- By Sarah Johnston (Client Services Co-ordinator – Radio, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
It’s the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese calendar and lunar New Year festivities are being held around the country as the Chinese community celebrates. Thousands of non-Chinese Kiwis join in with these events, going to lantern festivals, watching fireworks and enjoying Chinese food throughout the month of February.
We might tend to think multicultural events such as Chinese New Year are a recent development and part of the more cosmopolitan society we now enjoy in Aotearoa. However, recordings in the sound collection of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision show us that as far back as the gold-rush era of the 1870s and 1880s, Chinese communities were inviting their European neighbours to celebrate the New Year with them.
The Mobile Unit recording truck visited communities all over Central in 1948 and carried out interviews in places such as Arrowtown, St Bathans, Naseby, Cromwell and Lawrence. It recorded memories from people who were aged in their 80s, so their recollections go back as far as the 1860s – and they had many stories of the gold-miners who flocked to the area – especially the Chinese miners.
Two Arrowtown women, Helen Ritchie and Ellen Dennison, remember the large meals the miners provided to mark events such as Chinese New Year. Mrs Ritchie was born in 1863 in Invercargill and grew up on the Shotover and Nevis Rivers, where her father was a shepherd.
A recording of the carol “Silent Night” or “Tapu te Po,” sung in te reo Māori and English by men of the 28th Māori Battalion in North Africa in 1942, is one of the many Christmas taonga held in the Sound collection of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
It is part of a series of recordings made by the National Broadcasting Service’s Mobile Recording Unit, in a New Zealand military hospital. The men singing on the recording had been wounded in the Battle of El Alamein in October and November 1942, and were gathered together by Nurse Wiki Katene (Ngāti Toa) of Porirua, to make the recording which would be broadcast back in New Zealand at Christmas.Continue reading →
- By Sarah Johnston (Client Services Coordinator – Radio, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
This Saturday is the 80th anniversary of national commercial radio in New Zealand, which started with station 1ZB Auckland on 29 October 1936. Radio had been operating in New Zealand since the 1920s, but advertising was generally not allowed and stations were mostly financed via a licence fee paid by listeners, or via sponsorship from a related business, such as a music retailer. 1ZB had been broadcasting in Auckland for several years already as a private station, owned by Methodist minister Reverend Colin Scrimgeour.
In 1936 the first Labour government under Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage bought 1ZB and re-opened it as the first station of the government-owned National Commercial Broadcasting Service. 2ZB, 3ZB and 4ZB followed in quick succession, bringing commercial broadcasting to Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Former 1ZB owner, Rev. Scrimgeour – or “Uncle Scrim” – was appointed as head of the new service.
Announcers such as Maud Basham, the legendary “Aunt Daisy,” became firm listener favourites on the commercial network, with her chatty programme of infomercials, recipes and household hints, along with new features such as sponsored radio serials, quiz shows, hit parades, sports commentary and talent quests – all paid for by advertising. The commercial network also hired Māori broadcasters in each centre: Uramo Paora “Lou Paul” in Auckland, Kingi Tahiwi in Wellington, Te Ari Pitama and Airini Grenell in Christchurch and Dunedin.
The government soon discovered commercial radio was a great income earner. In the first year of operation, the four commercial stations made a profit of 10,000 pounds. After World War II, income from the commercial network was used to establish the National Orchestra – later the NZSO.
The commercial network grew to include regional and provincial stations and ran side by side with the non-commercial network as part of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service (and various later incarnations such as the N.Z.B.C. and Radio New Zealand), until it was sold off by the government in 1996. The ZB stations became part of The Radio Network – and are better known today as NewstalkZB.
