Hamilton: Memories of Radio 1ZH

 A Belated Tribute to 1ZH’s Ronald Brenton (Bren) Low 

 The writing was on the wall. In late 1971 my bosses at New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) were saying that I must transfer to Hamilton. Having  over the years successfully dodged several other “career moves” from my home town, Auckland, to the likes of Palmerston North and Wanganui, it looked inevitable that I would have to agree to take the position… to “be posted” as the public service put it…  as Chief Reporter, NZBC Radio and TV News, Hamilton.

“It’s urgent” said my manager, NZBC’s Northern Editor in Auckland, Graham Wear, “the present Chief Reporter, Frank Perry, is due to go into hospital for an operation, and anyway it’s only a hundred kilometres down the road and you’ll be working to, and with, many of your present colleagues in Auckland.”

I reluctantly agreed to the move. I was in my mid-twenties and I would be living out of Auckland for the first time, giving up family, friends and the news territory I knew best. “But it’ll be good for your career, working in a provincial city” said Graham “excellent experience, organising news-gathering from a vast area for local and network bulletins on both radio and television”.

But workmates had contrary views. A few had weather warnings: “You don’t see the sun for days-on- end in winter – the fog’s like pea-soup”.  Others had concerns for my social life: “There’s nothing to do in Hamilton, it’s dead”. But always in slightly lowered tones and in private, most people were saying “No one gets on with the local NZBC manager, Bren Low – you’ll see, you’ll find it the same”.

My appointment was confirmed on 8th February 1972, Grade J7 with a salary of $5,279 plus 10 per cent in lieu of overtime and penal rates.

After nearly 3 years in the job at Hamilton I realised that sometimes, for just a day or two in mid-winter, the sun could be conspicuous by its absence, I also found that Hamilton was, indeed, quieter if one was used to constant partying in Auckland, but most of all I learned that Bren Low was a gentleman, a great manager, an entrepreneur and a true businessman. We did not fully realise it in those days, but he was light-years ahead of his time.

 Hindsight’s a wonderful thing: now, 35 years later I’m recalling Hamilton memories, mostly to tell my sincerely held views about how great Bren was  for the business, for the industry and for people.

“Just Get On With It”

It was Bren Low who first greeted me when I arrived at the NZBC in Alma Street, Hamilton in early 1972. Frank Perry had already left for his medical treatment, so there could be no hand-over or hand-holding.

NZBC’s radio and TV station in Alma Street Hamilton – Hamilton City Libraries

Bren had thoughtfully gathered the Management team for morning tea, allowing me to meet my future colleagues. I was made most welcome. Bren told me privately after the gathering that he expected loyalty towards management, accuracy in everything that went to air, and that I would be left alone to get on and do the job. From his office we went to the newsroom to meet the team responsible for gathering, editing and processing news for the local radio station, 1ZH, and TV items for both NZBC Network News and for the regional programme ‘Look North’. I was acquainted with all the journalists, mostly from seeing their work on TV, but one or two had formerly worked in Auckland so I knew them quite well.

From memory I think the team at that time was Dylan Taite, Len Lee, Liz Steele, Chas Toogood, Tony Steemson, Craig Burgess and, in Current Affairs, Peter Kingston. Bren introduced me, but the ever-voracious daily appetite of news programming being what it is, there was little time for niceties – I took Bren’s helpful and welcome advice: “just get on with it”.

The staff of 7 in the Hamilton newsroom worked towards two outlets – they provided material for bulletins on the local radio station, 1ZH, from the breakfast show until late evening with appropriate items forwarded to Wellington for networked radio bulletins, heard nation-wide. Secondly, the team gathered TV items for network and regional programmes. There were also 2 journalists in Rotorua (Jack McCarthy and Tony Ciprian) and one in Tauranga who contributed radio and TV items of regional or nation-wide interest. The staff at smaller radio stations in Taupo, Tokoroa and Taumarunui , the so-called T stations, also fed us tips about local events, etc which we followed up. Contact with these stations was easy using the NZBC’s own communication network, especially since Hamilton‘s Master Control Room was the hub for this system connecing all radio stations in the region. They were just a phone call away on our private lines.

The newsroom also received invaluable contributions for both radio and TV bulletins from 1ZH’s two in-house sports reporters (Clyde Baxter and Bill Francis) as well as the two journalists principally serving radio rural news and TV’s  weekly programme “Country Calendar” (Hildred Carlisle and John Gordon) and then 1ZH staff also brought us news of local happenings and items associated with their hobbies or interests. We also had “stringers” in some of the bigger centres, local newspaper reporters or community folk who would ring us with news tips, or whom we could call to check our stories.

For instance, in Te Awamutu we had a member of the Lions as a stringer, in Raglan it was the local constable’s wife and in Huntly the librarian would often tip us off.

Adopt a Town

To ensure we kept up with happenings and events throughout Waikato I asked each member of the newsroom to “adopt” a town, make regular contact with the newsmakers there, read their local newspapers and community newsletters and, as a result, reflect the town’s major activities in our news bulletins.

For my adopted towns I chose Huntly, because there were connections with the Carlyon family going way back, and Turangi: co-incidentally these were the furthest towns we covered to the north and south of Hamilton.

Huntly cemetery: Carlyon connections

I occasionally flew by light plane to Turangi to report TV news items (shared with radio), flying into the town’s “aerodrome”, a grassed landing strip on a farm on the shores of Lake Taupo just north of the town. We frequently had to make a low level pass before we landed to clear cattle from the runway: they shared the paddock with visiting Cessna and Piper aircraft! As I recall, the grass was often too icy for planes to safely land in the depths of winter so over these months the crew travelled South by road. Sometimes the runway would thaw in the warmer day-time temperatures, so mid-afternoon we would call in a plane and I would separate from the camera crew and fly back with the film to ensure it made it the same-night on TV news. The crew would return by road.

In the early 1970s Turangi was the centre of massive construction works. It had been purpose-built as the town to house those working on a giant hydro-electric project, the hub for both the Ministry of Works and the tunnellers, the Italian Codelfa, Cogefar companies. They were building the many-faceted Tongariro power scheme including a power station at Tokaanu, canals, tunnels, lakes, an underground aqueduct, power houses and distribution network. (Rangipo power station was added later). The project diverted the headwaters of several rivers so they flowed through generators in Tokaanu Power Station and on into Lake Taupo. At the lake’s northern outlet the Waikato River continued, the water again generating power at several stations strategically spaced downstream. So there were numerous story-lines coming out of this multi-million dollar project which turned heads in international engineering circles, particularly one tunnel nearly 20 kilometers long which was the work of some of the 350 Italian tunnellers.  (When assigning reporters and camera crews to jobs near the project we had to remember not to send females. The construction gangs had their superstitions and, for good luck, very much preferred women-folk kept well away from the tunnelling works).

Late one winter’s Sunday afternoon 1ZH staff had been invited to a Hamilton cinema to see a preview screening of the latest James Bond film “Diamonds are Forever”.

I was just beginning to enjoy the movie when I was summoned from the cinema… a messenger from the newsroom said there had been a sudden, serious freeze on the Desert Road, south of Turangi, with cars and trucks immobilised in the snowdrifts and stuck on iced roads, some with occupants trapped inside. As Turangi was ‘My Town” I gathered a camera crew and set off, too late for picture stories for that night’s news but there might be rescue stories for Monday’s evening bulletin, and of course radio items in the meantime. We were very cold by the time we reached Turangi, secured rooms at the local hotel and I began making local enquiries and firing off radio stories: it was, indeed, the freeze of a decade with vehicles snowed-in all along the high parts of the Desert Road, though it was believed all occupants had by then been rescued by police and Defence Force personnel and taken to warm accommodation courtesy of the military at Waiouru Army Camp.

I was delighted to find that Jack Hinton and his wife, Molly, were relieving the usual management at Turangi’s hotel: I knew the couple from earlier visits to the night trots in Auckland where Jack, I think, was a member of the committee and a stipendiary steward: for sure, a dedicated follower of light harness racing. We overcame the winter-cold with a few of Jack’s favourite tipples, whisky and milk. The NZBC crew and the Hintons had dinner together, a pleasant interlude before, first thing next morning, we were heading to the Desert Road to rendezvous with Ministry of Works transport: a big truck with chains on the rear wheels. In white-out conditions we got fantastic footage of the freeze, along with some “lucky escape” accounts of those who had been rescued from their frozen vehicles.  The snow was so deep, the driving conditions so tricky, that some cars would have to be left where they were, marooned, for a second night before, later, the sun shone through, easing the freezing conditions.

J. D. Hinton, VC, Alexander Turnbull Library

Jack (John Daniel) Hinton was a highly-decorated soldier. In 1941 while serving in Greece during the Second World War he earned a Victoria Cross for bravery: he led an assault against numerous enemy positions.

 Huntly Yarn 1: Free Rider

Two story-lines from “My Other Town”, Huntly are worth telling. One morning we received intelligence of an arrest, overnight, of a man on the North Island Main Trunk railway line near Huntly. The suspect was in custody and I decided to attend the court hearing in the Huntly Courthouse. It turned into quite an amazing, if not frightening, story. The young man concerned had been drinking at the Huntly Hotel and late at night, the worse for drink, had to figure a way to get home. He lived near Taupiri, the next township to the south. He exited the rear of the hotel more or less straight opposite the railway station. In his drunken state there in the railway yard he spotted a railways jigger, used by track maintenance men. He couldn’t believe his good luck – his transport problem was over.

Glenbrook Vintage Railway’s jigger

He manoeuvred the trolley on to the track, soon found how to get it moving by pumping the handle and set off towards Taupiri. The railway line runs parallel to the road just south of Huntly, to start with it’s fairly flat going, at about the same level of the highway, then the track rises on to a terrace as it continues south towards the sacred Taupiri Mountain. Perchance, a police patrol travelling the highway beside the railway line saw the jigger being erratically ridden… and so late at night without a light. Challenged, the rider stopped just before the tracks rise on to the terrace and, together, the men dragged the jigger clear of the lines. Within minutes a north-bound freight train passed by.Next morning the young man, now sober if a little unkempt after a night in the cells, appeared in court where he pleaded guilty to charges under the Railways Act and, I seem to recall, the theft, (or conversion for his own use) of a railway jigger. Perhaps it was because the judge, Mr Stewart Hardy, S.M., realised the media was present in the Court, but he gave the young man “both barrels” when sentencing him. Repeating some of the police summary of the facts, Mr Hardy said it was such a foolish act. The defendant, he pointed out, would have been killed had the freight train collided with the jigger, the train would possibly have derailed killing or injuring the train’s crew. Worse, he said, the whole train might have tumbled off the terrace down on to the main highway where passing vehicles might have collided with, or been crushed by, the wreckage. More people could have been killed. And what if it had been a passenger train? There could have been many people killed or injured had the carriages been derailed and fallen down the embankment, and all caused by the youth’s silly, drunken actions. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to a monetary fine and probation which included a prohibition order until the fine was paid and a doctor’s opinion was received about his possible alcoholism.

Magistrate Stewart Hardy, on circuit that day dispensing justice in Huntly, was based at Hamilton Court and was known for his stiff sentences (“Hardy by name and hardy by nature”, some said) but he met trouble via the media (including our radio and TV bulletins) when one day he sentenced speeding motorists in Te Awamutu Court.  A number of them were from Auckland, alledgedly speeding on State Highway 3 near Te Awamutu, en route to winter sports playgrounds.

“I am sick of Auckland drivers who think they can get away with fast driving once they get into the country. They come down here on their way to the ski-fields and flout the law,” he said, “Be warned I’ll be imposing stiffer penalties on these wayward Aucklanders, starting from today”, and noticeably increased the fines on those before him that day. We reported the proceedings.

Lawyers and others pointed out, very publicly, that his job was to officiate fairly, evenly and objectively to all who came before the Bench – there could be no special case for Aucklanders, or anyone else! Mr Hardy must have been admonished because Justice Department officials announced the practice would not continue.

 Huntly Yarn 2  – New Power Station

We in the newsroom had waited some time for the announcement of a major construction project, the thermal power station on the Western bank of the Waikato River at Huntly. Some preliminary correspondence between the Government and the Huntly Borough Council had been made public at local Borough Council meetings and I had reported that. Then sometime in early 1972 the Mayor told me on the quiet that negotiations were underway: there would be a new sub-division for 200 workers’ houses, money made available for a new water supply for the township and a new fire station. Remedial works, restoring the borough to ‘normal’ after construction were also being talked over. This “off the record” tip-off meant I could gather in advance stock footage of Huntly, the river and the proposed site for the power station, ready to go with interviews and other material gleaned once the official announcement was made.

Then the day came when, late morning, the project was made public. It was expected the power station would use both gas and coal to generate electricity using  up to 4 turbines producing, at peak, about 12 and a half per cent of New Zealand’s needs. The features that would put Huntly on the map, it was announced, would be the station’s 2 chimney stacks towering 150 meters. The cost of the project was mentioned along with the large number of jobs created during construction, and those required to manage the completed facility. There was to be a construction village with a lifetime of about 4 years to provide workers’ accommodation and there would have to be a new bridge built across the river to take the super-heavy turbines and associated machinery. (This turned out to be a temporary structure rather than an enduring asset for the district)

In 1ZH Newsroom we recognised a big story when we saw one! We had several special news items briefly outlining the project from the moment we received news of the announcement.

Jack Marshall: backtracked Wkiipedia

Prime Minister Jack (later Sir John) Marshall waxed lyrical about the decision and what it meant for Waikato, and New Zealand. We went all-out to get comment from everyone who mattered such as the Mayor of Huntly, local business people, Maori interests, Federated Farmers, Government Departments… and environmentalists. They came into the picture because the station intended to use the adjacent Waikato River as coolant – taking in cold water and returning slightly warmer water to the river where it would cool, rapidly mixing in with the river’s fast-flowing current. Critics said this posed a threat to fish and river life. Maori interests, too, were very much involved: Waahi, which would be adjacent to the work-site, is the main Marae of Ngaati Mahuta of Waikato and home of the Kaahui Ariki, the paramount family in the King Movement, led by, then, the Maori Queen, Te Atairangikaahu.

Noon, news-time and we had a comprehensive local package to follow the lead item in the networked bulletin from Wellington. We really did have solid and wide-ranging coverage.  It all went a little longer than usual, but when you’ve got as big story, like this, you tend to go to the limit! Lunch for news staff was delayed a bit that day. After the extended midday news on 1ZH we all returned to the newsroom for a brief meeting.  The station’s Programme Manager appeared to offer his congratulations on a job well done, then we looked ahead to 1ZH’s one o’clock bulletin, and beyond, considering any other angles we needed to cover. We also planned what would be shown in TV news bulletins, helped by counterparts in Wellington getting the Prime Minister on film making the announcement and answering a few well-chosen questions.

The meeting was just underway when the last to arrive ran into the newsroom with a message hot off the teleprinter from NZBC’s Head Office newsroom in Wellington. The text had originated in the NZBC’s Parliamentary Bureau. It was a “three bell message” indicating top priority. “URGENT. ALL. KILL  KILL  KILL” was the headline, “HUNTLY POWER STATION, KILL  KILL  KILL – MTC MTC MTC ”. “MTC” in teleprinter “shorthand” means “More To Come”. I was instantly on the phone to Wellington, wondering aloud whether the story had been killed for good or whether it had just, somehow, been released prematurely, or mis-timed, and would it re-surface later in the day? I found it was an irritation among the editors in Wellington, a big story killed off, but they made it clear it wasn’t going to bounce back anytime soon. “Someone forgot the Environmental Impact Report, Ric, so it’ll be at least 12 months before the final go-ahead is given – we’re counting today’s announcement as the PM’s dress rehearsal”.

Dress rehearsal? What a mess! We had just spent the best part of 10 minutes broadcasting the announcement that the project was going ahead. And now it was shelved. This needed explaining. TV news was left with a big gap in its news line-up because the story was pulled. A brief item appeared a little later on the teleprinter. This was, as promised, the “MTC” and it was to the effect, very much in “parliamentary speak”, that the final go ahead for the Huntly Thermal Power Station would be announced after all due consideration had been given to environmental aspects.

Jack Marshall, ironically, did not benefit by the “dress rehearsal”: when the Resource Consent was presented, based on intricate and controversial environmental safeguards, his Government had been ousted in the Labour landslide late in 1972.

The completed power station, 1970s

Footnote: Huntly was fast becoming a construction town. Cromwell in Central Otago was also to become a “works” town for the hydro-electric project on the Clutha, a massive so called “high dam” at Clyde. A relation of mine, Ronny Davidson, was a Councillor on the Vincent County Council (Central Otago) and I agreed to share whatever came my way regarding the making of the construction town in Huntly. What Huntly achieved, Cromwell wanted to follow, or, where there were pitfalls, to do better. So I regularly corresponded with Ronny advising such things as Government grants (rather than loans) for new or increased community amenities, how the sub-division for workers’ housing was organised (and a general store added after Huntly Borough Councillors spotted the deficiency and insisted on its inclusion). I forwarded Ronny the “public” parts of the papers from Huntly Borough meetings so he could see intimate details of negotiations with the government. Where community facilities were to be paid for by loans, Huntly Council sought government assistance to pay the service charges. It also negotiated a flood protection plan to guard against the Waikato River overtaking the town. And there was a certain relevancy to Central Otago – the landscape there was to be deliberately flooded to provide a reservoir for the new dam. I told Ronny about arrangements to cater for enlarged school rolls, new ambulance and medical services and the Council’s insistence on a new police station with appropriate staffing. I would like to think that this correspondence resulted in some improved facilities for Cromwell which were ultimately paid for by the instigators of the project, the government.

Ronny thanked me for the information: perhaps his fellow Councillors wondered how he could be so well-briefed, knowledgeable and innovative when it came to how the government should support the new town of Cromwell. One big difference – while Huntly would be enhanced to cater for its new role as construction town, Cromwell would have to be largely re-created because so much of the township (including its main street) would be submerged once the reservoir filled behind the dam.

The Mayor of Cromwell, Ivan Anderson, visited Huntly to “share notes” with his Huntly counterpart and I interviewed both of them for radio and TV at the time: both reckoned that the government was playing the game and owning up to its responsibilities.

 Tokoroa: Oops. Design fault.

