From Hawkes Bay to Replay Radio
By David Lindsay
I’m not at all sure what got me interested in radio. As a schoolboy I remember listening to it a lot. The commercial network’s Sunday night lineup was always great and I also remember the request sessions and hit parades on 2YZ Napier. We had good reception where I grew up in Havelock North. There was a great outside aerial – a 20ft mast outside the sitting room with the wire soaring up to a 40ft mast on the back boundary. The Columbus radio brought in KFI Los Angeles on a clear channel at nine o’clock at night as their Other Side Of the Day programme commenced at 1.00am their time. The theme was a lazy version of California Melodies which played for well over a minute before the announcer came in with “Hi There, Night Owls”. That struck me as extremely confident broadcasting.
One day during careers announcements at Hastings High School, broadcasting was mentioned as an option to try for – and I did. An interview followed with a view to joining the technical side but the year I wanted to join the quota was full. But I started anyway as the “Office Junior” before moving to the technical side the following year. I’ve still got the letter from Leslie Adam, Station Manager, 2YZ, setting out how this year’s experience would give me a very good understanding of the complete working of a Radio Station, and the NZ Broadcasting Service as a whole. The letter of 15 January 1953 offered me a starting salary of 255 pounds per annum. I thought I was made!
He was right about it being good experience. The duties included opening the mail and putting away the 78’s after broadcast. I really learned my way around. In those days technicians played the records and the announcers did just that – announce. As that first year progressed I started learning panel duties and began doing lunch cover so that by the time I transferred to technical the following year I was soon ready to do full shifts. Having worked in the office I knew what records had arrived. In that first year the turntables and pickups in the control room were upgraded for microgroove and 45 rpm. When a programme ran short one day I grabbed one of the new EP’s and played the first 45 on 2YZ. The equipment in those days was pretty basic as can be seen in the self-taken photo of me at the 2YZ control panel a few years after I started.
There were many outside broadcasts in those days. Two church services every Sunday, sporting fixtures (local games and international fixtures), brass and pipe band recordings at a local church hall, and royal tours when they were covered every inch of the way. For coverage of the 1953/54 royal tour when the Queen and Prince Phillip arrived at Napier by the royal yacht Britannia, I was stationed at the wharf. To get a close up view of proceedings a small scaffolding was erected, complete with a canvas roof – in case it rained (and it was grey day). The pole rising out of the top of the photo (at left) had a microphone at the top to capture sound effects.
On the technical side I helped wire up the facilities when the commercial station 2ZC was installed in the Napier premises in 1957, and also some years later when a Hastings studio was set up to prove that 2ZC covered the twin cities. But my heart was really in the operating side. Whenever possible I grabbed the panel operating shift, enjoyed recording documentaries, and eventually wrote and produced a weekly film programme, Movie Magazine, which ran first on 2YZ, and later was rebroadcast on 2ZC and also 2YW in Gisborne. When the two National stations joined the network the programme continued on 2ZC till I finished it at episode 500, ten years down the track. It was unheard of in those days that a technician would write and produce a radio programme – and I got no credit for it as far as my career was concerned.
Under manager Ken “Pop” Collins 2ZC was a free-wheeling station with many innovative programmes – the kind that influenced a young Paul Holmes growing up in Hawkes Bay. I found myself in demand as an operator for Anything Goes, a mad Saturday night show with Neville Chamberlain and David Ford, and the Fabulous Fifty Hit Parade with DJ Keith Richardson.
We established a country-wide following. The photo on the right was taken at the celebration of the Fabulous Fifty’s first birthday. It was one of the first radio shows in New Zealand to use drop-ins from comedy records – a style which became very popular. I also recorded several Hawkes Bay pop groups in the studio and two live recordings of Johnny and the Contacts at the Top Hat, a popular dance hall just across the road from the studio. (Get in touch with me if you want to hear The Contacts.)
By late 1967 I was ready to come to Wellington, commencing duty on Tuesday 5 December. That Friday night I was on panel for the Top Twenty with Keith Richardson (who had moved to Wellington about a year earlier). My first duties in Wellington included Duty Office, Master Control, and later Assistant Supervising Technician in Recording Centre. Here I continued with training staff – usually raw recruits – and I am probably the last person in Radio New Zealand with experience in disc cutting. I was also a regular Parliamentary operator.
In 1978 I was chosen to be the Executive Producer for the Radio New Zealand involvement for the New Zealand Trade Fair at the Wellington Show Buildings. Our costs came in at under the contract price so I made a small profit for the company – along with a glowing letter of thanks from the Show Association. Not long after this the first of Radio New Zealand’s “Rationalisation” exercises started to hit and it was clear that the position of Assistant Supervising Technician, Recording Centre, was going to be short lived. I transferred to the position of Commercial Production Operator in Studio Five, a position I held for five wonderful years where, along with assembling some award-winning commercials and attracting outside clients (enough to cover my wages), I put together some interesting programmes for the Continuing Education Unit and several “Active Archive” programmes for Brian Salkeld. I also recorded the Grampa’s Place album for Kiwi Pacific and the two Buzz O’Bumble cassettes for Replay Radio.
After five years in Studio Five it was obvious I was not going to get any promotion so when the Manager Replay Radio job was advertised I applied and was pleasantly surprised when I was appointed. It has been a challenging 14 years. When I started it was a one-man-band and all the administration was done manually. Over the years I added computerisation, both for running the business and designing the labels and covers, and produced commercial releases. An early success was with Canadian artist Keath Barrie. In the heady days when TV and Radio were both part of the same organisation I could raise end-time contra advertising on TVNZ. As a result we sold 3,500 copies of the first cassette we released by Keath Barrie. Alas it was not to be the same again. The commercial radio stations woke up to the fact that they could use the contra and froze Replay Radio out! The other artists I am most proud to be associated with are Wild Geese, the Wairarapa based Celtic-folk group. My faith in them was vindicated in their carrying off Folk Album of the Year at the 1997 Clear Music and Entertainment Awards, for the Replay Radio CD and cassette album “Betwixt Time and Place…” Particularly satisfying as it was Replay’s first foray into compact discs.
So, after 44 years, it was time to retire. An enjoyable career in radio. Not many people these days stay in one organization for their entire working life.
David Lindsay retired as manager of Radio New Zealand’s Replay Radio service following a long career in local radio in both Napier and Wellington. © David Lindsay, 2005