- By Sarah Johnston (Client Services Coordinator – Radio, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
Eighty years ago today New Zealander Jean Batten became the first person to fly from Britain to New Zealand. Her arrival at Auckland’s Mangere Aerodrome in her Percival Gull aeroplane was captured by radio station 1YA in a series of remarkable live broadcast recordings held in the RNZ historic collection at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
Jean was already famous for her successful solo flights from England to Australia in May 1934, and to South America in November 1935, so a large crowd had gathered to welcome her. The unidentified radio announcer describes the approach of her plane, with sightings already reported by observers in New Plymouth, Mokau and Kaipara as she approached Auckland from Sydney. The journey had started in Folkestone, England on the 5th of October and she had already broken the previous UK-Australia record by arriving in Sydney one week later.
The audio, which was captured on a series of 12-inch acetate discs, is faint and crackly and almost inaudible in places. Considering the National Broadcasting Service had only acquired disc-recording equipment the previous year, it would have been quite a technical feat to record the commentary and welcome as they were broadcast live “on relay” from the aerodrome.
Then I came across “One Minute Please,” a New Zealand Broadcasting Service panel game that was recorded in front of a live audience. Two teams of three, one male and one female were given topics to discuss for one minute, with general rules of impromptu speaking. Continue reading →
I was pleased to see you’ve included the N.Z. Hit Parade (1952) on your blog.
It so happens that this was yet another of my “babies” and I thought you might like to have some background to it. In those days, apart from some radio drama, New Zealand Broadcasting Service producers were not allowed to be credited.
In the early 1950s most of the so-called “local” radio stations, that is those with a YX call sign, were running their own Hit Parades, with results taken from sales in their town’s record shops. I was a producer at 2YA in Wellington, and it occurred to me that if these results could be combined we would have a near enough to true measure of the most popular songs in New Zealand for that week. In fact it would create a N.Z. Hit Parade. My boss was enthusiastic, and the stations thought it was a good idea and willingly co-operated by sending me their weekly “charts.”
This was in contrast to commercial radio’s Lifebuoy Hit Parade, whose results were based mainly on charts in Billboard (USA) and later in The New Musical Express (UK). The Lifebuoy show was presented by 2ZB’s Rex Walden (pictured in the window display), who had a deep, dark chocolatey BBC type voice.
We couldn’t hope, nor did we try, to compete with the Lifebuoy show, but we had the advantage of being able to include songs recorded by New Zealand performers when they became bestsellers here but who would never have made the overseas charts.
An outstanding example of this was Between Two Trees, in the number two position for the year 1952. This American song had been recorded by the Andrews Sisters in the USA, but was only a minor success. However, a cover version recorded for the New Zealand Stebbing Recording label by Auckland singer Esme Stephens went viral (as they say) in her homeland. It reportedly sold well over 7,000 copies – quite remarkable for that time. It was accompanied by “the guitars of Buddy Kane”.
You may have asked yourself, “who is that man in the white coat who sometimes appears at the top of our blog postings … and what is he doing?”
Well, thanks to Peter Downes’ research, we know that his name is Basil Clarke and he was part of the “listening watch” during World War II.
The photograph shows Basil in the main 2YA control room in Wellington, listening to shortwave broadcasts from the BBC, allied and enemy radio stations. The control-room was staffed 24 hours a day, and when the operator heard a newsflash or something of importance they would do a direct recording onto an acetate disc. This disc could then be re-broadcast to radio listeners in New Zealand (this was how news of what was happening in the war on the other side of the world reached New Zealanders, in the days before the internet, television, or even tape recording technology –which didn’t come in until the mid-1950s).
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s Sound Collection contains many of these wartime shortwave recordings – an example being from exactly 75 years ago, when news came through of Hitler’s proclamation that Germany would march against Soviet Russia:
By Alexandra Porter (Audio Conservator, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
Last year I was digitising a 1948 Mobile Recording Unit oral history, as part of a larger digitisation project. While digitising this item I heard the name Octavius Harwood crop up, in an account by a Mrs McDonald from Waikouaiti. I remembered the name of Octavius Harwood (it’s not a name you forget) from my partner’s whakapapa (genealogy), when we were researching names for our son Elijah fourteen years ago. So I got in touch with taua Natalie, Eli’s grandmother, who lives near Taiaroa Head, on the Otago Peninsula and the Harwood-McDonald story began to unfold.