Tokoroa had been promised a new bus station for years. There was no passenger train service to the town so those townspeople without cars used numerous buses plying State Highway One on their way North (Hamilton and Auckland), South (Taupo and Wellington), East to Te Awamutu and on to Hamilton or Taumarunui and West to Rotorua and Tauranga.

The local MP announced Tokoroa’s new bus station, complete with weather-proof canopy, on land reserved for it in a lay-by just off the highway. There were delays in funding, I seem to remember… although the design had been finished and approved there was a hold-up. Then, further publicity about the town which had a bus stop without shelter from the rain or cold. This led, finally, to construction of the new bus station. Came the time to try it out and it was very quickly found that buses could not fit under the veranda. During the delays since the station had been designed and then constructed, a new type of bus had been introduced by New Zealand Railways and now the vehicles were too high to go under the veranda. They just did not fit. It made a nice pictorial TV news story. Raising the roof was not an option so the road way was torn up, excavated and the surface lowered so the buses could go under the veranda – passengers were obliged to step up on to the platform from the coaches rather than the traditional step down.

 Tokoroa: Election 1972

In the lead up to a General Election the NZBC had to be scrupulously fair about allocation of time on air to the various political parties. Someone in Head Office obviously kept a book detailing exact durations of items on both network radio and TV for each appearance by all candidates over the course of the official campaign, usually a month out from Election Day. In Hamilton we had put in considerable work to cover local candidates, keeping the necessary book to ensure balance, and we had also figured our coverage on 1ZH on the day, more particularly on Election Night to ensure we could get results as soon as votes were counted.

The official campaign ended on the Friday night – the polling places opened at 9 o clock next morning. Mid to late afternoon I received a phone call from Head Office. “We’re short on Labour coverage, we need some from a campaign meeting tonight and Hugh Watt’s speaking in your patch – can you please cover Hugh Watt and file before 9pm? It doesn’t matter what he says, report it, we need to balance the books and this will be our last chance. V. Important. He’s been advised we will be there”.

Hugh Watt, Wikipedia

No problem, I thought until I found the meeting was in Mangakino, yes, in my patch, but an hour and a half’s drive south of Hamilton. I decided to go myself and immediately set off, first to Tokoroa. My stop there was to visit the Post Office to ensure that on my way back, at say 8.30pm, I could easily get access to the After Hours Telephone Booth to make a ‘reverse charges’ call to Head Office in Wellington. “We’ll be here”, the staff in the Telephone Exchange said. “Ring the bell on the door and we’ll get you to a phone. Hot news from Toke, eh?!”

On to Mangakino, where Hugh Watt, a friend of my parents in Epsom as it happened, had already arrived at the hotel. He was having a meal before his meeting so I avoided the Dining Room. I pondered on the situation, here I was, gathering the last gasp in the campaign from the Labour Party from what was going to be a very small ‘cottage’ meeting in the heart of National (Watt’s  opposition) territory!  Anyway, the meeting began with about 20 people in the front parlour of the hotel, as I recall, and Hugh acknowledged my presence and began his presentation. I scribbled down a few notes to look busy and as if the contribution was meaningful, I waited ‘til question time for a couple of questions and I was ready to high-tail it to Tokoroa to file my voice report. There was one last question, a general query about Labour. But Hugh – and I am sure it was for my benefit – artfully reviewed how he had seen the whole campaign from Labour’s point of view and, for good measure, added a few instances where he thought National had seriously dropped the ball. Between the questioner and Hugh Watt’s opportunistic reply I now had my storyline and not a bad one to balance the books with which to end election coverage. I drove as fast as I could to Tokoroa, wrote out my voice report based on Hugh’s summing up and his broadsides at the National Government, went round to the back of the Post Office, pressed the bell and within minutes I was reciting my item to Wellington Newsroom, complete with a suggested introduction for the newsreader. It was ten to nine when I returned to the car and I tuned in the car’s radio so I could hear the 9 o’ clock news.  My item led the bulletin!

I thought back on the evening and had an overwhelming sense of political astuteness, or was it sheer cunning, on Hugh Watt’s part when, knowing why I was there, he converted an innocent question to his advantage, making a headline radio news item to sum-up and end the campaign.

It was half past ten when I got back to 1ZH in Hamilton, later still when I got home. Tomorrow, Election Day 1972, was going to be a long day and little did I know it, but it would be a turning point in politics in New Zealand – a landslide victory to the Labour Party led by Norman Kirk. Electorates considered safe National strongholds tumbled to the opposition, including local seats Hamilton West and Hamilton East. Voters had taken up Labour’s campaign theme “Time for a Change”. Hugh Watt became was Deputy Prime Minister in the Kirk Government and took over, briefly, when Norm Kirk died suddenly in office. He was later New Zealand’s high Commissioner in London.

Another Election Story

During the preceding election a Hamilton TV crew covered a campaign meeting one evening in a King Country town where the Minister of Overseas Trade, (later Sir) Brian Talboys, was supporting the local National candidate.  It was a small venue and the locals had turned out in numbers, perhaps to press on the Minister the importance of protecting farmers’ interests should Britain join the European Common Market.

Brian Talboys, Alexander Turnbull Library

The large crowd in the small venue soon made the room stuffy verging on the over-heated. The television lights did not help, of course, they themselves generated quite some heat. I seem to recall Frank Perry was the journalist. In his opinion the meeting was not producing anything newsworthy so the camera remained silent. It must have been obvious to some members of the audience that the meeting was not being filmed and there would be nothing of it on TV.

“Point of Order, Mr Chairman,” someone rose from the audience “I’m sorry to interrupt the Minister’s talk but it’s getting pretty warm in here, the TV lights are heating the place up an I’ve noticed there’s been no filming so perhaps the TV people could be asked to turn the lights off if they’re not required?”

The chairman turned to Frank and asked “do you people intend filming any part of the meeting?”

“If anyone says anything interesting I will!” replied Frank: his alarmingly candid reply appeared in New Zealand newspapers the next day.

Keeping Up To Date

With newsroom journalists making enquiries and regular checks among their contacts, I felt we had Hamilton, and the region, fairly well covered. We seemed to have a good constant flow of worthy stories. The team could pride itself that, in the years I was there, it was never beaten for “happening stories” by the local newspaper, “Waikato Times”, except for topics concerning NZ Dairy Company business. There was a tie up, I think maybe a shareholding, between the two organisations which meant the newspaper always got first go at those story-lines and invariably they were front page with giant headlines. We would have ignored them if we could, but given the unquestionable importance of the Company to the local, and often national, economy, to say nothing of our rural audience’s intense interest – the farmers – we were obliged to report these matters, always following the newspaper on radio and TV.  It hurt!

Local radio items provided by the newsroom were read in-house by 1ZH announcers augmented by journalists’ voice-overs and interviews, while scripts likely to be of wider interest were relayed by teleprinter to NZBC News Headquarters in Wellington for bulletins on the nation-wide radio networks.

TV items were filmed on location in black and white (colour from late 1974) using 16mm single-system mute or sound-on-film cameras. The cameramen when I arrived on station were Fred Goldring, Greg Penniket and Alan Hough, (later replaced by Dave Drinkwater). This involved much travel for the Hamilton-based camera crews: our territory stretched from Mercer in the North to Ohakune in the South and coast to coast. So it was nothing for crews to travel to Coromandel, Tauranga, Taupo, Taumarunui, Mt Ruapehu or Rotorua, usually on same-day round-trips. The resulting film was returned to our studios in Hamilton by road or by light plane and prepared in-house (processed, edited, scripted, voiced and captions made) then injected, live to air, into either network or regional bulletins. This called for precise timing. The introduction to each item would be read by the network newsreader in Wellington studios or by the regional presenter in the “Look North” studio in Auckland. We in Hamilton would roll the film on the telecine machine a few seconds before the end of the newsreader’s script so that as soon as he concluded (and they were all males at that time), technicians would switch to Hamilton, the projector would be already be up to speed and we would be put “on line”, our items being transmitted to TV sets up and down the land.

By the time that I took over as News Chief in Hamilton the popular news and current affairs programme that had once originated from Alma Street studios exclusively for Waikato, Bay of Plenty and King Country viewers had been discontinued and there was just one programme, “Look North”, transmitted from Auckland to the whole of the North of the North Island, North Cape to Ohakune.

Lance Adams-Schneider

This reduction in local TV programming was still a bone of contention when I arrived, (despite the Minister of Broadcasting, Lance Adams-Schneider, being the local MP and who might have been expected to defend, and retain the local programme) but it had been made plain to me that there would be no return to the Waikato/Bay of Plenty’s own break-out programme that had been hosted by Edwin Brayshaw.  Nor would there be any more productions like the gardening show “Dig This” (hosted by, at first, Reg Chibnall, later Eion Scarrow) which for some 4 years had originated from the Hamilton studio and shown on all 4 NZBC channels. TV activities in Hamilton would be confined to our daily news injects. This meant our cameramen, who were as proficient in the studio as they were in the field, would no longer be required for in-house studio productions.

Before I leave the gardening show which had been produced in the Hamilton studio each week, I want to bring together presenter Reg Chibnall and one of the cameramen.  Reg liked to announce the botanical names of each plant he showed on camera: he thought this added a learned element, reinforcing his expertise with viewers. So on camera he would pick up a plant, seeds, a bulb or whatever and before he got to the substance of what he wanted to talk about, he would articulate these long and complicated Latin names. Unbeknown to viewers, he was in constant nervous tension immediately before and during the programme that he might forget one of these names at the critical moment.

In these times programmes such as “Dig This” were presented without the benefit of the auto-cue device (or idiot board). There was, thus, no detailed scripting as such and no prompter in front of the camera to assist the presenter. To save any embarrassment Reg would write out cue cards and hide them strategically on the set. So when he went forward to pick up, say, a pretty Primrose bloom, he would look down where the pot had been and there, out of sight of the camera, would be the small card with Primula vulgaris on it. With the card revealed, Reg would be sure of getting it correct. He arranged these cues all around the set before the programme began, always careful to make certain they would be concealed. Only cameramen and the programme’s producer/director knew he did this.

Reg’s “Dig This” was scheduled in the studio one afternoon a week, the set prepared and rehearsal over by 3pm, then a break for afternoon tea before the action got underway: a one-take effort was attempted and often achieved – in other words it was pre-recorded as if live-to-air.

One day a cameraman decided that the tea break was just long enough for him to replace some of Reg’s cue cards with his versions of those botanical names – all obscene words. Not all, just some. The cameraman knew the script outline so he doctored the very first one Reg would encounter. He gave the next couple of cue cards the miss and from then on peppered the set liberally with new cards, all very bad words. His ingenuity showed: not two were the same. His idea was that Reg, having got over the shock of the first one, would find the next few unchanged and be lulled into a false sense of security and relax a bit. Then he would again run into despair as, one by one, he unearthed the other lewd replacements.  But Reg, the inveterate performer, never faltered, got through undaunted and without hesitation. He was probably looking for the culprit until his dying day!

 The “News Beast”

My job was “to get on with” keeping the ‘news beastie’ fed seven days a week. I don’t suppose I ever found out whether Hamilton lacked social activities: I was usually too busy or too tired to seek them out. But I made a discovery the first time I had to take someone important out to dinner that apart from hotel dining rooms, there was at this time just two reputable restaurants, ‘Anderson’s’ and the licensed ‘Coachman’, which were inevitably unavailable to casual diners because they were booked well in advance by those who could reserve with certainty for birthdays, anniversaries, and family celebrations. Casual diners were thus shut out.

Although 1ZH had been the local commercial radio station for many years, by 1972 it already had an established head-to-head competitor, Radio Waikato, locally owned. Its management team included a few former 1ZH staff members. Ratings fluctuated somewhat. From time to time each station boasted it had most listeners, backed by audience research. Bren Low reckoned 1ZH had improved and was consistently number one about the time I arrived. He was beginning to take steps to confirm this and retain the lead. (More listeners equals higher advertising rates resulting in better revenue). What was readily, if not sometimes begrudgingly, acknowledged throughout the NZBC was that Bren Low at 1ZH headed one of the few Corporation commercial radio stations which consistently, year after year, showed a profit.

Bren often hired announcers who brought with them their own on-air “persona”, able to add to their shows a mix of tit-bits of information or gossip gleaned from their knowledge of show business, the pop world and the recording industry. Bren knew hiring some of these was a bit of a gamble, for while he knew youthfulness would ensure fresh and lively presentation on air, these announcers often regarded themselves as part of the pop culture, living on a knife-edge, with private lives to match. One or two didn’t last very long!

I think 1ZH’s evening host about this time must have realised he was on “borrowed time” because when it was finally time for him to part, office staff had two envelopes for him. “Your final pay and entitlements are in this one and it’s for you. We are keeping this other envelope; it’s the money you owe to reimburse all the international phone calls you’ve been making while looking for a job!”

He left the office without contesting the way the account had been split.

 Impressions

I was expected to attend, and contribute to, the weekly Management meeting. It was participation in these meetings that I appreciated, for the first time, the diversity of skills, knowledge and expertise involved in broadcasting, the cost structure, what made the commercial radio business “tick” and how a change in one aspect can have a knock-on effect and, importantly, involve and affect staff members. I could also see how various departmental managers, instinctively, protect their patch in times of criticism or change, attitudes that were sometimes soothed, at other times ignored or countermanded at the top. Most importantly, we always tried to take into account how listeners were likely to react to changes made on “their” radio station.

These executives’ meetings were also the turning point for my opinion about Bren Low. This is where he led his team.  And it was at these sessions that he would announce next initiatives for 1ZH. I did not have to wait long to find his decisions as astonishing as they were innovative, as daring as they were a business risk, but all to transform local commercial radio in the quest for those elusive rating points which meant, of course, attracting and keeping listeners.

In fact, it was at the very first Management meeting I attended that Bren came out with a startling idea. I quickly cottoned on that by the time his ideas were voiced at one of these meetings they were, despite invitations to consult and contribute, decisions that were going to be acted upon, unless someone unquestionably pointed out that they were illegal (and we were certain to get caught!) or commercially absolutely a loss-maker (seriously impacting the bottom line!)

On this occasion the innovation was to clear the daily fix of soap opera from 1ZH’s schedule. The British serial “The Archers” had played on the station for yonks in an early evening slot and Bren wanted to “ditch the talk in favour of popular music”. There were a few observations around the management table that it had been popular (was it still?), one of 1ZH’s core evening features (a hang-over from variety-radio?) and that for some time it had not been able to attract commercial support, like, a sponsor (proof it’s not for 1ZH?).

Soap opera set in rural “Ambridge” – BBC

Bren reminded everyone that an omnibus edition of the week’s episodes of life down on the farm with the Archers was broadcast on National Radio if any 1ZH listeners really wanted to continue with the soap. And personally he doubted if there were many.

Nevertheless, I think I held my breath when the decision was taken there and then to dump the “Archers” from the very next week. A clean break, there would be no pre-warning announcements on air and, on the night, the duty announcer would continue with the usual music and commercials, without comment. A telephonist would be especially rostered for the evening to deal with complaining callers who would be politely advised to get on the omnibus, National Radio, Saturday nights. Bren advised that in subsequent weeks it would be removed from 1ZH’s billings in the “Listener”, his none-too subtle way of saying this would be a permanent change – there would be no going back on the decision. There was, nevertheless, some apprehension amongst management: it seemed like the parting of the ways with an old friend, ending the tried and proven theory of the soap opera on radio attracting a committed, continuing audience.

The “Archers” were killed off and the next week’s Management meeting heard the telephonist had not been needed. There was not one call either asking or complaining about the missing programme. The demise of the Archers, without so much as one mourner, showed Bren had perfectly judged the situation, enabling him to take one step further towards his dream of clearing out the talk in the evenings, leaving uninterrupted music and commercials. To me, the new person in his team, his action showed thoughtfulness about the business, acting on a hunch, making a decision and going with it apparently against the odds. But this was just my first glimpse of the entrepreneur.

“Real Radio”

Hamilton, being a smaller city, tended to provide much of what I call “institutional news”- central and local government stories, opinion and activities from advocacy and lobby groups, with some agricultural, commercial and business news. I tried to beef up “happening news” on 1ZH, strengthening contacts with the emergency services and, wherever possible, getting a journalist on the scene, reporting in live-on-air by telephone. Although the Chief Reporter was not supposed to get into the field so much, I (naturally) quickly found a “direct line” to the Fire Service. Once semi-settled at  1ZH my next step was to set up a working relationship with Fire Chief Bill Clarkson so that we could access him (or his Deputy) at fires and other emergencies that the brigade was dealing with. He was on-side and as a result there developed a close personal and professional association.

The arrangement was tested within weeks. There was a fire alarm in Hamilton North (it turned out to be a false alarm, I think) but I learned as the appliance was responding that it had crashed with a car at Vardon Road intersection and that there were injuries. I rapidly despatched myself in my car to the scene, ignoring previous warnings to drive slowly and carefully through the 1ZH car park on the way out. At Vardon Road I could see the appliance was in collision with a car which was now badly crumpled, the driver still inside. I made a quick survey of the scene and went into the nearest shop, told them who I was, asked to use the phone (this was long before mobile phones!) and went straight to air with a brief report. As I was talking an ambulance arrived, providing appropriate sound effects with its siren, so I was able to say the driver was getting expert attention from both firefighters and St John officers.  Out into the street again, further enquiries and observations and back into the shop to make another, more detailed, phoned report on 1ZH. Driver of the car, trapped inside the wreckage, being attended-to, none of the fire-fighters hurt, motorists in the vicinity need to take care, etc.  My explanation was again punctuated by a siren, this time a concerned Fire Chief Clarkson arriving to check on his staff, the fire engine and the patient. He had heard my reports on his car radio and I was worried he might have been apprehensive about this new level of reportage on 1ZH.  But he was very matter of fact about the incident, gave me the brigade’s side of what had happened and I included this in my third and last report to 1ZH from the scene, and news that the elderly driver had died before he could be extricated from his wrecked car.

Back at 1ZH, I was met in the car park by the custodian, Bob McCallum, with a warning that my speedy exit had been observed by the Executive Officer, Bill Brooker, and I was in trouble!  Bob also proffered his own opinion: “I, too, think you were a bit quick”.  Bill carefully arranged an interception with me in the car park, told me off (with leniency because I was a new boy and a member of management!) and advised that walking pace within the car park was a good measure! Then, inside 1ZH offices there was another interception, Bren Low, at the top of the stairs. He knew I had just been told off. “Just between us”, he asked, “could we agree to forget it? I’ve been listening…  thanks very much for real radio”. From that point on I felt I had unqualified remit to really push news as it was happening.

