2ZB Wellington 75 Years : Early Personalities

© NZ Radio Record, Radio Heritage Foundation Digital Collection

On April 28 1937, radio station 2ZB of the National Commercial Broadcasting Service began broadcasting to Wellington from atop Mt Victoria, overlooking New Zealand’s capital city. The studios were located in the Hope Gibbons Building on Dixon Street. The frequency was 1120kc on the medium wave dial.

© NZ Radio Record, Radio Heritage Foundation Digital Collection

The Wellington urban area had about 150,000 inhabitants and the population of all New Zealand [1.6m] was less than that of the Australian state of Victoria alone [1.9m]. King George VI was on the throne, New Zealand’s Prime Minister was Michael Joseph Savage. The Mayor of Wellington was Thomas Hislop.

In 1937, free milk was introduced to New Zealand schools, Lucky Jack won the NZ Trotting Cup, Sir Ernest Rutherford died, and Ron Brierley and Roger Douglas were born. All three of these people were to be directly connected to the future of radio broadcasting.

This was the world that 2ZB entered 75 years ago. In the first of this anniversary series, we introduce some of the early personalities and people involved with ‘The Feature Station’ that gave local listeners an alternative to non-commercial stations 2YA and 2YC following the earlier state buy-out of commercial station 2ZW.

Original 2ZB announcers [standing L-R] Arthur Collyns, Phil Shone, Dorothy Wood, ‘Aggie’ Agassiz, Frank [‘Benno’] Bennett, Barend Harris and Ken Waterhouse [seated L-R] Bill Elliot, Kingi Tahiwi and Aunt Daisy.
Some of the 2ZB announcers in 1947 are [L-R] Lyell Boyes, Rex Walden, Selwyn Toogood, Peter Hutt and Gordon Grimsdale
The original executive staff at 2ZB were quite a grim faced group tackling this new fangled ‘commercial’ radio in the capital
‘Children’s Sessions’ were extremely popular and here are ‘Benno and Betty’ who got the sessions underway in 1937, ‘Benno’ being Frank Bennett and ‘Betty’ being Iris Mason. They later both moved to work on radio in Australia, a familiar story.
As a new commercial radio station, 2ZB had to introduce local advertisers to the benefits of using radio. On the opening night, the first studio presentation featured Johnny Madden, Jack Thompson [on the piano of course], Mark Tozer and Henry Rudolph. The lack of suits and ratings seems more than compensated for by the fun that ‘Ukulele Mark and his Harmony Boys’ were having dressing up for their audience.
This is the Opening Night program for 2ZB, April 28 1937. Greetings from ‘Australian Radio Stars’ came immediately after the official opening, a link with Australia that continues 75 years later.
The ‘most popular program’ [American English spelling even in 1947] is ‘The Listeners’ Request Session’. In the days long before digitized access to the music library, DJ Peter Hutt relied on program man Sid Vause ‘whose amazing encyclopaedic mind enables him instantly to recall thousands of titles, the makes of recordings, and where they are on 2ZB’s record shelves’. Modern radio personalities go eat your heart out. Who cared about artists then… it was the recording company that counted!
Aunt Daisy
“Good morning, good morning, good morning – good morning everybody”
Rex Walden who joined 2ZB in 1942 was ‘rated the finest radio voice New Zealand has ever produced’ and started on the radio with baritone recitals. Today, he would have started at radio school and progressed to doing traffic reports ‘sans’ baritone recitals.
Another way to get on the radio at 2ZB was to play the piano, and sing. Reg Morgan entertained thousands of listeners with his ‘Afternoon Tea’ and ‘Dream Lover’ sessions.
Multi-talented Doug Harris about to open the microphone, play the chimes and make an announcement. Yes, chimes. Xylophone. At least he didn’t have to sing as well.
Bill Beavis presents a typical casual announcing pose in front of the 2ZB microphone. Today’s presenters should note the suit, the neat tie and tidy haircut.
Maurice Hawken began conducting ‘Give it a Name Jackpots’ in 1941, and was very busy at 2ZB, also handling ‘The Business House Championship Quiz’ and compering the Junior Talent Quest. No voice tracking was possible.
Anne Stewart conducted over 1,500 Home Decorating Sessions from 1938. ‘These sessions have proved a boon to many women listeners because of the useful information they contain’. So there.

This is a brief introduction to some of the early personalities and people at 2ZB and there are so many more who found themselves in front of the microphones over the year.

Wellington listeners took to 2ZB like ducks to water when faced with the drab BBC style presentations on 2YA and 2YC, and lapped up the bright music, the cheery programs, the social dances and events and radio advertising from local, national and international brands.

Good-will of Listeners, Confidence of Sponsors

They also enjoyed sports commentaries [wrestling really was a major spectator and audience puller] and found comfort in the companionship that the radio in the kitchen and lounge brought through the harrowing days of 1939-1945 when a world war raged for most of 2ZB’s first decade on the air.

2ZB may have changed to NewstalkZB years ago, but to most local listeners it remains ‘2ZB’ despite the best efforts of hordes of marketing graduates and expensive advertising campaigns over the years.

2ZB Wellington 1937-2012 and still leading the ratings after 75 years is a heritage record worth celebrating.

What began as local 2ZB continues today on 1035AM and 89.3FM as the Wellington outlet for NewstalkZB, an Auckland based news and talkback network of The Radio Network [TRN] which is owned by the Australian Radio Network, itself a joint venture between APN News & Media [Australia] and the broadcasting and multi-media giant Clear Channel [USA].

The Australian Representative of the original ZB stations placed this advert in an Australian broadcasting industry annual in 1939
© Broadcasting Business Yearbook 1939, Radio Heritage Foundation Collection

The call 2ZB was abandoned over a decade ago when the government removed the obligation to use call signs in favour of using brand names. It remained as part of the state broadcasting system [National Commercial Broadcasting Service, NZ Broadcasting Service, NZ Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting Corporation of NZ and Radio NZ] for almost 60 years before being sold to private interests in 1996.

This is the classic guide to New Zealand broadcasting covering the period before 2ZB began operations through to 1976 when 2ZB was just approaching 40 years on the air. We have very limited stocks of this long out-of-print book available including worldwide shipping. Offer valid whilst stocks available only.

** Sorry – Sold Out **

*Special Offer Reprint of 2ZB 1937-1947 Souvenir 100 page booklet*
Only 75 Copies

This 100 page 10th anniversary pictorial souvenir is packed with hundreds of photos of the personalities, people and events that made 2ZB famous and so well loved during the Golden Era of radio. It was originally published on poor quality newsprint and is now a rare collectable.

To support our fund raising efforts in 2012, we plan to publish a very limited edition digital reprint of this unique souvenir. Only 75 copies will be released at A$100 each including worldwide shipping. To order a copy please email or write to us with the number of copies wanted. Please send no payment. You’ll be notified when the reprint is available. We reserve the right to cancel this offer should insufficient copies be pre-ordered by June 30 2012, such later date as we may decide or for reasons beyond our control.

** Sorry – Sold Out **

All images in this feature are © Radio Heritage Foundation.

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