- By Sarah Johnston (Client Services Co-ordinator, Radio – Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
Talkback radio has long been cornerstone of late night commercial broadcasting. It can be a familiar voice for lonely shift workers and insomniacs, an outlet for people with strong opinions of all kinds or just a friendly ear for anyone wanting a chat.
In this country, it began just over 50 years ago and recordings in the Sound Collection of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision tell the story of the roots of talkback. You can hear me talking about them to Jon Bridges on RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan programme here – or listen to the recordings below.
Talkback radio began very modestly in October 1965, on the commercial network stations of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (one of the predecessors to Radio New Zealand). It was part of what had been known as The Women’s Hour. This was a slot every weekday afternoon around 2pm, which featured a local female host presenting topics thought to be of particular interest to female listeners. This programming had begun back in the 1940s and by the 1960s stations in the main centres and over a dozen regional towns –including Timaru, Nelson, Whangarei, Napier and Invercargill – all had their own local Women’s Hour host. While its focus was very heavily on domestic issues such as sharing recipes and home hints, the slot also featured studio guests, visiting celebrities, book reviews, radio dramas and the vital local advertising aimed at female shoppers.
In Masterton in the mid-1960s the Women’s Hour host was the redoubtable Jessica Weddell, who was just starting out in radio, but who would later move to Wellington where she would become the Kim Hill or Kathryn Ryan of her day, as a national current affairs interviewer. In an interview later in her career, she explained how she was a talkback “guinea pig” and the first to trial this revolutionary idea of allowing listeners to call the studio:
Jessica Weddell – excerpt from Directions 70 – Jessica Weddell, National Radio, 9 August 1994