Robert McCallum, MBE

Bob McCallum, 1ZH custodian in his retirement years, had experienced life to the full. Born in Invercargill in 1900, he went to sea at 13. He found he could hold his own in the boxing ring and in England turned professional.  At 18 Bob joined the Royal Navy serving on HMS Victory (now the land-locked tourist ship) and both the Leander and Hood), and his training days included visits to Scandinavian ports and the Baltic. During the Russian Revolution he saw terrible hardships amongst the peasants in Riga, scenes that left indelible images for the rest of his life. Bob qualified as a stoker, his work aboard coal-fired ships in the stokehold was often in temperatures reaching 140 degrees. At almost every naval shore station his ship called at, “Red McCallum”  or “Fighting Mac”‘s boxing prowess was known and fights would be arranged. When he was in England he added to his Navy pay making quite a bit of money appearing in “warm-up” fights before the evening’s main attraction. “I was never a top-liner but often fought before crowds of ten to fifteen thousand for, sometimes £40 a night. It was a hard life – I found I drank too much alcohol ‘keeping up’. Then the Navy selected me to go to the World Fair in Rio de Janeiro and after that I joined HMS Hood for a world cruise. I continued boxing for a while, found I couldn’t keep it up and eventually gave it away.” This added to my drinking problems: everyone wanted to know a successful boxer, no one wanted to know a loser – I was on my own with the bottle for solace”. Bob later transferred to the Royal New Zealand Navy. Back in New Zealand he came ashore and after a particularly long drinking session was intercepted by Salvation Army officers, literally picked up from the gutter after he’d been thrown out of a pub for being drunk and quarrelsome. He swore off drink but several times returned to it, each time clawing back to sobriety with help from the programme run by the Salvation Army. Then World War 2 hostilities broke out and he rejoined the Navy and spent most of the war years until 1945 on the seven seas dodging German torpedoes or the odd Japanese warplane. He remained sober and on one ship was put in charge of distributing the daily rum ration! He attempted, with indifferent success to hold shipboard prayer meetings. “I was, however, sought by men at all times of the day and night to help them with personal problems – it was the start of my welfare work, I suppose. About this time I was chosen as one in a prize crew to go on a captured Italian submarine which was used as a decoy to lure enemy shipping into Allies’ sights”.

Bob got sick, returned to New Zealand and after a recovery taking 7 months was declared unfit for further service. In hospital he continued with patients’ welfare, remained sober, re-met Claire Smith, a woman he had known in darker times who had since been widowed. She was a comitted Christian, a member of the Salvation Army. Claire and Bob married and soon after he was approached by the Salvation Army to join as a salaried social worker.

He was appointed an Officiating Minister. After serving in several provincial centres and at Devonport  and Otahuhu, Bob was sought out in 1956 as approriately qualified to head the Army’s Rotoroa Island Rehabilitation Centre. He found an easy liaison with Auckland’s habitual drunkards and down-and-outs, appearing in Court to speak up for them, offering them (and the Court) an alternative to prison: a place at the Army’s retreat and rehabilitation centre on Rotoroa.

Rotoroa Island – Salvation Army

He lived on the island with his wife, Claire and five children. Bob’s (now Major McCallum) seamanship came in when he got his ticket to skipper the Army’s launch, “Mahoe”. It made the trip  between Rotoroa and Auckland most Mondays: the morning trip brought reformed characters back to the mainland and late afternoon sailing conveyed the weekly group of inebriates to the island for treatment. “Trouble was,” Bob once told me “there always seemed more arriving than I took back to Auckland, and some of them became familiar faces over the years!”  He was Superintendent at Rotoroa Island for 9 years until 1965 and in 1963 was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in recognition of his services. Bob and his family settled in Hamilton.

On my return from the Mururoa Mission (discussed later) the Royal New Zealand Navy was boasting that its ships had broken the record for the number of days at sea without docking at a port. Bob, recalling his days aboard slow wartime ships, often in convoy, said 4-6 weeks was nothing – he had experienced much longer periods between ports, voyages often diverted to avoid enemy action, to deliver war-effort cargoes at a new front or to transport them somewhere else because their original destination had, meantime, fallen into enemy hands. Major Robert (‘Skipper’) McCallum, MBE, died in 1985 aged 85, farewelled by the Salvation Army, and many reformed individuals for whom he had made a difference. His ashes were scattered on Rotoroa Island.

Bill Brooker: Executive Officer

Bill oversaw all NZBC accounting and administration in Hamilton. He watched expenditure like a hawk and was quick to question any travel or expense claims that seemed over-the-top or outside the strict public service rules the NZBC had to observe.

News staff seldom claimed reimbursement for expenses they’d met out-of-pocket. But one claim I always ended up debating with Bill were my expenses in connection with the quarterly coverage of the meeting of the Tongariro National Park Board. It met over a weekend at the five star hotel, Chateau Tongariro, on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu.

Chateau Tongariro – Auckland Libraries Collection

Park Board members gathered on Friday night ready for the meeting to start first thing on Saturday. I would arrive just in time for the beginning of the meeting, at something of a disadvantage, I reckoned, because I had not had the opportunity to meet with members the night before. I came in “cold”, hastily catching up with the agenda and business in hand. The meeting would go all day Saturday and, if business remained, continue on Sunday morning. I would file my items for radio throughout Saturday and then attend dinner on Saturday night. It always turned out to be a very pleasant evening: a good meal while at the same time getting additional stories and “behind the scenes” information. Members of the Board were involved in other, related, activities like mountaineering, search and rescue and conservation so I was often picking up news leads about stories elsewhere in New Zealand and within the Lands and Survey Department. I would file more items on Sunday morning and set off for base around midday, or once the meeting concluded. On occasion I called in a film crew to do an item for TV.

The Chateau was a “resort” hotel run by the State-owned Tourist Hotel Corporation which had the monopoly on public accommodation on the mountain… with an expensive “resort” tariff and steep restaurant and bar prices. So when I lodged the expenses claim with Bill Brooker there was always discussion. And I ended up out of pocket. “There’s no way NZBC’s going to pay this exorbitant claim for accommodation”. And then there were the meals. “Way outside the maximum you are allowed to claim!” he would say in what became a quarterly ritual, an unpleasant follow-up to the Park Board meeting. I protested saying the nearest alternative accommodation was at National Park or Taumarunui, quite a drive from the Chateau and back again, and in any case it was vital to have time with the Board Members “lobbying” for information and items. Bill relented on the accommodation which at that time, February 1974, was (a whopping!) $25.75 for the night. But somehow he persuaded Head Office to refund the claim so it did not show on his accounts! I ended up paying the full price for breakfast and dinner (lunch could not be claimed!) and was reimbursed by the NZBC at its rate of $1.00 for breakfast and $2.00 for dinner. I could claim per diem incidentals for the 3 days at $1.10 so that was something to help recover costs of the expensive Chateau meals. But it wasn’t enough: bureaucracy won – it was my loss.

Part of my protest to Bill Brooker was that the National Park Board was funded by Lands and Survey, a government department, so how did its personnel get around exceeding public service rates? It had been around since the 1920s and I was certain, I told Bill, that its members, like me, surely didn’t have to find their own money to pay their expenses! But Bill would have none of it: he knew the NZBC Manual back to front, and those were my entitlements: no more, no less!

Stories off the Mountain

And it wasn’t as if there were not good stories from the Board’s meeting. At this stage it was moving to restrict the number of ski lodges on the mountain. It was concerned that the mountain was becoming grossly overcrowded, winter crowds made up by members of the numerous Ski Clubs and day-trippers.

Some Ski “huts” were more like hotels in the snow – Auckland Libraries

Tramping in summer months was also growing in popularity… more tracks and huts were planned. Philosophically, had the time come to restrict numbers? Or should the Board try to match demand with more visitor facilities, extend or create new car parks and install one other important aspect, a proper waste disposal system on the mountain? The Board resolved to act on the last-mentioned at a meeting I attended. This was to be a milestone because already human waste from all the visitors to the mountain was proving a problem and whatever system was put in place would be expensive: somehow it had to be engineered to counter the freezing temperatures, the winter frost and snows. I gathered that this was the Board’s most important decision in the 1970s, an enormous undertaking in the name of conservation.

Other news items arose from the Park Board meeting. Improvement of roads and bridges in the area (Ministry of Works), effects of the Tongariro Power Scheme, pest control, dealing with the huge numbers of buses arriving on the mountain over winter months and renovation/additions to Ski Huts, many of which were turning from spartan “accommodation halls” to hotel/motel-like facilities. This was all good intelligence, noted and followed up in later weeks from Hamilton newsroom.

The Board was also grappling with the policy of private enterprise within the Park boundaries, especially an entrepreneur who set up to sell food. The Chateau Hotel thought it had sole rights with outlets at the hotel and up on the mountain at the base of the chairlifts.  But an entrepreneur had set up a stall on the road leading to the mountain. There was just one item on the menu, meat pies. The man, who became known as The Pieman, found his place in the market, even though there wasn’t any opposition, and sold as many pies as he could obtain and transport to his stall.

The humble meat pie whipped up a storm – Wikipedia

Hot pies suited the pocket and palate of the passing travellers! He did not have approval to trade within the Park and when he was told he had to desist there was criticism from his many customers who said  the Chateau’s monopoly wasn’t fair: its food, and high prices, were, they maintained, not meeting the popular market. Selling pies, however, was well beneath its dignity as a “five star resort”.

The Chateau Menu did not offer meat pies!

Then the local Council decided to put its finger in the pie, saying the hygiene within the roadside stall was probably questionable, and where were the pies being baked? Were they being cooked in a  commercial kitchen approved by a local body health inspector?

Poor Pieman got it from all directions. His supporters grew more vocal. The controversy was great publicity: his sales increased. Buses would pull up at the stall and before they departed 50 pies would have been sold.

The controversy continued, spilling into the next winter season. The Pieman considered moving his very profitable “business” down the road so the stall was just outside Tongariro Park’s boundaries. He did a deal with the land owner, the local farmer, to occupy a corner of a road-side paddock.

This wrangle focussed on gaps in the administrative powers of all Park Boards in New Zealand and in late 1975 an Act was passed to regularise matters including a provision enabling Boards to license commercial enterprise within parks’ boundaries.

 Americana: Happy Days

1ZH was primarily a music station, modern music, peppered with information like news bulletins, local weather, community notices, a few “talk” sessions plus features, and of course, commercials. Bren always employed at least one announcer (maybe a disc jockey?) with a North American voice (USA or Canada) who was often rostered on-air in the evenings, giving the station a cosmopolitan sound, and this American accent became something of a trademark for 1ZH.

About this time Bren was leaving for his annual study trip to the United States to keep up with international developments in commercial radio and the recording industry. I had been told that this was no junket: invariably Bren picked up ideas while he was away and executives had to be ready to quickly incorporate these new ideas and practices on his return to 1ZH.

This time he had been sold on a phrase that was sweeping America, contributing, he believed, to positive feelings, community friendliness and commercial goodwill.  It was the “Have a Happy Day” slogan, and 1ZH’s transmission was to introduce and promote the theme throughout Waikato. Bren fetched jingles back from the States, stationery, graphics and a raft of ideas for spreading the “Happy Day” spirit.

1ZH’s new motif

1ZH telephonists and receptionists greeted callers and visitors with the magic words, it was repeated at every opportunity on-air, and posters began appearing in shop windows of businesses which advertised on 1ZH and had joined the campaign. There were one or two large billboards in the city. Bren wanted to take the message, physically, to Waikato hinterland and about this time a replacement caravan was being built for outside broadcasts. The caravan became 1ZH’s temporary headquarters and studio wherever events were being broadcast live at shopping centres, shows and fetes, etc: inevitably there were good commercial reasons for its presence!  Plans for the new caravan were immediately changed, enlarged to take a big Happy Day logo and the message (a sort of mobile billboard). The look turned out to be both attractive and striking. One problem emerged – the longer, heavier caravan was beyond capabilities of the NZBC car that usually towed it around the region so, unexpectedly, Bren had to invest in a bigger vehicle. This meant he had to defend his action with NZBC Head Office because the purchase was well outside the Corporation’s policy.

So what was this all about, this “Have a Happy Day!” campaign? Bren explained that he saw it as a point of difference, a distinction, with the local competition, Radio Waikato and, for that matter, with any other radio station in New Zealand. It would, he reckoned, become synonymous with 1ZH, and, since it had such positive and friendly connotations it could do no harm, and in fact stood to benefit the station. For me, Bren’s reasoning gave another insight into his commercial thinking, even though after the initial campaign the American ideal of wishing all and sundry a happy day did not transfer well to New Zealand. It was not to become a permanent Americanism.

 More Americana – Wolfman Jack

But it was Bren’s next visit to the States that brought lasting Americana to New Zealand air waves.

While in the States Bren heard and was impressed with the syndicated weekly coast-to-coast radio chart/chat show anchored by Wolfman Jack, a respected and very popular veteran in the industry.

Wolfman Jack – BBC

Wolfman had a personal, distinctive presentation style with trademark howls, growls and a gravelly voice rougher than coarse sand-paper. Agents for the show just happened to be at the same industry conference that Bren was attending. He heard samples of earlier programmes and realised right away that Wolfman would be something quite new to the New Zealand radio audience. It would provide 1ZH with a very different genre of programme – up to the minute chart-toppers and news from Hollywood, the latest gossip about pop stars and rumours about the industry all pulled together by the personable Mr Wolfman Jack. Bren wanted the rights. Agents explained that most overseas radio stations accessed the programmes by satellite to ensure the content, when broadcast, was right up to the minute reflecting very latest trends and tunes in the industry. But this form of delivery was unaffordable, out of reach for Bren. So it was arranged to air-freight a recording of the show to New Zealand each week, arriving within a few days of being broadcast in the States. Bren signed on the spot – he acquired New Zealand rights and arranged access via a weekly freight service on scheduled airliners.The contract included marketing material similar to this invitation –

Bren signed the contract for the Wolfman show with 1ZH in mind but he knew all along that the cost (American dollars, too!) was such that it would have to be shared with at least one other radio station in New Zealand. Any broadcaster outside Hamilton could have access provided they contributed to the costs.  Almost as soon as he returned to New Zealand, complete with samples of Wolfman’s show, he attended the regular meeting of all NZBC Radio Managers in Wellington which he thought would be an excellent opportunity to seek out a partner station, or stations, to share Wolfman. Bren addressed the meeting, put the proposition, mentioned actual costs which he had already calculated and said that he had recordings with him which he would replay during the lunch-break for anyone who was curious. No one was. Not one NZBC manager showed any interest. Bren gave it one more shot in the afternoon session, repeating the proposition. Still no takers, so he had to leave it at that: shunned by his colleagues who had not even taken a few minutes to audition the programme.

Undeterred, Bren returned to Hamilton next day and, with his sample recordings of Wolfman, motored on to Auckland to keep an appointment with the management of the former pirate station and bête noir of the NZBC, Radio Hauraki. This was a daring venture. No one from NZBC ever had anything to do with Hauraki, the station NZBC loved to hate, former pirates who had shaken up the whole broadcasting industry in New Zealand by introducing private radio, shattering NZBC’s monopoly of the air-waves. And, once ashore and legitimate, Hauraki had the temerity to take the lead in innovation and commercialism, altering the profile of radio in the biggest city, Auckland, forever. Worse, private radio had spread to other centres (like Hamilton) impacting on NZBC revenue wherever it sprung up.  And now, here was Bren Low deliberately consorting with the enemy!

As might be expected of such a progressive outfit as Hauraki, Wolfman Jack’s reputation had long-preceded Bren’s trip up State Highway 1 to visit station executives. They knew Wolfman and his radio  show… and signed without hesitation. I guess they knew exactly what they were doing – by joining Bren in a venture, with Bren being part of the NZBC, they would be further aggravating executives in the state-owned corporation (which they always seemed to relish), at the same time acquiring Wolfman ahead of the NZBC’s local rival station in Auckland, 1ZB, the manager of which had ignored the opportunity at the management meeting in Wellington.

The arrangements couldn’t be more simple – it was agreed that the recording would be air-freighted each week to Auckland Airport and couriered to Radio Hauraki’s downtown studios. The show would be aired in Auckland every Wednesday night and then the package containing the recording would be consigned to Hamilton next morning on the Railways bus.

Wolfmnan Jack travelled by Railways coach! Te Ara

The tape would be picked up at the Hamilton bus depot by courier and delivered to 1ZH for transmission on Thursday nights. Hauraki and 1ZH paid fifty-fifty of the costs: the contract with Wolfman people in the US remained in the name of 1ZH.

Bren was elated that he had found a partner enabling such a great “property”, a new sound on New Zealand radio, to be aired on 1ZH and it did not matter one bit that it was being broadcast the night before in another city, 100 kilometres up the road, to a completely different audience. He handed over to the 1ZH sales team to find sponsors for this latest hot property. It was time to make it work for the station’s bottom-line!

But, as can be imagined, the deal with Hauraki was soon being talked about. NZBC Head Office executives were furious, like wasps disturbed in their nest, making repeated attacks, demanding an explanation for not only “consorting with the enemy” but getting into bed with the pirates by signing a contract with them!  They made it sound like treason, and perhaps to them it kind of was! Bren thus found he was again defending his enterprising efforts to innovate programmes and turn a buck.

“It was simple”, he told me, “I saw them all off by explaining that I had given every NZBC manager ample opportunity to participate, twice: they didn’t want to know, so I went outside the NZBC and found a partner for a programme which is resulting in increased revenue for 1ZH, and therefore NZBC.”

This, I thought, was to ignore the effect that Wolfman on Hauraki might have on Auckland’s NZBC stations, mainly 1ZB, but I didn’t say anything and, anyway, Bren had made the offer….

Legendary Wolfman Jack’s show survived locally for many years, I understand much longer on Hauraki than it did on 1ZH, and it wasn’t until some years after the height of his international popularity that his mask was removed and his real identity, Robert Weston Smith, was revealed.

Wolfman Jack unmasked as Robert Weston Smith – UTube

I found out subsequently that Wolfman Jack visited Auckland in the 1970s, and, ironically, Wayne Duncan, in a caption to a photo he took in station 1ZM studios, states Wolfman’s trip was sponsored “by the Government broadcaster which brought in a big gun from the US to bolster ratings”. Evidently 1ZM had by then taken over, or shared, the licence with Hauraki.

