Feature Station 2YD Wellington Ambush
In 1937, the move from private radio to state regulated radio in New Zealand was gathering pace with the creation of a National Commercial Broadcasting Service now competing directly with the National Broadcasting Service.
The latter indulged in a well planned ambush of the opening of 2ZB [NCBS] on April 28 1937 by bringing 2YD on the air three days earlier – it was commercial in everything except commercials.
It even caught the radio press by surprise, and this is how the ‘Radio Record’ weekly reported the arrival of 2YD on 990kc the following week:
Resourceful listeners were monitoring the dial however, and one was enterprising enough to secure a written confirmation of the first day of broadcast of 2YD. It was signed by the 2YA manager John Ball.
A more detailed description of how Ken Collins and Fred Barker introduced 2YD to Wellington listeners is found in this excerpt from the book ‘Voices in the Air’ published in 1976.
We asked former 2YD technician Bruce ‘Sabo’ Sabiston for his memories of working at 2YD in the early 1950’s.
Some memories of the old 2YD based at the Waring Taylor St studios of the then NZBS about 1957
Air time back then was evening only from 6pm to 10:30pm. An interesting bunch of announcers came in to present the programmes, Gary Chapman who went on to do a Saturday evening programme on 2YA and later the all night programmes used to nurse a half-gallon flagon of DB between his feet during his request programme on Saturday nights. Another chap was to become “Black Rod” the usher to Parliament, his style was a complete change to Gary’s.
As Waring Taylor [W/T] had been the original 2YA of the Broadcasting Co of NZ it had been working as a radio station for some 30 years when I arrived there. We were told it had been a gentleman’s club originally and certainly the quality fittings matched that description with a wide sweeping stair leading to the studios and control rooms on the first floor.
There were two studios and two control rooms, the larger could accommodate an orchestra with the smaller used mainly for talks work.
When I first visited in July 1954 it was being used for the technical training course I was on, with Ernie Black and Eric Honey as tutors, Marie Bullock took us for music with Ray Sparks as well.
The “senior technician” of my day was Tom Challis, an import from the UK, a true gent and good tech. He had quite a mixed bunch of tech’s and trainee’s to deal with so his sense of humour was much needed.
The duties we did covered a range of places, from the Hotel Windsor on Willis St to the old church hall near the Thistle which was used for large orchestral works.
The recording gear there was in the old portable recording van that had once travelled all about NZ before local radio stations had come on air in the late 1940’s.
In 2YD some of the original RCNZ “racks” were still being used but the old disc recorders and players were long gone.
Tape machines were a mix of EMI “BTR” models and AMPEX 300 series. One BTR ran at 30 or 60 inches of tape per second with open topped reels of 5,000!! feet of 1/4 inch tape, if you jolted a reel when spooling you had a PROBLEM!!! The other ran at 15 or 30ips with a 2400 foot spool of tape.
The “tape” was often a brittle acetate material which snapped all too easily, other polymer base tapes were some time in the future so we got skilled at splicing, often in a hurry, special tape was needed and a metal or plastic block to guide the tape was built into the BTR’s. Sharp scissors and a “GEM” razor blade were the tools used.
Tape edits were done by splicing though we got good at “dropping” the tape onto the recording heads of the BTR’s manually to get a smooth enough edit. The same could be done with the Ampex by pushing the “record” button but it sometimes caused a electronic thump in the sound, this was fixed eventually but it needed a fair bit of ingenuity.
BTR came to mean “Battleship” because they were NOT easily moved but for all that they did a good job and for many years had been the best English tape machines in general use until the dominance of Ampex.
The two control panels were 1935 vintage and no such things as built-in equalisers etc, they were just plain old “mixers.” The objective was “straight” sound recordings; the only place where echo etc was applied was the “drama” section at the Loan and Mercantile building further along Featherston Street, across from the Federated Farmers HQ.
Discs in use ranged from 16 inch diameter “transcription” discs either on mastic, metal based cellulose lacquer covered discs and vinyl; 12 and 10inch 78’s, 10 and 12inch vinyl LP’s and the odd discs made by office and dictaphone machines.
The new 45 rpm discs were yet to come into service but we had to deal with 16, 33⅓, and 78 rpm ones which meant you had to keep alert. The records were sourced from pretty well everywhere you might have imagined, a lot were old “programme” discs on 33rpm 16inch from even the USA’s Armed Forces Networks and Aussie sources, Artransa etc.
Some NZ made 78rpm discs were a bit noisy, this was often thought to be due to old record covers being recycled into the batches of mastic being used to make the records, hard to prove but it made a good story.
The best quality LP’s were the Decca LXT series but some of the older Deutsch-Gramme 78’s were a close second. The BBC material was always high quality. Feature programmes came from all over, Paul Temple ex BBC, “Fred and Maggie” and “Dad and Dave”; Dr Paul etc all Australian sources.
The people there were a marvellous bunch, sports, record librarians, musicians etc. Names that come to mind are, Peter Averi, Ken Avery, Peter Cape, Larry Pruden, Peter Sellers, Charles Martin, Brian Russ and Tony Vercoe.
The studios saw many recording artists, Jenneta McStay playing the harpsichord with a fag dangling from her lip, Scarlatti may not have approved?
I once had to fill-in as her page turner which was an experience but it worked. Tony Vercoe and soloists rehearsing something I was to learn very much later was from Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” still a personal favourite.
Tony played the part of the servant of the three Magi or Kings. Frank Gurr and others recording small pieces as string trios and quartettes etc.
Elsie Lloyd,firstly as a shopping reporter and actor/producer, later to become a very dear friend, the names go on.
It was only a small part of my nigh on 35 years as a broadcaster but it made a great impression, in later years I did the shifts on Mt Victoria manning the 2YD transmitter up there.
All too soon 2YD became the fledgling WNTV1 studios with its own transmitter on Mt Victoria but by then I had moved to the Wairarapa and my time at 2XB/ZD, and YES, Bill Francis was there then as the office junior.
2YD later changed call sign to 2ZM and eventually moved to FM where it continues in Wellington today on 90.9FM as the local outlet of the Auckland based ZMFM network.
ZMFM is owned by The Radio Network which is a subsidiary of the Australian Radio Network, a joint venture between APN News & Media [Australia] and the broadcasting and media giant Clear Channel [USA].
Our special thanks to Bruce Sabiston, aka Sabo, ex 1XH, 1YZ,1YA/YC, 2YD, 2YA/YC&SW; 2XB/ZD, Titahi Bay and BEC for sharing his memories of working at 2YD Wellington, 990kc.
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 **