Story: Radio

Page 3. The golden age of radio, 1936 to 1960

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Radio personalities in the ‘golden age’

With the establishment of the commercial radio services, announcers’ names began to be used regularly on air. Until that time announcers were usually anonymous, as broadcasting authorities frowned on the idea of ‘radio personalities’. The regular daily children’s programmes were conducted by a range of ‘uncles’, ‘aunties’, and ‘big brothers’, never their real names. In the small society of New Zealand, the public knew who the ‘anonymous’ announcers were, treating some of them as celebrities.

Airwaves aunt

This, from 1958, was a typical introduction from Aunt Daisy to her morning radio show: ‘Good morning everybody! Good morning everybody, and we must talk very fast today, because we have to get off air at 25 past because of the drawing of the Art Union. So we have to go very, very quickly.’1

Aunt Daisy and commercial radio

Maud Basham, known as ‘Aunt Daisy’, dominated the morning airwaves from 1936 until 1963 through the ZB commercial network. Her morning show began just after 9 a.m. each weekday. She was generally followed by an hour of radio serials, usually Australian, and then the ‘shopping hour’. Other regular features included stunts, quizzes, talent quests, sports results, radio plays, competitions and popular music. Commercial stations continued to get the most listeners in this golden age of radio. Evening radio was the centrepiece of listening, with extremely popular ‘give away’ shows such as It’s in the bag.

Well-known radio personalities and shows from the time included:

  • Ian Watkins, with the talent quest Have a shot
  • Selwyn Toogood, with The Lever hit parade and It’s in the bag
  • Jack Maybury, with The quiz kids and Lux money go round
  • Phil Shone, who was 1ZB Auckland’s Breakfast host from 1939 to 1959
  • Grace Green, ‘the Sunshine Girl’, on a range of Christchurch stations from 1929 to 1957.

‘The wasps are coming!’

Phil Shone, a 1ZB breakfast show host, brought Auckland to a standstill on April Fools’ Day (1 April) in 1949. Shone persuaded thousands of listeners to place strips of paper smeared with jam or honey outside their houses, close all their doors and windows and don protective clothing before venturing out. These were precautions against a non-existent swarm of wasps that was supposedly descending on Auckland.

The National Broadcasting Service

From the 1930s to the early 1960s the National Broadcasting Service’s programming included pre-recorded talks, religious programmes, comedies and radio drama. Many of the radio plays were locally produced. Music included light recorded work along with live performances by local brass bands, orchestras, instrumentalists and vocalists. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Gary Chapman’s easy-listening variety show, Saturday night at home, was popular enough to survive the introduction of television.

Sports broadcasting was one of the most popular features of the non-commercial YA stations. Commentator Winston McCarthy became legendary as ‘the voice of New Zealand rugby’.

The Official News Service consisted of a local bulletin, originally straight from the Prime Minister’s Department. From 1950, the government’s Tourist and Publicity Department produced the bulletin. International news was largely sourced from the BBC.

In 1942 a Māori-language news service was established to broadcast war news. This service, read by Wiremu Parker, continued into the 1950s. From 1948 a short-wave service, Radio New Zealand, broadcast New Zealand news and music to the Pacific and beyond, initially for two hours each evening.

Three streams of state radio

The 1950s saw state radio streamlined, with three basic programme structures emerging:

  • light, popular entertainment, based on the ZB commercial radio format
  • mixed or middlebrow, broadcast on the YA stations
  • highbrow, the YC stations, modelled on the BBC’s Third Programme.

State-sanctioned broadcasting had great difficulty coping with post-war social changes. Popular artists such as Elvis Presley had carefully regulated airplay, while discs containing anything deemed offensive were physically mutilated to prevent their accidental broadcast.

  1. Quoted in Bill Francis, ZB: the voice of an iconic radio station. Auckland: HarperCollins, 2006, p. 101. Back
How to cite this page:

Brian Pauling, 'Radio - The golden age of radio, 1936 to 1960', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 April 2024)

Story by Brian Pauling, published 22 Oct 2014