This venutre was but another illustration that Bren Low was ahead of his time, and certainly way out in front as a leader in local commercial broadcasting, particularly among his colleagues in NZBC.

 Pains and Stains

Probably the longest block of talk remaining on 1ZH was the mid-morning shopping reporter’s session. Vida Storey, who lived in Te Awamutu, hosted the programme giving the “news” she had gathered from local retailers about products, promotions and sales. There were also regular chats with vendors of all kinds, separated with friendly tips given by experts in their field, sometimes answering listeners who had phoned in. Home help was the biggest topic including cleaning advice, gardening and Do It Yourself, often tied to the advertising theme of the day. Choosing the right car, health care and baking tips were other subjects covered. The style was chatty, Vida was well known and the programmes seemed popular.

But “Pains and Stains, Ills and Spills”, as Bren once referred to the programme, was talk which had become “yesterday’s programming”. Revenue was checked against costs and it was readily acknowledged that, for the same time slot, other initiatives would result in bigger dollar and listener returns.

Unlike The Archers, there was no sudden disappearance of Pains and Stains. It was gradually reduced in duration over time until all the advertising contracts had expired and then it was allowed to end altogether. Vida reluctantly retired.

This, for me, was the end of an era, the end on commercial radio of what had been loosely labelled women’s programmes, a blend of advertising, advice and talk which had been part of radio for as far back as I could remember – such as “Aunt Daisy” (Maud Ruby Basham, who had been broadcasting these programmes on the commercial network since the 1930s) and, in Auckland, “Marina” (Joceleyn Parr) and Sonia King. Every commercial station had their celebrated hostesses of “Women’s Hour” (Doreen Kelso in Wellington) and their shopping reporters (like Jane Fisher and Patricia Cummings in Auckland).

Bren Low, for 1ZH, led the trend away from these programmes. He wanted more music and other content, driven by opportunity for added revenue. It wasn’t long before women’s programmes died a natural death on radio in most other centres – the availability of around-the-clock talkback shows and, later, a diversion to afternoon TV programmes, were to see to that.

Fountains?

Bren Low was well connected with many Hamilton movers and shakers. He was well known in the city, having been manager of 1ZH (earlier 1XH) for decades, and partly through his membership of the Hamilton Rotary Club. Apart from mixing with owners and managers of businesses that 1ZH had as clients (or would like to have!) Bren also occasionally extended Rotary activities on to the airwaves. One such was a suggestion originating at Rotary, grabbed by Hamilton City Council, that the city should have a theme name. Auckland was (at the time) the Queen City, Wellington was naturally The Capital, Christchurch was City of Flowers and Wanganui was named River City. Just South of Hamilton there was Te Awamutu, long referred to as Rose Town.

Hamilton, it was decided by the city fathers, should also have a by-line. Bren proposed that 1ZH join the quest for a suitable name, an on-air competition over some weeks for listeners to come up with suggestions and the most popular ones would be submitted to a selection panel comprising the Mayor, Rotary, et al for decision (on air, of course!).

I can’t recall any of the options except “Dairying Capital” and “Mooloo Town”, but there had been much talk on 1ZH over the course of the contest that something new was required, something that could be created which would become the theme throughout Hamilton, leaving no doubt to locals and visitors alike that the feature, whatever it was, matched the name given the city. A chance of a new identity! Bren loved all the controversy and cross-talk both on-air and in the community. Even the Waikato Times showed interest, probably the result of another Rotary connection weighing in! Surely, Bren said, the topic was attracting new listeners to his station.  Every now and again there were interviews on radio with the mayor and other worthies, each giving their opinions on various suggestions. Fairly early on the name Fountain City cropped up – what about a series of fountains big and small, in parks (built by the Council), one with coloured lights at night beside the lake, fountains in private gardens, in malls and how about a big one squirting up out of the Waikato River behind the main street? People could donate a fountain as a memorial to a loved one if they liked. We could have fountains throughout Hamilton city and suburbs.

Most of all there could be a parallel campaign to label the city Fountain City with signage, on maps and, 1ZH would become the Voice of Fountain City. Engineered or not, the idea took off on 1ZH with most listeners favouring the suggestion. The selection panel, convened live on-air, also liked it… and the city had a new name, Fountain City.  The fact was that at the time there was but one public fountain, a small “sprinkler” in the pond outside Founders Theatre. It was obvious that to justify all the hype on 1ZH, and the ongoing frequent references to the city’s new name, that more fountains would have to be urgently created. The City Council said it would cooperate. Rotary also had in mind one or two suitable locations. A motel on the northern approach to the city renamed itself Fountain City Motel with appropriate signage.

1ZH kept up with the by-line “Voice of Fountain City” on air for some months but it was plain there was not going to be the uptake City Fathers had envisaged, some of it their fault entirely with no funds allocated and little support. In fact, I believe that not one new fountain, public or private, was built after the name Fountain City was instituted. It did not catch on. Today Hamilton probably still struggles for a real theme – but the name which originated on 1ZH in the early 1970s lives on with that motel (now described as a “luxury motor-inn”) and the Fountain City Country Music Club.

1ZH, Rugby and “Mooloo”

Bren was instrumental, however, in one campaign in the early 1950’s which has endured: indeed historian, J. H. Hall, in his “The History of Broadcasting in New Zealand 1920 – 1954”, said of all the radio campaigns and community services throughout New Zealand around this time, the greatest was 1XH’s (predecessor to 1ZH) gift to Waikato people. This chapter is paraphrased, taken from J. H. “Bert” Hall’s book.

It began when radio announcer Alan Burcher introduced to the airwaves the sounds of a mooing cow, appropriate for the station serving Hamilton – capital of the dairy industry – and dairy lands throughout the Waikato, Hauraki Plains and King Country. The “cow-giving-voice” soon became 1XH’s popular signature, none the more so on the children’s session. Alan Burcher got Bren Low’s agreement to further personalise the animal and Alan invited children who were listening to their special sessions to write in suggesting a suitable name. “Mooloo” was chosen and being a true Waikato-ite, she quickly became an ardent rugby follower. During commentaries on 1XH of matches involving the Waikato team, “Mooloo” would be heard bellowing enthusiastically on-air every time points were scored by her favourite team! Subsequently “Mooloo” was sketched to give her form, the Rugby Union sought permission to use “Mooloo” and she appeared as a mascot at all games, invariably accompanied by cowbells, leading the chanting and cheering from the terraces and grandstand at Hamilton’s Rugby Park . The personality that 1XH invented had taken off!

Mooloo Rosette – TeAra

It began when radio announcer Alan Burcher introduced to the airwaves the sounds of a mooing cow, appropriate for the station serving Hamilton – capital of the dairy industry – and dairy lands throughout the Waikato, Hauraki Plains and King Country. The “cow-giving-voice” soon became 1XH’s popular signature, none the more so on the children’s session. Alan Burcher got Bren Low’s agreement to further personalise the animal and Alan invited children who were listening to their special sessions to write in suggesting a suitable name. “Mooloo” was chosen and being a true Waikato-ite, she quickly became an ardent rugby follower. During commentaries on 1XH of matches involving the Waikato team, “Mooloo” would be heard bellowing enthusiastically on-air every time points were scored by her favourite team! Subsequently “Mooloo” was sketched to give her form, the Rugby Union sought permission to use “Mooloo” and she appeared as a mascot at all games, invariably accompanied by cowbells, leading the chanting and cheering from the terraces and grandstand at Hamilton’s Rugby Park . The personality that 1XH invented had taken off!

Mooloo beer – Te Ara

Then in 1951 Waikato won the prized Ranfurly Shield from Northland. “Mooloo” was jubilant but went all mournful when the Shield was lost to Auckland the following season. “Mooloo”, confident as she was popular, immediately issued a challenge for a return match within a fortnight. Remarkably, Auckland agreed and “Mooloo”, through 1XH, rallied the entire Waikato province for the invasion of Auckland. She inspired the cow-country rugby team and led her team to victory at Eden Park… Waikato held the Shield for another year. There was no doubt that 1XH was the pivot for the successful short-notice challenge. The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce wrote to Bren Low thanking him for the “widespread publicity which assisted materially in the exceptional number of participants, beyond our most optimistic expectations, and, Mr Low, we are sure “Mooloo” has become a permanent fixture”.

She did, and, apparently ageless, “Mooloo” has been a presence at every Rugby season since with varying success for her adopted team.

Bren’s Evening Strategy

It was an apprehensive meeting of 1ZH management in early 1973 when Bren announced that he was going all-out to ensure we had top ratings in the evenings. All programming after the 6pm news would be designed to attract, particularly, the younger set and unless a slot or any content was targeted at Waikato teenagers it was to be removed from the schedule. He had set up close connections with most of the secondary schools, he announced, and news from these colleges would be featured along with interviews, sports results and some current affairs items tailored to the younger persons’ interests. Some schools already had stringers appointed; pupils who would be providing the material while other colleges had teachers as liaison with 1ZH.

Music selection was to favour this age group (so it was going to be all pop) and wherever possible, commercials were to appeal to youth. This change in evening transmission took a week or two to set up, and then it was unfolded on air. I did not think news operations would be affected, but they were. “How about dropping all news after 6pm, resuming at 6am?” Bren asked. These bulletins were read in Wellington, networked and simultaneously rebroadcast over 1ZH. “It’s a fair time span to be without news” I countered, but Bren said (mostly correctly) that evening news was a regurgitation of events that had happened during the day. “What about happening, local and overseas news?” I asked. Fair point, so we set up a red light in the studio which flashed to alert the announcer when an urgent news item had been received on the teleprinter. It was then just a matter of rip-and-read and 1ZH was able to keep up with the rest of the world. Bren said he would take the flack, if there was any, about ditching evening bulletins. News staff members were also involved in the “new look”: we had to suggest likely topics for interviews or panel discussions that would interest younger listeners. A series was arranged and broadcast. My tricky task for one of these programmes was to chair a discussion between Patricia Bartlett of the community standards lobby and the much more liberal Labour MP, Jonathan Hunt, about the pros and cons of cinema censorship.

Patricia Bartlett – Te Ara

Discussion very quickly zeroed in on the merits (or not) of the controversial movie of the time, “Last Tango in Paris” which the MP said he had seen in London (twice!) and which Pat Bartlett said “she could have seen it if she wanted to, but gave up the chance”. Ms Bartlett was thus arguing blindfolded, never having seen the movie. The discussion was, nevertheless, lively and afterwards was judged by Bren and programmers as just the stuff evening transmission now craved for.

Bren hated missing commercial deals that could have been associated with content. The joke around the office was that, had we asked, NZ Dairy Cooperative might have been interested in sponsoring the panel discussion to advertise its Anchor brand!

So why invest all this money and time changing the evening programmes on 1ZH to allure the young set? Simple. Bren had figured that teenagers rule the household radio in the evenings possibly while they do their homework, certainly if there’s content about their school’s first fifteen or netball team or whatever.

Involve the kid’s voices, appearing in the news items or during interviews, and you’ve got mums and dads, grans and aunties and uncles listening as well.

Much more to the point, Bren reckoned that if we could win the evening audience with these tactics the radios would be tuned to 1ZH from the night before when they’re first turned on next morning, the most important time of day for any radio station! Breakfast ratings are everything as far as advertisers are concerned. Once up and running the format was honed, the contributors from schools got a bit better with microphone techniques and others overcame nerves. The show developed as Bren had envisaged – 6pm until midnight with content targeted solely for the younger set in the early part of the evening. There was plenty of positive feedback and those who kept their finger on the pulse of audience reaction thought it was a brilliant move, winning over more listeners from the opposition in the evening: an audience it was hoped would still be tuned to 1ZH the next morning, and for keeps!

Bren Talks to the Ladies

But unfortunately the official audience ratings did not show the expected improvement. A small increase, but it wasn’t anything like the surge that feedback and anecdotal stories had led us to believe. The new evening transmission, we heard from many quarters, was very popular. Bren was both surprised and disappointed. “Right!  Now it’s time to look at the ratings. How are they arrived at, who is involved and are they scientifically based or wet-finger-in-the-air stuff?”

Audience ratings, issued periodically, were the sole “official” report of the number of 1ZH listeners. They were also the only recognised way of showing audience share where there were competing stations in the same territory.  Thus the ratings determined whether 1ZH or Radio Waikato had most listeners – by age group, by gender and, most importantly, by number of household shoppers. The station with the best ratings was likely to attract more advertising business and, if ratings warranted, advertising rates might be increased. Practically everything connected with commercial radio centred on the ratings. And still does!

NZBC managed teams up and down the land which researched and published the ratings. They were organised as per tried and true scientific research and recording systems, accepted by NZBC, other broadcasters and, most important, by advertising agencies and their clients.

Bren, doubting the accuracy of ratings, seemed to be the stand-out! He arranged to meet the head researcher in Hamilton and to accompany one or two of those who door-knocked, gathering the information about household listening habits. He had been warned that the team protected its independence, and while he was welcome to observe, he could have no influence in shaping results, which could affect the integrity of the audience research system.

Bren was astounded with what he saw and heard during the doorstep interviews. “Which radio station do you listen to at breakfast time?” was one of the questions. If the reply was “Why, we listen to the Waikato station” it was automatically a tick for Radio Waikato. If the response was “We stay with our Hamilton station”, that was a tick for 1ZH. Bren was not impressed. He thought the questioning and marking was too much hit-and-miss. Replies to other questions were just as vague, yet the charts were being ticked one way or the other, later reflected in “scientific research”.

Immediately after the ladies had gone on to the next street, Bren returned to one or two of addresses where the householder had earlier replied “We listen to the Waikato station”. Bren was doing his own micro-research! He asked who their favourite radio announcer was. Invariably, without prompting, they named a 1ZH personality!  So they were not Radio Waikato listeners at all! This proved that when indistinct answers were being given, researchers were not following up with appropriate questioning to clarify what responders meant.

Dismayed, Bren reported his foray into audience research to his Management Team. He now had proof of confusion in the marketplace, and therefore probably false ratings, and presented the evidence to us and then to NZBC Research. By now he had documented so many examples of muddled question-and-answer that the team in Hamilton who gathered the information just had to take notice. The interviewers agreed to amend the way they went about asking questions to try to ensure they gathered accurate answers. Bren told us that he asked them all to go one step further than the doorstep interview. “Please, if there is still any doubt about which radio station the householders listen to, don’t guess” he implored the team-members. “Ask to go into the home, right into the lounge or kitchen, wherever the radio is located to look at it and determine exactly what station it’s tuned to, inspect the dial to assure yourself, and then I gave them the message about the different frequencies for Radio Waikato and 1ZH and where to find them on the dial. We wanted no more confusion!”

“Go look at the dial”… Bren Low’s direction –
Hamilton Libraries

Bren’s doubts about the ratings paid off. 1ZH showed a very healthy lead over Radio Waikato when the next audience research was published. Evening slots were especially popular among younger listeners. Three years after Radio Waikato came on the scene, 1ZH was now unquestionably in the lead, all-listeners, across all time zones. Success was mostly due to Bren’s programming initiatives. (And the guidance he had given the researchers!). He very proudly announced to staff that 1ZH was confirmed Number One at a special morning tea he hosted in celebration.

 Revelations 1: The Budget  

It was traditional for 1ZH to move presentation to a temporary studio at the Hamilton Showgrounds for the duration of the popular Waikato Winter Show, a mix of agricultural, pastoral and industrial exhibits, plus fairground. This particular year was the first with the revamped evening programming, which meant there would be no news bulletins after six o’clock. (We had not broadcast these for some months by this time). There was no worry about this until I realised that the Wednesday night we were at the Show coincided with very night when the Minister of Finance was to read  the annual Budget in Parliament. Without the hourly bulletins injected from Wellington and no teleprinter link at the Showgrounds Studio we would have no means of getting vital news about the Budget! Besides, being at the Show with its throng of visitors, I was sure we could attract a lot of interest if progressively we noted key points on a whiteboard as the Budget unfolded.

How to get the Budget information? Some years before I been part of the “advance lock-up” in Auckland. As in Wellington, journalists had been issued, in confidence, with copies of the Budget in advance, under strict supervision, enabling journalists to prepare items ready for broadcast just as soon as they were announced by the Minister of Finance in the House. I thought if the same could be arranged this year in Hamilton we could save the situation and there’d be no need to revert to the hourly bulletins. The person to apply to would be the Chief Postmaster, Hamilton, who would need to organise the supervision to retain secrecy and security.

Bren Low not only agreed with my plan, but was happy to approach his Rotary friend, the Chief Postmaster, seeking cooperation.

Word spread fast. There was obviously rapid exchange between Post Office executives in Hamilton and Wellington and then with NZBC chiefs in the capital. Within minutes of making that request the Chief Reporter, NZBC Head Office News, Gil Norman, was on the phone. “What do you think makes Hamilton newsroom so special that it has asked for an advance copy of the Budget?”. I told him we needed to properly prepare because we were broadcasting in public that night, from the Winter Show, and wanted to present key points as they emerged, with absolute accuracy. “Well”, he said “you’ll be broadcasting the hourly network news bulletins, so you’ll have details of the Budget in those, and there are other means of accessing the information for your whiteboard – if you don’t trust your own shorthand, get yourself a shorthand typist, take down the hourly network bulletins and extract the main points from those and write them up on the white board”.

Might have been good advice to Gil Norman.. in shorthand, too!

Ignoring the barbed remark about the quality of my shorthand, I stalled with “that’d be too rushed, better to prepare the Budget details properly in a ‘lock up’”. Gil, of course, did not agree, and repeated his scenario about the hourly bulletins. Desperate to maintain the status-quo for the station’s evening transmissions, I revealed that we could not do as he suggested because, as part of its policy, 1ZH had long ago given up broadcasting commercial network news at the top of the hour in the evenings after 6pm. A pause at the other end of the phone stretched to a long silence. “Are you still there, Gil?” I asked. I guess it was absolutely inconceivable to Gil that a station in one of the main centres would not take the bulletins, worse that Head Office did not know about it! Gil got over the shock and asked me to confirm what I had said. He quickly told me he would not agree to the pre-Budget “lock-up”, but I gathered by his haste he really wanted me off the phone so he could report this outrageous revelation to other NZBC executives… that rebel, 1ZH, was at it again, daring to do things differently!

