Page 1: Biography
Drummond, David Archibald Victor Clive
Telegraphist, signalman, radio announcer and personality
This biography, written by Peter Downes, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 4, 1998.
David Archibald Victor Clive Drummond was born at Marahau, near Motueka, on 4 August 1890. Always known as Clive, he was the son of Sarah Elizabeth Stillwell and her husband, Peter Drummond, a sawmiller. After attending Motueka District High School, he took employment in 1906 as a telegraph message boy with the Post and Telegraph Department. From December 1907 through 1908 he was a cadet and letter carrier, spending time at the department's training school in Oamaru. Transferred to Wellington in 1909, he worked from 1912 as a radio operator at the newly opened Tinakori Hill Morse wireless station. Early in the First World War he intercepted a message between two German naval ships in the Pacific which, when decoded in Melbourne, led the authorities to delay the sailing of the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
Drummond served in the army from January 1916. In Nelson on 16 February that year he married Margaret Mary McComisky, a civil servant, and in March departed for overseas service. As a member of the New Zealand Wireless Troop and then the 1st Australian and New Zealand Wireless Signal Squadron, he undertook special radio signal duties in Mesopotamia. At the conclusion of the war he resumed work at the Tinakori wireless station, but after a period of illness he transferred to the staff of the Chief Post Office in Wellington. Later he was appointed a clerk at Wellington South.
After the first broadcasts of radio programmes in New Zealand in 1921, Drummond became intrigued by the entertainment and general information potential of the new medium. In 1922 he joined a group of like-minded enthusiasts in operating a small station: initially from a backyard shed in Newtown and later from a small studio in town. With the introduction of government regulations for broadcasting in 1923, their station was allotted the call-sign 2YK. While continuing his daytime job with the post office, Drummond worked as the radio announcer during the evenings, his warm and friendly style bringing him many listeners and fans. In January 1925 he was able to broadcast the score of the All Blacks versus England game 2¼ minutes after the final whistle.
2YK was purchased by the government in 1925 as part of its plan to nationalise radio broadcasting and in 1927 the call-sign was changed to 2YA. With a total refit it became, and was to remain, the main station of the network, with the most powerful transmitter in the country.
Through all these changes Drummond worked part time as an evening announcer. He also became a popular contributor to children's sessions, under the pseudonym Uncle Jasper. His principal employment, however, was with the Post and Telegraph Department and in April 1928 he was promoted to supervisor at Paeroa. Such was his popularity among radio listeners of all ages that his departure from Wellington was broadcast direct from the platform of the railway station. After a few days the level of public outcry at his having to relinquish announcing work was sufficiently high for the broadcasting management to begin negotiating his release from the post office. Only two months after leaving, Drummond returned to the capital and from 1 July 1928 was on the permanent staff of 2YA.
Although announcers were forbidden to give their names during broadcasts, as the senior announcer at 2YA Drummond was associated with all the important radio events, and this brought him nationwide celebrity. His name became widely known, his photograph frequently appeared in newspapers and periodicals, and as a result he was invariably recognised in the streets. He was the visible persona of a largely invisible medium.
Drummond set himself exacting standards, and during the 1920s and 1930s he was a pioneer in developing the art of radio interviewing and descriptive commentary work. In addition to straight announcing, his voice could be heard reporting such diverse events as the visits of overseas dignitaries, sports meetings, historic aircraft and shipping arrivals, concerts, royal functions, state funerals and parliamentary broadcasts. At a time when the correct pronunciation of Maori was not a high priority, and was actively discouraged when it differed from popular usage, he researched the subject thoroughly, especially place names, and always tried to pronounce the words correctly. He was ridiculed by some people for doing so.
In March 1942 Drummond resigned from broadcasting and joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Commissioned first as pilot officer and a year later as flying officer, he served on the cipher and code distribution staff at Air Headquarters in Wellington, handling intelligence between New Zealand and other allied stations around the world. In the 1943 general election he stood unsucessfully for Wellington West as a member of the Independent Group (People's Movement).
After his discharge from the RNZAF in June 1944, Drummond was reappointed to his position at 2YA, remaining as senior announcer until his retirement in September 1955. In November 1956 he was elected to the Wellington City Council on the Citizens' Association ticket and he served for three years. His last years were spent at the Ranfurly War Veterans' Home in Auckland, where he died on 8 October 1978. His wife had died in 1948. They were survived by three children: twin sons and a daughter.
Of a quiet, unassuming disposition, Clive Drummond was the first nationally known radio personality in New Zealand. He quickly achieved distinction and great popularity through his friendly and pleasant manner of speaking and from the authority given to his broadcasts by meticulous preparation and a wide and careful choice of vocabulary. Always willing to help others, he understood the power and reach of the radio medium and never abused it. His voice was clear, well modulated and completely natural: a neutral, well-spoken indigenous New Zealand accent, with no trace of artificial theatricality or attempt to emulate a BBC style of speech. At a time when the cult of the radio personality was vigorously frowned upon, his voice, sincerity and humour broke through the barriers and, without any encouragement on his part, brought him countrywide fame.