Octavius Francis Harwood, born in Stepney Green, England, was the eighth of ten children to Robert Harwood, a sea captain, and Mary (nee Soutter) – whose family owned the company, Soutter ships. After a classical education Harwood followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the mariner’s life, which led him to Sydney in May 1837. There he met George Weller of the infamous and well-established Australasian whaling and trading brothers, and in the following year sailed on to New Zealand to take up the role of storekeeper and clerk at their Ōtākou station  . Continue reading →
The Waikato River at Tūrangawaewae was a hive of activity last weekend, with thousands of people turning out to watch and take part in the annual Regatta, which sees a variety of Māori waka racing on the river – from primary school children, right up to the mighty waka tauā, or war canoes. This was the 121st year the Regatta has been held, and over the years recordings of radio coverage of the event have found their way into the archives of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. You can hear Sarah Johnston, our Client Services Coordinator – Radio, talking about them with RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan here, or listen to the recordings below.
The Ngāruawāhia Regatta, as it was originally called, began in 1895 as a St Patrick’s Day holiday event. The 1902 Cyclopedia of New Zealand says it was started by Mr Wells, the local school headmaster, and in 1900 8,000 people attended . The event was organised by both Māori and Pākehā to “promote and encourage aquatic sports and the preservation of ancient Māori events and customs.” It was a hugely popular entertainment, with special trains being chartered from Auckland to bring spectators down and paddle steamers bringing others up the river. At times as many as 20,000 people turned up for the regatta, which was soon supplemented with kapa haka, Highland dancing, sideshows and wood-chopping displays.
In 1947 the New Zealand Broadcasting Service Mobile Unit toured Waikato and recorded oral history interviews with elderly residents, several of whom recalled the regattas of their youth. A Pākehā resident of Huntly, George Shaw, talked about working in a general store, Friar Davies and Co., which did a brisk trade supplying Regatta visitors in the 1900s. From his description we can tell it was a big social event for the whole community, which required a new wardrobe.
The unit was a mobile recording truck (affectionately known as “Gertie”) kitted out with disc cutting equipment and microphones on very long cables. It toured the country recording people who would normally have never been able to get near a radio station studio, which in the 1940s were still largely limited to the main centres.
The purpose initially was for the truck and its crew to go out and record musical talent from the provinces, that could then be used in broadcast programmes for the radio – sort of an early New Zealand’s Got Talent. However, the scope of their mission broadened when the broadcasters realised the wealth of oral histories the old people of the towns they visited could contribute, and so we have a lot of wonderful recorded memories in the collection, reaching back to the 1870s and earlier.
In 1948 the unit was in Coromandel township and recorded three tracks in Māori and English sung by a local group, the Brown Sisters. Here are Tangiura and Te Waimarie Brown singing a country number by Tex Morton, “Outlaw Rocky Ned,” as well as two waiata Māori, “Tōia mai” and “Koutou katoa rā.”
At the end of last year, the eclectic nature of the Mobile Unit recordings was made very apparent as Alex and Cam completed work on a large number of discs recorded around Wellington in November and December 1945, when the Royal Navy aircraft carrier and two British destroyers visited New Zealand.
Broadcasters were possibly testing out the new Mobile Unit truck and its equipment, as there are many hours of recordings made onboard the ship, describing equipment and manoeuvres (you hear planes taking off and landing) and interviews with officers and sailors about their roles on board. More unusual are recordings which reflect something of life in Wellington in 1945. Here is an interview with a Mrs Innes, who was running the Home Hospitality Bureau, which had to find local billets for the ship’s crew. (We think the phone conversations were probably staged for the recording, but it is still fascinating listening.) Continue reading →