I got to Bren Low quickly, warning him what had happened and, echoing his earlier promise, he said he’d handle the fall-out. And within minutes he was called to account by Wellington executives.

I returned to my office, the phone rang and it was NZBC’s Auckland News Editor, Graham Wear. I recall the conversation. “Tell me”, he said “I’ve just heard the most incredible rumour that you people don’t broadcast hourly bulletins on 1ZH in the evenings, and while I am not really expecting you to confirm this, I just have to ask!”  I confessed to Graham that this had been the situation for months.  He was aghast. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked. I fudged it a bit, saying it was more 1ZH’s policy rather than anything to do with the newsroom, and anyway it was the manager, Bren Low’s, decision and he was taking responsibility for the move. “What do you do, then, for news on 1ZH in the evenings?” Graham asked. I was able to explain the set up with the teleprinter and its flashing red light. Graham was hardly satisfied and I recall his parting shot – “We just can’t believe it. Incredible!” And he rang off. Despite Head Office’s shock and Auckland’s disbelief, 1ZH did not go back to evening bulletins. Again, Bren’s innovative programming prevailed!

Local brewers always featured at the Winter Show – Hamilton Libraries

And we had a very successful Budget night at the Winter Show thanks to our inventive technicians. They rigged special lines from 1ZH HQ to the Showgrounds giving us a direct feed of the Budget Speech live from Parliament. News staff noted down the main points, passed them to the announcer to be read on air and then transcribed them in summary form to the whiteboard. 1ZH attracted a huge crowd to its studio that night, by far the most popular exhibit at the Show.

 Revelations 2: More  Trouble

1ZH had always ventured outside the studio, not just Winter Show but ‘on location’ at fetes and fairs, at retailers’ or companies’ premises celebrating anniversaries, promoting new products or massive sales. This was all part of 1ZH, the commercial station, because it was lucrative, these events were money spinners. The 1ZH caravan, fitted out as a mobile studio, would venture for these duties within Hamilton city and suburbs and, further afield, to the likes of Cambridge, Morrinsville or Te Awamutu. A couple of well-known on-air personalities and technicians would accompany the caravan and, because these were mainly commercial forays, several salesmen would go along to sign up the business! Community interest was not ignored – the mayor, public relations officer and other locals were interviewed on-air to espouse the town or districts. This ensured “community”, not merely a commercial talkfest with the usual music interludes.

For some years there had been an annual visit to the Paeroa/Te Aroha area when 1ZH “put the district on the map” and concentrated advertising local businesses on the Friday, an enterprise tied in with the Te Aroha Jockey Club’s race meeting. 1ZH did not broadcast race commentaries or results: the only acknowledgment of horse racing was the broadcast of track conditions and scratchings, fed on the network from Wellington into the breakfast session. The TAB paid for this nation-wide transmission: 1ZH was obliged to broadcast it.

Without reverting to full racing commentaries and all that entailed, Bren wanted to get closer to the Sport of Kings. “Waikato’s going to get big, it’s a province going to lead in the breeding and training of horses, so let’s see how we can support it, and with a return for 1ZH at the same time”.

Te Aroha, with 1ZH’s link to race-day there, was the natural place to start and Bren entered into an agreement with the President of the Jockey Club which resulted in, for the first time anywhere in New Zealand, a horse race being sponsored, and that the event would be officially named after the sponsor on the air. Thus the major race on the day became the “1ZH Guineas”. Bren, reporting this to his Management Team, was asked what the terms of the sponsorship were. “Apart from mention of the race etc on our transmission from Te Aroha on Friday, we buy the embroidered sash – it costs only a few dollars – and we have to be there after the race to put it around the neck of the lucky winner – that’s all”.

What Bren perhaps did not know, or did not care to remember, there had been NZBC policy about not mentioning the name of sponsors on air.  Enforcing this policy, NZBC executives had delayed a telecast of a sponsored race from Bay of Plenty in April 1968 which was supposed to have been live-as-it-happened.  Controversially the coverage had been delayed to enable it to be edited, to take out all mention of the sponsoring company’s name, Stars Travel.

Notwithstanding, the stage at Te Aroha was set for innovation. The race had been named “1ZH Guineas” (it was i newspapers and in the official race book), a sash had been purchased, and the caravan was in place in Te Aroha already broadcasting news, views and commercials from the town. On the day of the inaugural “1ZH Guineas” early morning radio listeners across the nation heard the TAB’s breakfast race-day summary. They were advised of track and weather conditions at Te Aroha race course and the scratchings, several non-starters in “…the fifth race on the card, feature race of the day, the “1ZH Guineas”…”

I was at home in Hamilton when I heard this and thought nothing more about it: Bren’s plans for Te Aroha were being realised.

1ZH pushing the envelope yet again….

The phone rang about half an hour later, interrupting my breakfast, It was a call from NZBC Commercial Manager, Cyril Brown, in Wellington who, having picked up my number in the after-hours list, was ringing looking for Bren Low. Did I know where he was? I suggested Cyril ring back after half past eight when the office opened because the receptionist would know where Bren was. Cyril did not reveal it to me, a mere mortal in News, that he had heard the race day scratching on-air and was absolutely livid that 1ZH had been mentioned as, somehow, connected with a horse race. As  mentioned, to date no commercial names had ever been attached to horse races on radio broadcasts – this was a first for New Zealand. Not only did the naming of the Guineas introduce commercial sponsorship on air, ironically it was in the name of a radio station, and to make matters worse, an NZBC one at that! Cyril did not think it was appropriate, nor proper. Besides, it had not been referred to him, or any other Head Office executive, to get permission. The policy stood.

I had warned the receptionist and at half past eight, sharp, the irritated Mr Brown rang. Bren, of course, was already well on the way to Te Aroha, if not already there, probably observing 1ZH’s live breakfast show presentation in the caravan. The receptionist later reported that Cyril Brown wanted to speak to Bren. When told he was out, Cyril asked if Bren could be contacted. “No” was the reply, “it’s the big race day at Te Aroha, he’s out all day, he’s gone to the races!”  With that Cyril turned angry!

I got hold of Bren to let him know that Wellington was on the warpath. As usual Bren took it very calmly and went on to “Have A Happy Day” at Te Aroha: by mid-afternoon he was on course ready to welcome the horses back to the birdcage and decorate the winner of the inugural “1ZH Guineas”.

At the next 1ZH Management Meeting he mentioned that Wellington executives had tried to admonish him over the “1ZH Guineas” initiative, but they had to let him off when he again underlined the commercial aspects involved and, for 1ZH, perhaps the beginning of closer relationships to the racing industry.

Sponsorship of racing caught on very quickly in New Zealand and is now commonplace, in fact very few horse and greyhound races are not commercially tagged and sponsored. “1ZH Guineas” was the first on radio, another string to Bren Low’s commercial bow.  And for many years now, Waikato, especially around Cambridge and Matamata, has become home to many of the country’s top breeding and training establishments, a multi-million dollar industry: just as Bren predicted.

 Revelations 3: The Angel

I had found that Bren Low was mild mannered, of even temperament and fair-minded, qualities that did not line up with impressions of the man I been given in Auckland. His fairness is illustrated by his reaction to a serious breach of the rules followed by an incredibly implausable excuse.

1ZH Chief Announcer, John Craig, always had the rosters for his staff-members written up well in advance so they could all see when their air shifts were, or when they were given time to prepare for outside broadcasts or something special. Being late or absent from an air-shift without advance notice and good reason was a definite no-no, breaking the rules.

So the time came for D.S. (let’s not name him!) to start his air shift on 1ZH this particular afternoon and there’s no sign of him. His aging Volkswagen’s not in the car park, no one’s seen him around the station. The the announcer who’s about to go off duty agrees to remain meantime, filling the gap.

D. arrives late. Cardinal sin! For some reason Bren knows about this tardiness but, not wanting to upset someone about to go on-air leaves the scolding for later. Next day D. explains his breach of punctuality to Bren. “I very nearly got to the studio” he said “and I was in good time for my shift but in Victoria Street, just before I turned into Alma Street, there was a blinding flash of light.

…a flash of light and…

An angel alighted on the dashboard, it was a real vision and, sitting there, the angel told me to return home for prayer. So I turned the VW around and carried out the instructions. Thus, I was late for my shift. I have already apologised to the chief announcer and to the colleagues I let down.”
Bren, sensing a deeper, genuine Christian conviction than had earlier been realised, mildly rebuked the sinner and asked him in future to ignore Angels who made difficult demands around about the time he was due to start his air shift. “I am sure they will understand, but I won’t be quite so forgiving if there’s a repeat performance!”. Others on station who got to hear about D.’s excuse took a bit more to be convinced that it was true. After all, it was cynically pointed out; Volkswagens of that vintage didn’t have dashboards!

Not much room for an angel to land! –
Classicvws.com

Here’s a Biblical quote to end these three revelations from the Book of Revelation, 20.1: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven having the key to the abyss and holding in his hand a great chain…”

 Close to Home

I thought the newsroom had our territory fairly well covered. We proved it one weekend when we reported a chapter of car accidents in the wet and foggy Waikato winter weather. One collision was of little consequence but got caught up in the series of mishaps, mentioned in the round-up on 1ZH. It happened late in the afternoon on State Highway One at Te Kauwhata. The car had careered off the road into a paddock where it promptly sank to its axles in mud, stuck fast. No one was hurt but the car had to remain in the middle of the swampy paddock until next morning when a tricky extrication could be attempted. The emergency services received many reports overnight of the vehicle when passing motorists, fearing a recent accident, thought there might be casualties. The car was a late model Chrysler Valiant, a fact we did not broadcast.

Monday morning, and Bren Low arrives at work in his wife’s car. His Chrysler Valiant is in the workshop being repaired! And, yes, he had of course heard his own accident mentioned on 1ZH bulletins!

Business Turned Away

As can easily be seen, Bren was not one to easily turn away business, but on one occasion it would have been too risqué to continue.

1ZH had won the radio franchise for the Waikato/Bay of Plenty sections of the Miss New Zealand contest, a commercial arrangement that meant 1ZH had to help stage local contests which would eventually result in 2 regional finalists, one from Bay of Plenty, the other from Waikato. The winners would go on to contest the crown for Miss New Zealand. An office was set up in 1ZH and a couple of people assigned to the temporary task which lasted only until the 2 finalists were decided and they went on to the national finals, not part of the regional franchise deal. Radio stations throughout Waikato and the Bay of Plenty advertised for contestants to come forward, each to be sponsored by a local business-house. So, by closing date, 1ZH organisers found they had competitors like “Miss Hamilton City Council”, “Miss Riverside Hotel”, “Miss Huntly Pharmacy” and from the Bay, candidates like “Miss Woolworths, Tauranga” and “Miss Te Puke Nurseries”.

To be associated with the “Miss New Zealand Show” the companies each paid a fairly hefty entry fee and sponsored the entrants’ clothing, makeup and other expenses. In return the firms were linked to the entrant every time she was mentioned on-air or in other media: real names were seldom mentioned, the contestants known almost exclusively by her “trade name”.  20 young women were chosen by a panel at 1ZH. They were the regional finalists and would tour their respective areas where, by vote and judging, one woman would become Miss Hamilton, the other Miss Bay of Plenty. The newsroom was asked to stay in close contact, publicising the contests, given that 1ZH was the local franchise/organiser.

The panel looked over the field and chose 20 from each region. But Bay of Plenty had to go with 2 short, with only 18 chosen. This was because the panel and radio had different priorities when it came to selection. While the panel, no doubt, selected on looks, figure, personality and intellect, the radio station had to think about propriety. Members of the panel, having checked the paperwork for “Miss Giant Burgers” and “Miss Easylay Tiles”, found they were legitimate Bay of Plenty businesses and all was in order.  And the panel didn’t give another thought to any repercussions attached to the names of the two sponsors. But in the end it was up to Bren Low to make the decision and to ‘ballot out’ the two contenders from Tauranga. He decided it would just not do, too risky, too risqué: he turned away the business. The contest continued with just 18 vying for Miss Bay of Plenty that year because by the time the matter had been referred to him it was… as the newsroom was advised … “too late for the unfortunate contestants to seek alternative sponsorships and impossible for the panel to reconsider the unsuccessful candidates”. Best to just leave an unfortunate mistake at that, and move on!

Tied to the Job!  

The Line Room in the 1ZH building, the local radio switching hub, was manned 24 x 7. This was useful if, after hours, news reporters wanted instant access to Head Office in Wellington or Auckland newsroom. You could ring the Line Room operator on local free call, and he or she would patch you through to Auckland, or Wellington on NZBC private lines. The 24 x 7 Line Room operator on duty also meant there was always someone to receive requests from the police to broadcast messages, even in the wee small hours after 1ZH had gone off the air at midnight and the announcer had long gone home.  These police messages, mostly appeals seeking missing persons, which were hand-delivered overnight had to wait until the breakfast session.

This particular night there must have been minimal switching. The Line Room operator, sole person in the building, fell asleep in his chair in front of the panels. 2 policemen arrived to deliver one of these messages but could get no response to the after-hours doorbell. Undeterred, the two constables made their way into the building (exactly how has never been revealed, nor detected) and, finding the operator sound asleep, left the message on the desk in front of him. But before they departed they helped themselves to a quarter-inch recording tape, fortunately from the “To Be Erased” tray, and proceeded to tie the operator to his chair. This the policemen did very effectively and without waking the deep-sleeper! When he came-to some hours later he found he was immobile, the many layers of tape restricting all his movement. After some time he managed to free himself and, finding the police message, realised who was probably responsible and was forced to share the joke!

Of course word reached Bren Low about the escapade. Without showing any emotion he said he wanted a security check done to try to ascertain how the police got in, he asked that a loud-ringing doorbell be installed right in the Line Room and he asked supervisors to try to ensure staff got better rest during the day before their night shifts so they wouldn’t be inclined to dose off on the job.

Armed Intruder

Security of the 1ZH building had been strengthened shortly before I arrived after a much more sinister intrusion. A deranged man managed to gain entry late one night and found his way to the studio where announcer Charles Drader was hosting the live-to-air programme. Once in the studio the man revealed he had a gun with him and warned that he was prepared to use it in order to get access to the airwaves. He said it was imperative that he urgently address 1ZH listeners on a very important topic, so, he indicated to Charles to make way for him behind the microphone. Drader, quick thinking, said the gun was not necessary… the man was welcome to broadcast… and advised him to put the firearm down. Drader explained to the man that “talks” on 1ZH were “not done here, but always from Studio 2, especially equipped for the purpose, along the corridor. Together with the startled Line Room Operator (the only other person in the building), Drader organised the man into Studio 2, agreed the words that would be used to introduce his broadcast, and got him set up with headphones. “You will hear me give the station identification, 1ZH, the time and then the introduction. Just before my last words you will see the red light come on in the studio which means your microphone is ‘live’, on the air, and that’s the signal to begin… at the end finish your talk with a goodnight and your name and we will know to resume with music.

All was well, Drader carried out this routine. Except that, despite the elaborate preparations, it was never envisaged that Studio 2 would be connected to 1ZH’s transmission. The man was, in fact, talking to himself. Meantime, police had been advised and had surrounded the building, quickly arresting the man while he was engaged in his doctrine. “How did you know I was here?” he asked. “We heard you talking on 1ZH!” was the sergeant’s reply. And Charles Drader was spared an explanation to police as to why he had a firearm in his studio! He later told me that the “essential broadcast” was “a mix of political and religious material rather difficult to follow”. Drader was praised for his coolness and actions in the face of an irrational, armed, intruder. Security was enhanced.

Commonwealth Games

Christchurch hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1974 and, like many other NZBC staffers, I was seconded to assist with coverage of events in the “Garden City” over the fortnight or so in January.

Colour test patterns were introduced

Colour TV was introduced to New Zealand in time for the sporting bonanza though, in fact, only selected events were captured and telecast in colour. I knew before I travelled to Christchurch which sports I would be covering as team leader. This enabled me to familiarise lawn bowls, shooting and a range of track and field events.

I had also been assigned to report one or two activities which the Queen would be attending. These preparations, together with accreditation and security clearances, were well in hand when, mid-December, I received a summons to be a juror at the first Supreme Court session in Hamilton for 1975. I knew the Registrar, Pat Cuneen, so I decided to write to him personally, excusing myself (which wasn’t the done thing!). I explained, as I put it with thoughts that I would be attending events in Christchurch with the Queen, that “…I have been called to a Higher Court”.

Pat was curious and rang me to discuss my situation. “There’s hardly a higher Court”, he said. “For jurors, the Supreme Court is just as the name implies, it’s the highest!” I explained that there was one higher court connected with my broadcasting endeavours. Rather than as a juror, I had been accredited to the Court for the duration of the Games and Royal Tour in Christchurch. Pat saw the fun of it and agreed I should be excused jury duty “on this one occasion”.

 Dial One for an Outside Line

I was once in trouble with Bren. An uncharacteristic bout of short-temper and 1ZH’s ancient telephone system landed me in it. Over the years, as television transmissions had been added to radio operations in the Alma Street studios, and radio itself had increased, more and more phones were connected to 1ZH’s original telephone exchange, circa 1950. 25 years later it had now reached capacity… mercifully no more office extensions could be added… but what really caused congestion was a lack of lines with the outside world, and our system had reached its maximum. This meant callers had a hard time getting through to 1ZH or TV News, and we also had long waits to get a line so that we could call out.

I had mentioned the inadequate phone system several times at Management meetings, with the promise by our technicians that they were on song with their friends at the Post Office and relief was on the way: a brand new, bigger and better Private Exchange (PABX) system was on order. I thought I might have obtained instant results by saying that we must be missing commercial revenue since it was evident our clients could not get through to book advertising. No impression! But time went on, the congestion got worse and I mentioned at one Management meeting that I was going to rent a couple of outside lines, paid for out of the News budget, so that the newsroom staff could call their contacts, direct, bypassing 1ZH’s clogged switchboard, without the long wait as they repeatedly dialled 1 trying in vain to get an outside line. I was howled down – the new system would be installed very soon, just as soon as the Post Office imported the very latest equipment and its engineers were ready to install it.

I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but it must have been a big story, a “happening event” or a race against deadline, and I was desperately trying to get a line out to make an urgent call about some news item or another.

