Doreen – queen of radio talkback
Forty years ago, the seemingly unflappable Doreen ruled Wellington airwaves on weekday afternoons with her listener-friendly Person to Person talkback show over radio 2ZB.
She worked at the station for 32 years, and long after her retirement former listeners would enjoy recognising her cheery voice when they heard it.
Few realised she was Mrs Bill Kelso, lived in Seatoun, and loved gardening. They knew her only as Doreen, which was as she wanted – it gave her some privacy in a life that was otherwise very public.
Doreen, who died eight years ago, always said her programme was the listeners, not her.
She quickly overcame her fear of interviewing by putting herself in their place and asking the questions she knew they would be interested in.
Everything she said after she introduced her guests was spontaneous. Questions were not agreed beforehand.
Her Women’s Hour programme was reformatted as Person to Person in October 1965, with Doreen introducing talkback radio to the capital. In the programme’s first year she took about 10,000 calls.
She said one of the great things about the show was people helping each other.
“If I don’t know the answer I just say so, but always add, ‘I’m sure somebody else will be able to help you’.”
Doreen said the talkback she ran from 1965 to 1975 was when she was at her happiest professionally.
“I’ve always maintained that I haven’t got any brains but I’ve got 99 per cent common sense and if you use that you can get around the tricky situations.”
She used that common sense when interviewing The Beatles at the Hotel St George during their 1964 visit.
Ringo Starr told her beforehand that he wouldn’t mind answering questions on his own – when The Beatles were together they couldn’t help themselves and always acted the goat.
So, Doreen changed her mind about interviewing them together and spoke to them separately.
When she saw them interviewed on television as a group, the scene was something of a riot, and she was glad she had followed Ringo’s advice.
Doreen was actually an Australian, born in Mildura on May 17, 1919.
She got into radio because her father had lined up a job for her at 3MA, Mildura.
She travelled to Wellington in 1948 to be a bridesmaid at a wedding, and stayed. Her return journey was delayed, which led to her being taken on a tour of 2ZB.
Her unaffected voice appealed to the station management, who asked her to deputise for a female announcer on leave.
If Doreen had any regrets about her career, it was not interviewing Aunt Daisy.
Aunt Daisy’s promise of “one day” never came to be.
“She gave me a whole carton of wool one time, to knit up for my nephews and husband, and I did.
“I took the garments to show her and then she advertised the wool quite happily.”
Doreen Kelso died on December 1, 2003, with her husband of more than 50 years predeceasing her in 2002.
© The Wellingtonian January 26, 2012.
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