There’s a club in Auckland for broadcasters, more for the industry’s veterans and those, now retired, who made a career in radio, TV or allied crafts. Members gather twice a year to meet and greet. Their club could not overlook the 50th anniversary of public television in New Zealand. Why public television? Well, private operators are definitely part of the story, those pre-1960 entrepreneurs and then TV3, Sky et al since 1989. But some Club members were asking what’s to celebrate? They argue, vehemently, that public service TV in this country expired long ago, reaching nowhere near a half century... so nothing to celebrate.
Party-poopers put aside, a luncheon was planned to honour our pioneers of television. Club members flocked, more than double the number that usually attend, prompting President Bill Mudgway to apologise for the crush. “We didn’t want to turn away anyone who, over the decades, contributed to the progress of TV”.
The Pioneering theme was first represented by introducing seven ‘Founding Fathers’ who were on duty in NZBS Shortland Street, Auckland, premises on the night of the first official transmission, Wednesday June 1st, 1960 at 7.30. They recalled that in the late 1950s their tasks included unpacking crates of mysterious TV equipment, reading accompanying manuals, and assembling a transmitter, the control-room and a studio with two (yes a grand total of two!) cameras, plus associated lighting, cabling, wiring, and power supplies.
MC for the function, Ric Carlyon, sorted out two particular ‘Founding Fathers’.
“On opening night, at exactly half past seven, Sam Gardiner, the director, made the call. Technician Gordon Kayes flicked a switch and AKTV2 was on the air. Between them and in an instant, these two people, who are here with us today, changed the New Zealand lifestyle forever”.
In lieu of video of opening night transmission (no known record exists) audio tracks were played of music and voices from the first-night programme.
Then it was time to salute pioneers who were in TV before state-owned services began. People like Christchurch university professors who in 1924 proved TV transmissions possible; those who in the 1950s demonstrated closed-circuit TV at A and P and industrial shows thus whetting public appetite for the new medium; and finally, entrepreneurs George Wooller (PYE) and Alan Bell (Bell TV) who headed companies wanting to make TV sets but realised there would be no sales until programmes were transmitted. So Bell TV began telecasts ahead of AKTV2 and though they had to be “experimental, non-entertainment” according to the Post Office regulators, Al Bell soon programmed Auckland performers, earning censure for daring to entertain viewers! Merv Smith recalled having to counteract the system’s electronic green tinge by applying yellow make-up before he appeared in front of Bell’s sole camera which “looked like a sardine can.” One time Bell technician, Cliff Maxwell, concurred about the improvised equipment... “I built the camera and other equipment from scratch using Kiwi ingenuity but, despite its odd appearance, it did the job.”
Other veterans (names all familiar to Boomers) who spoke outlined the first months on AKTV2, among them Les Andrews, seconded from radio station 1YA to make announcements on earliest test transmissions, Alma Johnson, first woman TV continuity announcer, with her chic beehive hairstyle; Keith Bracey, recalling studio shifts fronting AKTV2, (the 94-yea-old speaking from his hospital bed where he was recovering from a chest complaint); Margaret Moore, continuity announcer; Gordon Dryden one of the channel’s early sports reporters/anchors; Darryl Dorrington explained engineers’ prodigious and inventive use of number 8 wire and Graham Wear outlined the beginnings of news services on TV and difficulties overcoming restricting Public Service rules.
TV 50 years on in 2010 was updated by TVNZ Chief Executive, Rick Ellis, and TVNZ journalist Ian Sinclair who, by revealing one of his mentors had been veteran announcer, Lindsay Broberg, triggered the audience’s collective memory, recalling the days of real public service broadcasting.