Phone similar to those in the 1ZH newsroom –
Te Papa Museum of New Zealand

It was impossible, and it was obviously an important conversation I had to have because I recall enlisting a couple of other members of the news staff to keep dialling 1 as well, first one to get a line out would give it to me…

No one could, clearly the switchboard was overloaded. I tried several more times and the frustration got to me. With a loud exclamation (probably a few naughty words) I tore the phone from the wall and hurled it on to the floor in front of me. Startled colleagues were shocked at this untypical show of impatience. Quite unlike me! There was silence! Until someone yelled out “Got one!” The impossible had been achieved – a line to the outside world. I quickly grabbed the phone and had the conversation I had waited so long for.

The fallout began next morning when the Post Office technician arrived to replace the broken phone and rewire it back into our system. He heard the story about how it happened. He reported “wilful damage of Postmaster General’s property” to his boss who in turn thought he was obliged to take this serious matter up with the Manger of 1ZH. Bren, who had already heard about the broken phone, summoned me. I was expecting a right royal telling off: I deserved it! Ignoring the damaged phone and the costs of repair, he preferred to zero in on the fact that this was not a good image for 1ZH to be in trouble with its “sister department”, the Post Office, in this way. He asked for patience, the phone system was up for a makeover, as we all knew.

I had upset a “sister department” –
awaruamuseum.co

Within days, the weekly Management Meeting was held. I thought Bren was a very fair man: he was decent enough not to mention my hot-tempered indiscretion with the phone (everyone knew about it anyway – it was fast becoming legend!). But he surprised the gathering with most welcome news – that over the very next weekend a new system would be installed and contingency plans must urgently be put in place to keep the place running without an exchange during the cut-over.

After the meeting he ventured along to my office, closed the door and, in strictest confidence told me that, once the irate Post Office’s local Chief Engineer complained about my behaviour, Bren was able to turn the tables pointing out to him how long ago 1ZH had placed the order for the replacement PABX. This recent episode, Bren told the engineer, illustrated the sheer frustration of having to make do with the old one month in, month out. The engineer countered by saying congestion just couldn’t possibly be that bad, and to prove it he would put a counter across the lines. He found “traffic and occupancy” (his term) was through the roof: we had been elevated to top of the list for a replacement phone system and it was being installed at the weekend!

But the Chief Postmaster couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He blabbed and at next Monday’s Rotary Club meeting an embarrassed Bren had to make a contribution to the charity Sunshine Box, fined (in the best light-hearted manner, of course!) “for the NZBC’s blatant display of lack of respect for other people’s property, to wit, one telephone and wall connection, property of the New Zealand Post Office, hired at the relevant time by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation’s Station 1ZH”.

Pushing the Envelope #1

Bren Low very seldom commented on the content within radio or TV news items. He often praised us for breaking new stories, for getting scoops and going behind the main storylines with personality pieces.

But when I “pushed the envelope” on 2 occasions, in typical Bren style, he defended me in public while mildly rebuking me in private.

The first outbreak of journalism larrikinism broke out in the piece-to-camera filmed at the thermal bores at Wairakei, just North of Taupo. We were there to cover Ministry of Works’ progress on drilling new bores looking for quantities of super-heated steam to supplement supply to generate electricity. Remarkably, while we were filming, with the camera running, the drill bit and deep below the surface it hit pay dirt. We had these pictures of a tremendous release of very hot steam up the drilling shaft. It took out equipment around the drilling rig and I concluded afterwards that all of us nearby were probably lucky we were not injured, or worse.

Geothermal bores release immense pressure – Auckland Libraries

The ground was shaking with the escape of steam and hot water, we could hardly hear anything against its roar and immediate thoughts were, now, how to cap it and harness it for generation. The cameraman believed, despite the shock he got when the initial blast shot up, that he had spectacular pictures of, one second silence and just the drill above the shaft, the next a deafening roar and the terrific force of white steam, unleashed from its underground prison, racing skywards and billowing as it hit the cold air.

I decided the item might be neatly finished with a wrap up on location, a piece on camera. So I got a few immediate comments from engineers and addressed these to camera and then had arranged with the cameraman to widen the shot to show the jet of steam in the background while I said … “and after many weeks exploration and 20 million dollars, this must be the most expensive blow-job the New Zealand Government has ever had. But today the investment paid off. This is Ric Carlyon from the big gusher, Wairakei”.

We motored back to Hamilton newsroom, processed the film and, finding that we did, indeed, have spectacular pictures of the “gusher”, edited a great item – an important development for geothermal power generation in New Zealand and telling pictures to go with it.  I added my piece to camera knowing I was pushing it a bit, gave my editorial approval and the item was ready to transmit to the nation in Network News. And viewers could not believe their ears. There were no facilities for home record-and-replay at that time, so those who doubted they had heard correctly concluded I had said something else. Next day Graham Wear, Editor of News in Auckland, rang to chastise me… half heartedly. He told me there was something a little sensitive in my piece to camera the night before and I should canvass the younger ones in the newsroom and get them to tell me where I had gone wrong! It had obviously been referred to Bren Low, too, who asked me to learn by my mistake of pushing it too hard and destroying the item’s credibility. “I have already congratulated the cameraman for his good work. His pictures told the story, spoiled somewhat by your overkill comments”.

I learned later that Auckland News, Graham Wear and Co, planned to come down on me pretty hard, but Bren told them that he would speak to me and that they should leave it at that.

Pushing the Envelope 2

The second editorial incident was taken out of Bren’s hands when it resulted in a formal complaint to the independent Broadcasting Standards Tribunal (I think it was called at that time).

The Great Ngaruawahia Music Festival on farmland alongside the banks of the Waikato River, timed for 6th – 8th January 1973, seemed a bit ho-hum to me until we were told how many advance tickets had been sold. With 18,000 paid admissions, it was going to be the first big outdoor event of this kind in New Zealand, held in a natural amphitheatre, a kind of arena in rolling countryside near Hopu Hopu. Definitely newsworthy! And we reported impressive logistics were underway to cater for the crowds expected and it was revealed bands booked for the festival included British groups Black Sabbath and Fairport Convention, with locals Blerta, Split Enz, Powerhouse and Sam Hunt. Some of these names meant nothing much to me but those in the know said it was a great line-up. Certainly, some of the local groups appearing went on to international acclaim.

Robert Raymond’s Poster
Te Papa – Museum of New Zealand

We covered the preparations for the big event, the early arrivals complete with house-buses, the policing and traffic arrangements and the intense organisation behind meals and refreshments for the many thousands, tens of thousands, coming to the festival. Provision of enough toilets and showers added to the military-style planning and operations.

By the time the festival began it was acknowledged as a major event, an innovative landmark on the New Zealand music calendar. We covered the first day’s activities for Network TV News and radio bulletins, concentrating on the music but also diverting to show facilities and craft shops, victims who had succumbed to the sweltering conditions and one or two festival-goers who were taken to Hamilton police lock-up having openly smoked dope in front of patrolling officers. What we could not show were the young people cooling off in riverside mud, in the nude, mud packs covering some of their bodies before they rose from the giant mud pie to take a cleansing and cooling dip in the river.

Saturday night’s highlight was Black Sabbath’s performance which at one point was accompanied by the burning of a giant cross high on the hill overlooking the festival site.

Sleeve – best of the group’s greatest hits

No one considered the risk of fire in the grass and scrub, tinder dry in the summer heat. Immediately the cross was ignited a party of police was despatched up the hill to make certain the flames had not spread to the tinder-dry countryside around about.

Sunday, the heat-wave continued. I was on site with a film crew and we were covering the stage show, mid-afternoon, with soloist, later APRA Silver Scroll winner and BLERTA star, Corbin Simpson performing.

Corbin Simpson – www.audioculture.co.nz

After a bracket of songs he paused. “Do we think it’s hot?” he screamed the question at the crowd. “Yes!!!” was the emphatic reply and Corbin took off his shirt. He immediately put the same question, got an identical response, so he took off his singlet. Question and answer continued until he had stripped. He continued his performance.on the nude.  The camera was well back from the stage towards the rear of the crowd. I asked the cameraman for a wide shot so that, while Mr Corbin’s body parts were a blur, it would be plain he was naked. We took a minute or so of this and I thought we might use it, or some of it, to illustrate the hot day and the fact that at least one singer found a way to cool off a little. What we could not show, because it was all too close-up, was that many members in the crowd followed Corbin’s example. They enjoyed the rest of the afternoon’s offerings in the nude, lovers coiled, others stretched out under the influence of this or that mind-altering substance, while some just “did their thing”.

Back in the newsroom, I decided to include the Corbin Simpson footage for 15 seconds, leading to it with remarks about the intense heat and measures taken to overcome it, including the afternoon’s solo star performing nude. The shot was exactly as I had imagined, Corbin was in long, long shot at the very top of the screen, the heads and shoulders of the crowd, from behind, in the foreground. None of Corbin’s anatomy could be seen with clarity.

The item went to air on the Sunday night Network News.

There was a little controversy in the office next day. Apparently a male nude had not been shown in news programmes before. Those who were sensible about it agreed “you couldn’t see anything!” and “Ric, you caught, exactly, the mood of the Festival – the music, the heat and the ambience”.

But a viewer exercised the right to make a formal objection, so the Corporation had to go through the inquiry/report processes. I argued it was just 15 seconds in an item more than 2 minutes in duration, it led very logically and thematically with the extraordinary high temperatures (we had shown/quoted sales of drink, the numbers treated for sun burn and sun stroke by St John Ambulance personnel, terrific sales of paper sun hats and sunburn cream etc), no genitalia could be made out (we had chosen a sort of side-on sequence in the long, wide shot) and that it was entirely in keeping with the “anything goes” festival atmosphere with nudity common and popular with the crowd. And of course we showed short clips of other (clothed) performers.

It was agreed we would not admit to any point raised by the complainant: we would be offering a full and solid defence.

Through all this Bren Low was not judgemental in any way:  he said he would leave it to me to furnish the report to NZBC Legal Department in Wellington. When I found my editorial bosses in Auckland were guardedly supportive of my decision to include the nude sequence I got them to put in a submission. NZBC’s lawyer successfully argued the editorial legitimacy of the pictures and that frame-by-frame analysis revealed that they came nowhere near the threshold of indecency, even in Network News, an early evening television programme intended for family viewing. The matter was dismissed. Given similar circumstances, full male nudity was acceptable on TV.

But not in person… it was later reported that Corbin Simpson was charged with nudity. He was fined for his naked performance in public.

Close Call

Reporter Liz Steele did a great story in Mangakino where trades-people, farmers and residents were in despair because the sole trucking company serving their district was indifferent to their needs, late with deliveries and sometimes did not maintain scheduled daily trips. Cambridge Transport, aware Liz was doing the story about the concerns, declined invitations to comment. Liz had been in Mangakino all morning and had sufficient material to file, by phone, in time for lunchtime news bulletins on 1ZH. She would then return to Hamilton to edit her TV item.

No sooner had we broadcast the radio item at noon, there was a phone call from lawyers representing Cambridge Transport, essentially ordering a “cease and desist notice” warning us off any future broadcasts on the topic while they considered legal action against the NZBC for defamation and damages. The Company, the lawyer pointed out, was the sole licensed carrier for Mangakino: everyone in the district and the industry knew this, and here was 1ZH alleging not only poor service but a violation of the terms of Cambridge Transport’s licence. In other words we were saying the company was deliberately breaking the law. “It’s got to be worth at least a couple of hundred thousand in damages,” the lawyer said. I had not been sued before, nor come close to it, although in earlier days I did have insurance against any eventuality. I was pondering the lawyer’s demands while talking it over with him when, at that very moment, there was an urgent call on the radio telephone. It was from a cameraman, Greg Penniket. I asked the lawyer to wait a minute and put him on hold. Greg sounded agitated and alarmed. “Could you phone 111 and get the police to my location, outside Cambridge Transport Co Headquarters, where I am trying to get pictures of the company’s premises from the street. But a couple of drivers want to bash me up, threatening me, they’ve come out of the yard  brandishing pieces of four by two timber, looking very much as if they mean business”.

We told Greg to back off and wait in his vehicle and we would get police on the way. I asked a colleague to call the police and then to advise Greg by radio telephone that this had been done with the specific message – be certain to tell him over the radio in these exact words, that – “local cops will soon be at Cambridge Transport’s yard and the police riot squad is on the way from Hamilton.”

I went back to the conversation with the lawyer and told him very plainly that the playing field may have suddenly tilted… and if he persisted with legal action against the NZBC we would be pressing charges against his client’s “bovver boys”. At first he did not believe the truck drivers would take such action, but once I convinced him about what was playing out in Cambridge, he said he would take immediate steps to get the drivers to stop their misbehaving. Meanwhile I rang my friends at Cambridge police, apprised them of the situation and asked them to attend just in case there was further trouble. Greg would return to the newsroom.

The reason for asking my colleague to transmit such a specific and exaggerated message to Greg over the radio-telephone about the riot squad was that I suddenly recalled that we shared the radio telephone frequency with Cambridge Transport. We could hear their messages and they could hear ours, so it made sense to escalate matters, knowing that all their trucks, and more importantly management at their headquarters, would hear our message to Greg.

Later that afternoon we again formally asked management of Cambridge Transport Ltd if it cared to comment on our story about poor service in Mangakino and, probably taking advice from their lawyer, an executive agreed to an interview in which he admitted a series of truck breakdowns, staff changes, absenteeism and other problems which had affected their deliveries in recent months. He said moves were underway to prevent recurrence.

Greg returned shaken and upset. I got his side of the story – in short, he honestly believed he would be beaten up as he stood in the street trying to get pictures.

I rang the lawyer back. We were running the story, I said, both on radio and TV, complete with comments from Cambridge Transport management. We would not press assault charges against the drivers if there was an apology from the Company to Greg and, of course, Cambridge Transport would drop any legal action regarding our 12 o’clock radio item. The deal was done: we each kept to the undertaking.

Liz Steele provided a very good story which, if the company was to be believed, would lead to improved services for the folk in Mangakino.

I had reported this matter to Bren Low in its early stages just in case he knew the bosses of Cambridge Transport through Rotary, or such, but he was very relaxed.

“These things have a way of working themselves out – I am sure you can handle it” he said.  In this case, they did, indeed, sort themselves out. So after I had agreed a solution with the lawyer I reported back to Bren. “I’ve saved us maybe a good few thousand dollars in damages, Bren, and I hope this’ll be reflected in my next pay-rise!” Fat chance!

Liz (Elizabeth) Steele

As News Chief in Hamilton I told Head Office I expected to be involved in discussions about the appointment of the Journalist-In-Charge (manager’s) positions in those cities we worked closely with… Rotorua and Tauranga. The staffer appointed to these positions had two “masters”, the local Station Manager and the boss of News in Hamilton. There was often tension when news assignments were arranged by Hamilton (on behalf of the network) but questioned by the local radio manager, even though the task was within the station’s “area”. Bordering on interference to newsgathering, these challenges often queried the worthiness of an item, the distance to be travelled, time taken away from station and, sometimes, a storyline critical of the city or district.

When the position of Journalist-in-Charge at Tauranga came up I expected quite a few applications for the job, given that the burgeoning city and port of Tauranga was, increasingly, generating a wide range of worthy news items of national interest and then there was the attractive climate on top of recreational possibilities – beach, coast and bush. In short, a nice life-style!

Among the applicants was a journalist I had known since Auckland days who had begun with an apprenticeship on newspapers and, later, writing feature stories for a weekly magazine. A position in NZBC’s busy Auckland newsroom gave a rapid introduction to electronic journalism followed by transfer to Hamilton to be closer to extended family in Tokoroa. So I knew the person well, having lately worked together in Hamilton newsroom.

I thought I had found a certainty for the job in Tauranga. A “good nose” for news, knew the region, confident and competent on camera, au fait with Hamilton TV operations and had supervised Hamilton newsroom at weekends and in my absence.

Trouble was, it was Liz Steele, a female, and I was having difficulties convincing Head Office that a woman should be given the position. News management was still considered a man’s domain!  I went in with a pretty strong bat, assisted by NZBC’s Hamilton Manager, Bren Low, who weighed-in to back my recommendation. I thought I had convinced Regional Headquarters in Auckland (the News Editor there also had a say) but perhaps this support buckled under the weight of strong and seemingly overwhelming argument being put up by Head Office in Wellington.

In the end, good sense and practicality prevailed. Objections to the appointment of a woman dissolved and Liz Steele was promoted, the first woman Journalist-in-Charge in an NZBC newsroom.  Jubilation…and as I expected she did a very creditable job in Tauranga.

Mayor vs an airline 

Bren Low’s friends, business acquaintances and members of Hamilton Rotary were all “friends” of 1ZH. As local Chief Reporter/Editor, I always had in back-of-mind that sometimes stories were against, or involved, individuals, companies or organisations who were advertisers on 1ZH, who supplied NZBC with goods or services or who were friends of the station. While in my experience there was never any editorial accommodation of favours towards these people, just occasionally it came close to home – like the “night of the angry Mayor”.

We always had someone attend evening meetings of Hamilton City Council. Reportage provided useful material for breakfast bulletins, topics which often affected everyone living in the city and suburbs, and beyond. Hamilton set the pace for the whole Waikato.

This particular night the meeting was being chaired by the Deputy Mayor who explained that Mayor, Michael Minogue, had been in Wellington on Council business all day, that his plane had been delayed and he would be a little late: meantime Minogue had asked that the meeting not be held up on his account.

Nearly an hour later the Mayor arrived and between items took over the chair. After an apology for being late he immediately launched into a vitriolic tirade against National Airways Corporation (NAC) who, he said, had no chance of maintaining its published timetable and thus inconvenienced plane- loads of Hamilton-bound passengers most evenings.

His anger rising, but his delivery controlled, he continued “The announcement is made at the airport that the flight will be delayed ‘for operational reasons’ and then, if you watch the staff canteen at Wellington Airport you can see the air-crew, regularly, arriving there from an incoming flight to have refreshments, always entering the canteen about the time our plane to Hamilton is supposed to depart. If you keep your eye on the canteen door and see the crew coming out 20 minutes later, you know that the Hamilton flight’s departure will soon be announced. Nine times out of ten this is what holds up this particular early evening flight, like it did tonight, and the reason I wasn’t here in time to start Council’s meeting. Now, I don’t begrudge the crew having refreshments, and it might be a safety thing that they relax for a while. But why can’t NAC adjust its schedules to take account of the crew’s break. The timetable, as it is, is a fraud. NAC knows very well they can’t meet the advertised time for this particular flight. So I say change the timetable and then we will all know where we are”. The anger from the Chair concluded with one last barb. “But being a state monopoly, I don’t suppose that will happen anytime soon.”

