdays at 8.35pm (AEST) on SBS. After they air, episodes will be available on SBS On Demand.

Missed the last episode? Watch it right here: