2ZA Radio Golden Years Reinvented on Stage

The Regent Auditorium hosted the 2ZA Radio Golden Years Show. © Regent Theater Trust
This short announcement in the ‘NZ Radio Record’ magazine heralded the opening of 2ZA in 1938.
© David Lascelles Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

2ZA ‘The Voice of the Manawatu’ began broadcasting from Palmerston North in 1938.

An ambitious social history exhibition was mounted by the regional museum Te Manawa to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the local radio station that had such an impact on community life.

Running for over six months, the exhibition has proved a magnet for memories and a catalyst for events such as The Great New Zealand Radio Show.

The glorious Regent Theatre [a mere eight years older than 2ZA] was the stage for this one night nostalgia special where the radio station was brought back to community life. Here’s how the local newspaper ‘The Manawatu Standard’ previewed, and then reviewed the sell-out event:

The Preview

Elvis will be in the building – and so too will ABBA, Elton John, Freddy Mercury, Queen and even the Mamas and the Papas.

The building concerned is the Regent on Broadway and the occasion will be a reprise of Palmerston North’s iconic radio show The Garner’s Request Session, once broadcast by Radio Station 2ZA, “The Voice of the Manawatu”

The Regent Auditorium hosted the 2ZA Radio Golden Years Show. © Regent Theater Trust

For the show at 4pm on Sunday, November 2, a mock-up of the station’s studio will be set up on stage and two former 2ZA announcers – Ian Johnston and Chris Burn – will host The Great New Zealand Radio Show.

More than 60 live performers will sing and perform during the two- hour show, which is being produced by Kathi Craig and Malcolm Hopwood, and directed by musical theatre veteran, Pat Snoxell.

It is designed as part of the radio station’s 70th anniversary celebrations and also as a tie-in with the 2ZA exhibition at Te Manawa, which opened on August 16 and runs until March 1 next year.

“It’s very appropriate to have Pat directing the show, because 20 years ago he did the 50th anniversary celebration,” said Mr Hopwood, who also wrote the script for The Great New Zealand Radio Show.

The old radio commercials were obtained from archives and are expected to be an integral part of the show, with many in the audience able to sing along with such jingles as You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pep-so-dent, and Halo everybody, Halo . . .

The strident tones of Aunt Daisy might also slice through the airwaves and there will be requests from odd places, including one from Buckingham Palace asking for something from Corgi and Bess.

Another type of Queen will open the show, with a choir providing the backing for a presentation of Bohemian Rhapsody.

“It’s going to be a fun show,” said Ms Craig.

The Review

Radio Station 2ZA and the legendary Garner’s Request Session came back to life at the Regent on Broadway in Palmerston North yesterday afternoon.

The result was a delighted packed house that revelled in the chance to rekindle memories of the station’s golden years.

Each half of the show was introduced by the theme music of the request session – once a contender for the title of the world’s longest-running radio show.

In the format established by writer Malcolm Hopwood and director Pat Snoxell, two former 2ZA announcers, Ian Johnston and Chris Burn, played “requests” that were performed by members of Kathi Craig’s Start Singers.

She and Snoxell were inspired to develop The Great New Zealand Radio Show by the 2ZA exhibition now running at Te Manawa.

But what caused ripples of recognition and appreciation was the chance to hear old radio commercials unearthed from archives. More than anything else, they took the audience back to the days when 2ZA was “The Voice of the Manawatu”.

But ouch! Commercial with those plummy Pommie accents would be laughed off the air today.

The quality of the singing in the requests varied from tentative to excellent – only to be expected from performers at different stages of development.

‘Tour the World’ is the offer made to 2ZA listeners who bought a brand new Gulbransen home radio in 1938.
© David Lascelles Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.
Popular NZ radio entertainer Aunt Daisy was often heard over 2ZA, this cartoon appeared in the ‘NZ Radio Record’ magazine .
© David Lascelles Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.
The Regent in Palmerston North was designed by Melbourne architect Charles Hollingshed and built in 1930.
© Regent Theater Trust
2ZA carried many local performers, and was also known as The Manawatu Music Makers’ as seen on this station promotion.
© Greg Agnew Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

Anyway, the audience was in a happy, tolerant mood and there were some real high moments in the programme.

The first half opened with an ambitious Bohemian Rhapsody by the company and closed with a rousing Abba sequence featuring Kathi Craig, Wendy Newth and Gayle Shirley.

Gayle Shirley also excelled in an evocative rendering of Big Spender and she was back again when Abba was used as an encore for the show.

Larry Walker gave a strong showing as Sir Elton John in a tribute to Princess Di, Candle in the Wind.

He was followed by Kathi Craig and Will Bell, backed by the company in Believe. Bell impressed as a young singer worth hearing more of.

Uneven, wobbly in parts, but always fun – that was The Great New Zealand Radio Show.

The Grand Stairs of The Regent Theater, Palmerston North.
© Regent Theater Trust

The Regent Theater, Palmerston North was opened on July 4 1930 and purchased by the Palmerston North City Council to avoid demolition in 1993. After several years of meticulous restoration, the theater reopened as a major performing arts center for the city and Manawatu region. It is now managed by the Regent Theater Trust Board.

The Radio Heritage Foundation was delighted to be involved with the 2ZA Exhibition and celebrations organized by Te Manawa and the local community. Exhibition materials and contacts were supplied and a lecture was also given on the importance of preserving New Zealand’s radio broadcasting heritage.

Te Manawa promoted the Radio Heritage Foundation lecture with this heritage style flyer.
© Radio Heritage Foundation Collection.

Newspaper article ‘Radio station to be reinvented on stage’ © Manawatu Standard 03/10/2008.

Newspaper article ‘Radio golden years recalled’ © Manawatu Standard 03/11/2008.

This material remains © Fairfax New Zealand Limited and is only to be used for non-commercial personal or research use. Any other use requires permission of the copyright holder.

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