Great story for the breakfast bulletins on 1ZH! I wrote it up once back in the newsroom around 9pm and, naturally, tried to get NAC’s comment. There was no after-hours number in the Hamilton phonebook. I tried Air Traffic Control at Hamilton Airport thinking they might have an emergency contact number. Staff there had obviously long gone. Auckland NAC phone numbers were answered, but a voice referred me to an after-hours Wellington number “for urgent bookings only, all other matters, ring back in office hours.”

It was getting late and I had reached a dead-end. I left all the copy out for the journalist rostered on breakfast shift. His news-day was off to a solid start!

First thing next morning my phone at home rang. It was Bren Low who had a call from NAC’s local manager, obviously an early bird, who heard the Mayor’s anger in our item at 6am. He did not like NAC being criticised, and especially without the company’s reply to the allegations. I told Bren I had tried to get the other side of the story with my futile attempts the night before. “But now I know the local contact I’ll get a reporter to call him in time to get NAC’s comments and we’ll include them with the story in the rest of the breakfast bulletins and for noon.” Bren approved of that and then asked if the mayor really was as angry as portrayed in our item. “Yes”, I assured him, “pity we weren’t allowed to record the outburst for replay on air… you would’ve heard the venom through your radio as he delivered his angry attack.”

The irony of it all was that when, minutes later, our reporter rang NAC’s manager he went all quiet, playing the oldest trick in the PR book of delaying tactics: “Not prepared to comment until I see the Mayor’s comments in writing”, implying that we radio reporters had got it wrong: as far as he was concerned it would be correct only if he saw it in the “New Zealand Herald” and “Waikato Times” in black and white! And then he took himself off the hook completely by playing the next best-known no-comment diversion: “… anyway, any comment from the corporation will have to come from NAC’s public relations people in Head Office, Wellington: they’ll be the ones to seek a response from”. But again, it was a 9 -5 office hours operation so when 1ZH’s reporter rang at 7.20am he could not get through, nor was he referred to an after-hours number. He phoned to advise me. I told him to keep broadcasting the item in question with a tag “We have been unable to speak to anyone at NAC who can comment on the Mayor’s criticism”

I quickly concluded that the local NAC Manager, who was one of Bren’s Rotary Club colleagues, had rung Bren in the expectation that his phone call would result in the item being instantly pulled from further broadcast until NAC had checked the veracity of our story and then composed a reply. We weren’t waiting. And to Bren’s credit he did not advise me one way or the other what to do, despite his close connection with NAC’s manager.

Later in the morning Bren had words with me about it, and it came down to whether we should be criticising so sharply a “sister Corporation”… as he put it… in our bulletins. There was no question in my mind… and I reminded him that NAC, our “sister” had been angrily chastised, in public, by none other than Hamilton’s number one citizen, Mayor Minogue. I also mentioned that if NAC really wanted to be serious about Public Relations, it would have an “after hours” arrangement with easily accessible contact phone numbers.

The “Waikato Times” minimised the affair with a small story saying the Mayor had been late for the Council meeting because of aircraft delays in Wellington. No need for any comment from NAC for that watered-down version! Mid-afternoon, and we attempted to get further comment from NAC’s Public Relations people. “No one in the Corporation will be commenting on that particular subject” was the official reply.  Great! At long last we had comment from NAC for the evening bulletins on 1ZH and for TV news that night!

 

1ZH Hot Stars

NZBC News journalist Dylan Taite was an avid football fan. We call it soccer. He was a committed Everton fan and like so many immigrants from the UK, followed his football interest fanatically.

This included playing a game or two and even coaching the sport. Dylan thought that if he could recruit some interested members of 1ZH staff and encourage a few hangers-on there might be enough players to form a team for social games.

Bren was approached, and not only gave permission for the name “1ZH Hot Stars” but also promised to finance a dozen shirts so the team would be properly fitted-out. The Hot Star’s (hopefully winning) games would be followed with on-air announcements. Bren saw it as the radio station’s further extension into the community.

The players were chosen, some reluctant volunteers! But Dylan coaxed them, got them to training and then arranged regular Sunday afternoon fixtures with other recreation teams: once or twice he got really serious and scheduled a game or two with a local League team. Some Sundays the Hot Stars went against high schools’ top teams, notably Cambridge High and Melville.

Bren occasionally turned out to watch the games, usually held at Hamilton East or Horotiu grounds. Win or lose, there was much banter on 1ZH about how the Hot Stars were doing. One Sunday they were playing against a team from Hamilton Fire Brigade and to make up the numbers the on-duty fire-fighter crews were required. They attended in their fire engines, parked alongside the sports field in Hamilton East. Team Fire took an early lead. Then, the inevitable. There was a fire call and both fire engines had to immediately respond. There was a mad rush from the field by 6 or so players who had to tear off their football gear and transform to fire-fighters. They must have been faced with a working job: they did not return as promised. Various second-rate replacements took the field for Team Fire for the remainder of the game, with the result that Hot Stars quickly turned the game around and had a great win to celebrate during subsequent chit-chat (“analysis”, Dylan said), about the game on  radio- 1ZH’s own!

And out of this game arose a great asset for the Hot Stars. Fire Chief, Bill Clarkson, knew an opportunity when he saw one and having observed the Hot Stars in action, decided to “transfer” (without the usual high fee!) from Team Fire and he enjoyed the rest of the season playing in goal for 1ZH! He certainly was an asset to the team, a regular Hot Star!

Dylan

Just what Bren Low made of John William Dylan Taite, I don’t know. Like many new or ‘mod’ things, I guess Bren found Dylan a little different. But then, as with most modernity that Bren must have found novel, he never made comment. But then, Bren always embraced the future.

Dylan Taite – www.audioculture.co.nz

Dylan could easily have been a Beatle. He was a Liverpudlian, an ace drummer in his youth, played and hung out in the Cavern and personally knew the “who’s who” of the band scene in England about the time the famous four exploded on the world music stage. He could so easily have been the Beatles’ drummer, his chances probably reduced only by his move to New Zealand. Dylan kept up his drumming skills and did the odd gig in Hamilton and before that in Auckland where he was member of Merseymen, a group that used to play at Phil Warren’s “Beatle Inn” night club. While Dylan was in Hamilton the family cat was called High Hat O’Malley, though in all truth it probably ran a mile when Dylan started practising on his drum-set in the garage!

Dylan could quickly convert to a thick Scouse accent, reminiscent of the tough side of Liverpool or Merseyside, especially when he took on the character of his invented persona, Zoot Hackinbush. He was a bovver boy. It was an entertaining piece and Dylan had the perfect accent, delivery and tone. Despite the sentiment, anyone watching was highly amused!

Dylan occasionally “shouted” morning or afternoon tea for the newsroom staff. No occasion or reason. It was always a packet of Chocolate Wheaten biscuits. “Here, get one of these into yah wiff ya cuppa” he would say, “cheer y’self up with a Wheatie, good for yah!” This brand of biscuit became the tonic food of the newsroom, a sort of universal pick-me-up and its ‘reputation’ quickly spread to other departments within the 1ZH building.

Although I can’t recall Dylan ever having an alcoholic drink he had his own line whenever liquor surfaced in conversation or was on offer. “I suppose it won’t be Chateauneuf-de-Pape!” he would say, or, in jest “Mine’s a Chateauneuf-de-Pape!” His joking involved the name of a much sought-after, mostly red wine from the Rhone in France, a district around Avignon where the Chateau Neuf de Pape (Pope’s new castle) existed in medieval times.  Just how Dylan latched on to this wine I’ll never know – perhaps it was the combination of his faith and Papal history, when in 1308 Pope Clement the Fifth relocated the papacy to the town of Avignon.

I decided it would be the right thing to do to buy a bottle of Chateauneuf-de-Pape while in New Caledonia in the 1970s. And to try a drop of Dylan’s fancy. Sad to say I never got around to opening the bottle, and I still have it. It’s 1971 vintage from R. Ogier’s vineyard which has a long history in the Southern Rhone Valley as the domaine was created by Christophe Ogier in 1859: the oldest and now the largest.

Dylan’s show bizz background and contacts gave him a great entree to many touring bands and artists that others could not approach, let alone get interviews or TV coverage. Via his items he introduced us to local Hamilton man Richard O’Brien, the creator of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’, he showcased internationally-known tenor from Ngaruawahia, Michael Tarawhiti McGifford, and shared with us the (very rare) interview he did with Bob Marley. But Dylan’s items weren’t just show business – he loved doing people stories and did them very well. They were often different: his was quirky treatment of the mundane, avant garde, quite novel in approach to TV news items and magazine pieces of any other journalist.

Two things about his filming became his signature.

The first was the ‘catch up’ shot when he would somehow persuade a camera crew to help him with “just one or two more sequences”. Invariably this was between, or after, other assignments, one of those times when a crew would ‘disappear’ without trace from the newsroom, out on these extra shoots for Dylan. It became well known in the newsroom… if a crew was on the missing list it was more than likely out with Dylan, radio telephone turned off and out of touch, ‘catching up’. Caught out, Dylan would say he was merely rounding off the perfect production!

The other trait was the “touch of Hitchcock” he introduced. No matter whether a 30 second news clip or a much longer interview, Dylan would always try to ensure he was seen on screen. Sometimes criticised or teased about it, Dylan persisted – it became his brand, just like the famous film director, Hitchcock, who always wrote himself into the script so he was seen at least once in each of the films he made.

Dylan died in early 2003. In an obituary, New Zealand Herald wrote “It is Taite’s interviews which will be remembered. Not the occasions at the airport when he would bail up the unsuspecting and often unco-operative as they made for the limo, but his lengthy interview with Bob Marley and a tetchy encounter with Lou Reed. Taite would later note that there are very few interviews with Marley seated”

Dylan had been on TV3’s staff and introduced his quirky entertainment spot in TV3’s late news – as the Herald noted “… items filmed in an elevator by a constantly moving camera – often illuminating yet bewildering, and it was to the credit of television bosses that they persisted with them. His sign off, “See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya”, entered the language. His sometimes distracted manner and casual appearance belied a keen intelligence, a sharp dry wit, and a caring nature”.

TV3 boss Mark Jennings describes when he was a young journalist watching Dylan on the television: “I was always fascinated … he dressed differently, he spoke differently. He made television differently. He was a rebel, if you like. Nobody in television had long hair. Nobody wore a leather jacket. He wore a t-shirt underneath it. No one did that. He was one of television’s most distinctive characters and a person who was totally uncompromising in his own ideas and the way he pursued them.”

Radio New Zealand said “He was a conduit to the pulse of musical happenings that had only ever come to us through wildly out of date, sea-freighted music magazines or the patchy broadcasts on student radio frequencies”.

In 2009 the Taite Music Prize was inaugurated by Independent Music New Zealand, and his family, to honour Dylan’s contribution to journalism, TV and music. The award recognises outstanding originality, creativity and musicianship in an entire collection of music contained on one album. It’s not about sales or commercial success so it usually goes to left-field artists rather than established hit-makers.

Maori Protests

There’s no doubt that the end of the 1960s closed the Decade of the Protest. One of the contentious matters, the Maori land issue, had been simmering for a long time and came to the boil just before the end of the decade: protests no doubt buoyed by widespread publicity focussed on advocacy groups through the 60’s. Maori land issues were sparked to renewed prominence by Raglan woman, Eva Rickard, who in 1969 disputed ownership of 62 acres (25 hectares) along the Raglan foreshore.

Eva Rickard

She claimed it had been confiscated from Maori owners, taken by the Government during World War Two “for military purposes”, an airfield. No compensation had been offered by the Crown at the time. Now, in 1969, the land was no longer required for Defence purposes and had been given over to golf links. Eva Rickard pointed out that this was hardly the purpose for which the land was taken… and iwi wanted its return.

Probably not realised at the time but this was the beginning of renewed land claims by Maori up and down New Zealand. And 1ZH was the first to report action to press the claims.

Apart from one or two preliminary news items about the developing situation at Raglan, which I must say was taken lightly at first, it was Peter Kingston, working out of our Hamilton newsroom who first drew serious attention to Eva Rickard’s protests over confiscation of maori land.

Peter was NZBC’s Current Affairs reporter for Waikato, King Country and Bay of Plenty and planned a longer piece for “Look North”, which was AKTV2’s nightly, prime-time, television programme. Peter spent several days filming at Raglan and then assembled the first-cut of the item. From memory, it was nearly 10 minutes’ duration and when he showed it to me I thought it was too long. Bruce Crossan in Auckland was the programme’s editor and I told him my thoughts. The upshot was that Peter took the item to Auckland so Bruce could view it. I thought Bruce would shorten it more than somewhat and I was ready to sympathise with Peter because the item hadn’t survived in the way he had put it together. Imagine my surprise when Peter returned to Hamilton advising that Bruce liked the item but thought it lacked a couple of telling shots, that there was a “missing” interview and, if this could be included, he was prepared to add more than a minute all-up!
Peter immediately gathered the additional material and the item went to air a day or so later.

Peter Kingston’s item on “Look North” was the first serious item in any news media pointing up the renewed protest for the return of Maori land that had been confiscated, transferred or possessed over decades. The item was probably not recognised for what it was at the time, in hindsight “a first”, a piece of television journalism now long overlooked, but which heralded the Maori land rights issues.

Although follow-up events occurred after we had all left 1ZH, Eva Rickard went on to campaign for many years, leading to her arrest, and other protestors who occupied the ninth hole of the Golf Course. Court appearances, legal argument and further demands by Maori for land rights continued. But the long, drawn-out, campaign was successful: the land at Raglan was eventually returned. Eva Rickard continued with the protest movement and then entered politics, championing women’s rights within Maori.

Her stand at Raglan heralded a much wider interest by Maori in their lands lost to the Crown over more than a century. Among the protests was the Hikoi, the march from Northland to Wellington in 1975 led by 80 year old Dame Whina Cooper. That same year the Waitangi Tribunal was established to “…make recommendations on claims brought by Maori relating to actions or omissions of the Crown that potentially breach promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi”. This became something of a turning point for Maori… the renaissance of the land wars with battles for compensation now being heard in Court.

But the latter-day moves, initiated by Eva Rickard at Raglan in 1969, were first seen on television in that item by Peter Kingston. His reportage of protest by that remarkable woman preceded her stand being taken up by Maori protest movements nation-wide. Looking back, this was one of the most important items, if not the most significant storyline, during my time in Hamilton. Except, perhaps, when it came to the NZBC itself… more of which later.

 Comings and Goings

People within broadcasting always seemed to be on the move. Some staffers came to Hamilton to get promotion. One or two returned to their home town after stunts in other centres and then there were those whom we farewelled from Hamilton. Some, like the Taites, moved for family or personal reasons while others moved on, leaving NZBC for new ventures. Yet others departed to take up new positions within NZBC, either on transfer or promotion.

Alan Hough was one-such, off to Christchurch to a senior cameraman’s position there. The family completed preparations for the move, despatched furniture etc and came the day to go to the airport. Fellow cameraman Greg Penniket transported Alan, his wife and kids to Rukuhia in good time for departure. Then a call on the radio-telephone from Greg, explaining that Mrs Hough had taken the family cat to the airport, hopeful she would nurse it on her lap during the flight south. The airline, NAC, had other ideas. The cat, they said, had to be confined to a cage while flying, having first been sedated by a vet who must provide a certificate to that effect. The Houghs wanted to take the flight so it was agreed they would go on ahead and the cat would follow. Greg reluctantly agreed to bring the cat back to 1ZH so we could prepare the moggy for its flight. We all felt Mrs Hough had underestimated arrangements and now we were left with an additional chore. We didn’t have a “cat cage” but I found a stout wooden crate with a lid that could be nailed down. I took to it with brace-and-bit, drilling breathing holes on all four sides. Someone knew a local vet who sedated the cat and provided the necessary certificate. The subdued feline was put in the crate, the lid fastened and Greg was on his way back to the airport to make the dispatch. We were pleased to see the cat on its way. There was little chance it would be mislaid or mistaken: we had written in thick black felt pen on all sides and the top of the box “With care – Mrs Hough’s Pussy”.

 Dennis Comes to Hamilton

In April 1972 I had arranged a few days off, cleared the leave with Bren and was set to venture to the South Island to bring back my latest proud acquisition, a 1930 Dennis fire engine. Problem was, just before I was to fly south there was a panic on station and Bren thought I better stay in the office. I pleaded that I had carefully arranged the old machine to be ready to drive North, bookings on the inter-island ferry were made, my travelling companion had made special arrangements so he could accompany me. At last Bren agreed that I could go. Away I went and, at Weston near Oamaru, became re-acquainted with Dennis that I had purchased some time before. While the previous owner had filled the petrol tank and topped up the radiator, I wasn’t so sure about driving the vintage truck all the way to Hamilton. For example I could see a cork from a McWilliams wine bottle stuffed in the top of the radiator where the “bypass” water pipe had, probably years before, been disconnected. Just to be certain, I gingerly drove the Dennis to Geraldine where I got it checked over by friendly retired mechanic, Ray Gillespie, who knew all about trucks of this vintage. He gave the vehicle the once over and said “Wish I could come with you, have a great trip!” I knew it would be a successful trip and next day set off across the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch, followed by an overnight voyage on the ferry from Lyttelton to Wellington, and then on to Waiouru for a night’s stopover before completing the journey, uneventfully, to Hamilton. The whole staff of 1ZH knew about this homecoming because of the leave I had to take and the fact that Len Lee, film processor and programme director, had an empty garage at his home in which I could house the fire engine.

The day the Dennis arrived in Hamilton, April 1972

I began restoration while the appliance was at Len’s and prevented further rust and deterioration with appropriate treatment. I spent many evenings and weekend hours there restoring the brass and chrome work which fire-fighters in Dunedin had painted red, probably to avoid spit ‘n polish sessions. It was too cold to do the bonnet in situ so I got a friend with a trailer to transport it around to my flat and I worked on it evenings, in the warmth of the lounge while watching TV. Eventually Len Lee moved on and Bill Francis, of 1ZH Sports Department took in orphan Dennis, offering a garage at his home.

I agreed to one “charity” event, at Tamahere School where Dennis, although nowhere near restored, gave kids rides around the grounds for a few cents which went towards school funds.

[This annual fund-raising event at Tamahere School was to be a god-send for injured fire-fighters the afternoon in April 2008 when the neighbouring cool-store exploded and caught fire. Doctors among the parents and others attending the school gala were able to give almost immediate medical help to seriously burned and injured fire-fighters]

Work continued on the old vehicle there until a shed had been built on my parent’s property at Kawakawa Bay, South Auckland. Dennis moved out of Hamilton.

The restored 1930 Dennis Dart Low-line

The fire engine has since been totally restored. It now looks just as it was on the day in 1930 when it was imported from England and unloaded from a freighter on to Dunedin wharves.

 The Bomb and the Shoe Shop

In 1973 I was seconded from 1ZH by NZBC Head Office News, to join HMNZS Canterbury and report events in the South Pacific where the French Government was testing nuclear bombs in the atmosphere above Mururoa Atoll. No one was quite sure how long the voyage and observations would take: that depended somewhat on France’s test programme. Bren allowed my absence, a stand-in was arranged and off I went.

HMNZS Canterbury in Sydney Harbour – RNZN

We were at sea for about a month having left HMNZS Philomel at Devonport on 14th July (the fact that it was Bastille Day had not escaped us!) sailed to Mururoa, shadowed French activities there, made plain Mew Zealand’s protests, observed a nuclear explosion or two and then returned to Devonport.

There was a lot of waiting around once Canterbury was on station off Mururoa, although most days were punctuated with a visit by a French warship, by French Neptune planes passing overhead, with our refuelling from the Australian tanker HMAS Supply, or rendezvous with HMNZS Otago, whom we were taking over from.

The presence of the navy ships in this lonely part of the globe was to represent the New Zealand Government’s abhorrence of nuclear testing, especially in the atmosphere and, particularly given the likely fallout across the South Pacific. My task was to report activities to NZBC News in Wellington which, in turn, would make the information available to news agencies throughout the world, part of the New Zealand Government’s deliberate “David and Goliath” campaign. Thus, at least twice daily I would send a news script by teleprinter from the ship to Wellington Defence Headquarters, where I understood Naval Chiefs would see it as it was processed and forwarded to NZBC News. Then late each afternoon, Mururoa Time, I would connect with NZBC Wellington by radio phone (radfone) to voice a piece for radio. TV also had access to this audio material.

Reports I filed told of what we knew of French activities on and off-shore Mururoa, signs when another bomb blast was imminent, the various visits by observing French military and the immense media interest caused by New Zealand’s presence in the Test Zone, an appetite satisfied by scores of interviews with Cabinet Minister, Fraser Coleman, who was on board for this very purpose.

With not a lot happening as we awaited the next test, my voice reports for radio turned to life aboard Canterbury, the unusual voyage it was, stooging around day after day in almost the same spot, the amount of stores we took on with each visit by HMAS Supply and activities organised on board designed to while away the hours of apparent inactivity.

I told of the ship’s nightly TV show, “beamed” to all mess rooms throughout the ship, the Mururoa Jockey Club’s one-off race day on the ship’s after-deck got a mention, so did activities by the scientist, James McCahon, who was continually conducting tests for air quality, and then I recorded interviews with various officers and crew members, detailing their specialist duties for this unusual, prolonged, voyage. And then Canterbury, steaming to take up station very near Mururoa to relieve Otago, got salt water contamination in her boiler and we had to “stand down”, letting Otago back into prime position. The New Zealand Government, determined not to let a Test blast go by without the presence of the Minister and the media, transferred us from Canterbury to Otago. The jack-stay transfer, hoisted in the “bosun’s chair” along a rope stretched between the two vessels, was a first for me and somehow I avoided being deliberately dunked in the ocean, thanks to those sailors managing the tension on the ropes. I kept up my daily voice reports to Wellington from Otago and I got involved with the very popular ship’s own radio station. My daily reports to Wellington included progress on remedying Canterbury’s salty problem, its restoration to ‘full health’ and, eventually, our return to her, this time the transfer was made by Canterbury’s “Wasp” helicopter.  We then took up position just off Mururoa, I later reported on our rendezvous with the protest yacht Fri. Both Otago and Canterbury had specific orders that they were not to acknowledge these ‘private’ protest ships from New Zealand, unless in an emergency. But a crew member on the Fri, Hugh Munroe, had suffered burns in an engineroom explosion and fire. There was an exchange of radio messages, prefixed with the colourful opening “Peace Ship Fri calling Warship Canterbury”, ironic because both vessels were there to give the French the same anti-nuclear message.

HMNZS Canterbury’s crew en route to Fri – RNZN

It was obvious from these radio messages that 65 year old Hugh Munroe was badly hurt so Canterbury and the Fri made a rendezvous, and he was transferred to Canterbury where he spent the rest of our voyage in the ship’s hospital tended by the Navy doctor, Lt Commander Alan Moffat.

So all this was included in my voice reports, and later, of course, after what appeared to be a few deferments, the final preparations by the French for a test and then, live by radfone to Wellington, I gave an eye witness account of the immediate aftermath of the blast itself, a nuclear device exploded above Mururoa’s lagoon. As far as I knew these reports were being broadcast on National Radio, with excerpts as required used on other outlets.  There was no way of knowing where they were being used, of course, because Mururoa was in a dead-zone: no broadcast radio stations of any kind could easily be received by the ship’s equipment, certainly not NZBC stations. All international and New Zealand news for the ship came from my daily calls on radfone to New Zealand. Having delivered my material I then got Wellington to quickly summarise the day’s main news items which I scribbled down and later read out on the ship’s nightly TV show.

France declared, for now, the end of its current Test Programme. (The following year, 1974, France announced an end to atmospheric tests but about 150 more blasts were detonated, underground, beneath Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls until all testing ended in January 1996). Our work off Mururoa done, we set sail for Devonport.

There was a reception on our return on 13th August 1973 so that Prime Minister Norm Kirk could welcome everyone home and thank them for the extraordinary, but successful, mission. Crew family and friends were invited. My mother attended. By the time I got to see her she had mixed with others awaiting the ship’s arrival and, as mothers do, “got chatting”.  When I greeted her she was very much the proud mum: “so many listeners and viewers have enjoyed your reports from the ship” she said. Her audience research had been conducted right there on the wharf during her chats with other mothers, families and friends. She introduced me to one, Mrs Brimblecombe from Te Aroha, who wanted to thank me in person for all my daily reports – she had been worried about consequences of her sons, LME Neil Brimblecombe and ME2 Roy Brimblecombe, both going into the Test Zone on Canterbury, but when she heard my daily reports on 1ZH, she said she could easily picture the scenes on board, with her sons and the rest of us, and realising there was probably little risk to health, life or limb.  A nice compliment!

But wait a minute, I thought. Did she say that “she heard my daily reports on 1ZH?”  No, couldn’t be, must have been mistaken. She had been listening to National Radio.

When I returned to Hamilton I found Mrs B had been absolutely correct. Bren Low was displaying absolute commercialism again. He had arranged to have my daily reports line-fed from Wellington to 1ZH where they were re-recorded, topped and tailed, a theme added fore and aft – together with the personalised announcement ‘1ZH Newsman Ric Carlyon reports aboard HMNZS Canterbury from Mururoa and the Nuclear Tests’ (claiming me as their own, with some justification!), and then the reports  were broadcast… sponsored by a shoe shop in Victoria! I could have no complaints about this, after all Mrs B, for one, felt fully informed and Bren had readily agreed to let me go on the assignment! Fair enough that Bren, as always, saw a business opportunity and had made money for 1ZH out of France’s nuclear testing!

 An end to the NZBC

Late one afternoon, mid-week in January 1973, we got an extraordinary “flash” message on the teleprinter. “Flash” was the highest priority: a bell rang three times and a red light flashed to alert teleprinter operators up and down the land that a most important message was about to be transmitted and they needed to be ready to receive it.  The top priority message that followed was short and to the point – “Standby for lengthy message. Operators are advised to check paper supplies, extended duration transmissions to follow” – but, apart from telling us to put a new roll of paper in the printer, it gave no hint what to expect. As was the norm, I had been alerted by one of the receptionists who monitored the teleprinter: a Flash message had been received.

A new roll of paper was put in the teleprinter and I hovered over the machine until a few minutes later it stuttered into life.

Three bells. Pause. Three bells repeated. Um…. must be important. I did not know what to expect! “Flash. Flash. Flash” again. And then it began: “From the Minister of Broadcasting, For Immediate Release”. It was a bomb-shell.

By the time the texts ended about half an hour later we had before us the Government’s innovative, incredible and amazing blueprint for the future of broadcasting, radio and television, in New Zealand. And the NZBC was gone, to be abolished, replaced by 4 separate state-owned entities, Radio New Zealand (to take over all radio stations owned by NZBC), Television Service One (to take over existing TV services), Television Service 2 (new, to provide an alternative second channel) and the Broadcasting Council of New Zealand (to co-ordinate all 3 broadcasters and to organise common, shared, services such as network engineering, legal advice and corporate procurement).

Unceremoniously dumped

I was stunned as the teleprinters churned out the governance and plans for each service, future programming ideals and how the new setup would be financed. So was everyone else who read it. Not only were we thinking about the grand plan now confronting us, but individually we were wondering where each of us might fit into the new set-up. When one took into account the “big picture” of what was intended, it was unbelievable stuff, radical, entirely outside the square. Then there were statements from the Minister of Broadcasting, Roger Douglas, about why change was both inevitable and (politically) imperative and at the same time the promise of competition and a greater range of TV programmes that would be offered by two channels owned by the State. Radio  would be best left, the Minister said, to develop in its own way, independently of TV.

Roger Douglas – NZ National Library

From memory I think the material started arriving on the teleprinter just after 4pm. Realising there wasn’t a network bulletin until 5pm, I got a couple of reporters on the job at once, told them to pull out the important bits and get it on 1ZH pronto as a special news item. It was all about us, for once we were in the headlines so we may as well have it first! Not only that, but I was conscsious that Roger Douglas’s blueprint for broadcasting would affect all our listeners… and television viewers. And so started a series of news items between music and advertisements until 6 o’clock when we deferred to the top-of-the-hour bulletin networked from Wellington.

Once I saw the teleprinter spelling out the enormity of what was planned for broadcasting I thought I better let Bren Low know. He was out of the office but I reached him by phone and have him the details. He was astounded, speechless at first, and then asked if we were sure the message was genuine – could it be a prank, a hoax, of some sort? – and advised that he would immediately return to the office to read the fine print for himself.

Bren was quite right to be shocked. Minister Roger Douglas had taken very few outside Cabinet into his confidence about the changes that he, and the Labour caucus, wanted to engineer.  Douglas, remarkably, admitted “I have not consulted the tainted NZBC about his blueprint, so that there would be no negative thinking, and so that my plans will not be stifled by bureaucracy”. The Director-General of the NZBC, Lionel Sceats, confirmed this when he revealed that he first knew of the plans when he was told by the Minister as a matter of courtesy just a few hours before the teleprinter started churning out the blueprint’s revelations.

No wonder neither Bren, nor any other managers, knew what was coming. The NZBC, now to be dismantled, had not been consulted about policy changes nor had it been advised in advance or involved with planning. The bombshell was super-effective, most of all where the Minister wanted to hit hardest – at the NZBC which was being done away. He considered it was oversized for what it did, he thought it had treated radio as the poor cousin, ignoring it at the expense of TV – and he was not prepared to involve NZBC in the operation of a second TV channel. His plan, for 4 entities, provided for state-owned radio and TV, the latter with competition between 2 channels.

Bren went over all these changes as detailed in the material that had come in on the teleprinter and I suggest he also had a few contacts in Wellington from whom he gleaned a little more insight. He was remarkably calm about the changes signalled and said that, with finer details to be worked through and new legislation to be enacted, it wasn’t going to be an overnight transformation – there was time to consider all things. Next day he addressed a meeting of agitated staff members who, overnight, had time to consider likely personal ramifications of the ‘Douglas Plan’. Bren, his personality and sensibility showing through, was calm as a cucumber in front of a concerned staff. After stressing that at 1ZH, and for NZBC, it was “business as usual”, he promised that management would be receiving updates on the grand plan and would disseminate information progressively to all staff members.

I never heard Bren’s personal views on the abolition of the NZBC in favour of the 3 broadcasters and the Council: neither for, nor against. He must have paused to ponder the break-up of the NZBC he had known so long, but then perhaps he thought if radio was given its head, quite separate to TV, and with a new go-getting, progressive, management, it might be the salvation of the “poor relation”. What really impressed me was the way he received the shocking news, the more so because it probably affected his (early?) retirement.

For the record, Minister Roger Douglas, having set the policy, was determined to fast-track implementation. He appointed a Committee on Broadcasting to suggest ways to realise his plans and to draft appropriate legislation. It started work in March 1973, led by Kenneth Adam of the BBC. It reported back on schedule at the end of July. The new Broadcasting Act 1973 was law by December and in the same month no time was lost making appointments to the new bodies. Preparations for the new structure took more than a year with NZBC officially abolished on April the first, 1975. TV One and Radio New Zealand, waiting in the wings, officially took over almost seamlessly on that date and TV2 began limited transmission mid-year in Auckland and Christchurch, other centres later.

This method of developing policy behind the scenes, making a package public with no warning and without consultation, passing legislation and giving effect to it, became something of a trade mark of Roger Douglas and the Kirk/Rowling/Lange Governments as they implemented party policy.

[While all this was going on, I had transferred from Hamilton to a position in the Gallery, in Parliament, where I had a ringside seat to observe the changes proposed for broadcasting and all the political posturing about them, while I waited to see where my next posting in the new set-up might be.]

 Costings

One final chapter to illustrate Bren was way ahead of his time.

In much later life, in the mid 1990s, TVNZ decided it needed to identify costs. Management declared it was impossible to run a business without knowing, exactly, how much it cost to operate. Department heads had to budget for each and every activity which contributed to the cost of doing business, whether the activity was provided inside TVNZ or by outside contractors or suppliers. It was a nightmare audit. It was difficult to get costs out of other departments which supplied News operations (when they had never been assessed before) and in turn I had to ascertain my costs for those departments I supplied.

While others thought this a giant waste of time I think it did wake everyone up to actual costs of doing business at TVNZ (even if the accountants did drill down too deep, making us cost every petty sundry).

But I had been part of this type of accounting 20 years before: Bren had instituted it in his Hamilton operations, even if much more orderly and sensibly. He had a policy of apportioning costs where they fell and I believe this contributed, or was indeed wholly responsible, for 1ZH consistently showing a profit.

For example, Bren had me assess the news staff for its output, whether it was to 1ZH news, television news or national and commercial network radio news. Once this ratio was determined it was applied to all newsroom costs, to be picked up by the respective beneficiaries. Everything was costed this way – payroll, phones, electricity, rates, vehicles, staff morning and afternoon teas, stationery, etc.  Bren found other cost centres on station to help share the burden. As mentioned, there was a Master Control Room, or Line Room, switching regional stations and lines for programmes etc – this was charged against NZBC Head Office, which had the responsibility of providing the network and paying for it.  Rural Broadcast Section in Wellington had to pick up the costs associated with its 2 representatives on station.  Right across the operations, without being silly about loose change, costs were decided and apportioned. 1ZH radio shouldered its share.

Bren’s careful, business-like, accounting was of great benefit to our commercial operations across the board in Hamilton. Costs for all goods and services were so easily identified and could readily be weighed against their worth to the station and to the NZBC. This allowed logical decisions when considering whether to continue this or that business activity. Was it paying its way? No need for doubt – it was all geared to improve the bottom line, in other words to make a profit (or a surplus as the NZBC insisted on calling it). And there was a spinoff from this accounting. It also greatly helped when it came to setting budgets for the ensuing year. More difficult, sometimes, was weighing the social value of 1ZH’s activities.

 Bren Bows Out

There had been signs that Bren was not quite his old-self, his interest in day-to-day business activities lost some of its previous enthusiasm and he had slowed down a bit. A little later it was announced that he was suffering from cancer and would take time off for treatment. He was out of the office for months, returned briefly, but the disease took over and he resigned. He died soon after. His thoughtfulness, innovation and independence managing 1ZH and other NZBC operations were mentioned at his funeral service. Rightly, these broadcaster aspects of this life played second fiddle on the day to his many admirable personal qualities, his mild manner, hidden sense of humour, Bren the astute businessman, his contribution (mainly through Rotary) to the community and his stand-out devotion and dedication to his family.
For me, on that day in the Hamilton East church, I farewelled an entrepreneur, a mentor and a very successful broadcaster. I have often looked back in the decades since, and realised Bren Low was the most misunderstood manager in the NZBC, repeatedly castigated by senior colleagues for his innovation and trendsetting. He was out front, a long way ahead of all the other Corporation’s senior executives. In hindsight they, too, during their twilight years surely must have realised that Bren had been the torchbearer, that he had introduced so many facets of radio broadcasting and management which, within a few short years, became commonplace. The principal theme, the motivator, had been his push for added revenue and value through the introduction of changed, new and modern on-air programming. Bren pushed this progress like no one I have known, smashing the then public service dictum “never do anything for the first time”.

Personally, I learned an important lesson from the years working with Bren. They showed me never to believe what others were saying about an individual until you had a chance to meet and get to know that person. Find out for myself! Bren, the person, turned out to be nothing like the picture painted by broadcasters who did not know him and had tried to warn me off taking the position in Hamilton.  It was a pleasure and such a rewarding time working for him.

Enabled by a Trust he established without fanfare in 1967, his name lives on in Hamilton through the annual Bren Low Memorial Scholarship, available at Waikato University to encourage Communications and Management students to study in the area of public relations. And I have to agree with one newspaper who wrote “the scholarship’s in memory of Bren Low, a public relations expert”. That he was.

As a footnote I should add that, like everyone else on the staff at 1ZH, I was aware that the Low family owned a music shop in downtown Hamilton (previously two!). Much was often made of this, as if there was some kind of crossover, an immense personal advantage, between Bren’s managing 1ZH (a radio station that featured music) and the family store (selling popular records and music). I could live with this apparent conflict of interest: everyone knew about the Low’s shop and I am sure someone at 1ZH would have spoken out if there was outright manipulation of business between the two undertakings.

 

(c) RCC  2023