The Mosquito Network in New Zealand: AEBS Auckland

During World War Two New Zealand played host to tens of thousands of American military personnel as a training, rest and rehabilitation base during the course of the Pacific War 1942-1945. In 1944, during the latter stages of the Americans’ residence in New Zealand, the American Expeditionary Broadcasting Service [AEBS] petitioned the newly amalgamated National Broadcasting Service/National Commercial Broadcasting Service for the use of a station in Auckland. The head of the combined services, Professor James Shelley agreed, and loaned the AEBS station 1ZM, which operated from the 1YA building on Auckland’s Shortland Street. On April 12 1944 1ZM was official ceded to AEBS control and temporarily renamed American Expeditionary Service [AES] Station 1ZM Auckland, or more commonly, AES Auckland.

AES Auckland was officially under the command of Major Prunell H. Gould the regional commander for the Pacific division of the AEBS. The officer–in–charge was Lieutenant Commander Brooks Gifford, but day–to–day operation was in the hands of Sergent Larry Dysart as the programming supervisor/announcer/writer. Dysart was assisted by Corporal Eugene Twombly, who was then still a Private, as announcer/operator and sound effects (in his civilian life Twombly worked for CBS Hollywood as a sound effects specialist), Corporal Karl Jean as announcer/operator and classical music specialist, and finally Private First Class Frank Gaunt, who was their main announcer.

The opening broadcast was the usual dedicatory affair, notable for two things, the first was Frank Gaunt’s greeting: “Good morning GIs, Bluejackets and Leathernecks,” a wholly unfamiliar style of greeting to Auckland radio audiences. The second was the performance by the 290th Army Band[1], which played between each of the speakers and who Dysart describes as a ‘crack musical unit.’ The 290th had broadcast on Auckland radio several times before this, but this performance would signal the start of regular radio appearances on 1ZM, which would continue until their departure in July 1944.

The majority of the content on AES Auckland was similar to New Zealand operated stations, although American rather than British, Australian or New Zealand. They had serials, radio dramas, sports commentary, and music of all genres. Where they differed was they presented a wider variety of jazz, and, according to jazz fans, more of it and earlier in the day from the New Zealand stations. AES Auckland also introduced the hit parade and make–believe ballroom programme concepts to New Zealand audiences.

With easy access to the V–Discs, regular material deliveries from the Armed Forces Radio Service [AFRS] and with access to not only their own record library, but also 1YAs record library AES Auckland was able to satisfy fans of music genres. Occasionally they were even able to scoop other stations with their material. For example, in one particular incident Karl Jean managed to privately purchase a recording of J.S. Bach’s B Minor Mass, which he then broadcast to the pleasure of the audience, and the chagrin of NBS officials who had been trying to find and broadcast that particular recording for several months.

The staff of AES Auckland noticed that their audience had a “decided interest in good music,” and that among jazz fans there was a strong swing fan base, particularly for the Cab Calloway style of swing. AES Auckland’s jazz niche was in the more recent recordings that were unavailable in New Zealand due to the war, which made them popular with fans starved of the latest developments. They also made jazz fans happy by regularly broadcasting live performances by the troops jazz bands who were not often heard by the civilian public. The overall effect that AES Auckland had on jazz fans was overwhelmingly positive. New Zealand musicians also enjoyed these broadcasts and also found them to be a great education, especially the live broadcasts of the American bands that they were not always able to hear live.

The AES Auckland presentation style was notably different from New Zealand stations. The New Zealand audience was not used to being greeted with a drawled “Hello all you lovely people out there;” such informality was unheard of on the NBS/NCBS stations. Radio personality Aunt Daisy’s (Daisy Basham) briskly perky greeting of  “Good morning everybody!” was as informal as New Zealand radio got at the time. Despite being a military station, the AES team became very popular with the local civilian population by playing requests from civilians and acknowledging the fan mail that they received from both civilian and military fans.

Despite being an Auckland station, AES Auckland was heard and had fans throughout the country. Dunedin pianist Calder Prescott, who was about fourteen at the time, recalled regularly listening to 1ZM during this time as they had “all this American jazz,” which he thought “was just great!”[2] Dysart recalled that when it was announced that the station was to close down the station was deluged with fan mail from both North and South Islands “all [saying they were] sorry to see us go.”[3]

Although AES Auckland was mostly popular with listeners, a number of NBS/NCBS staff did not like the way that the Americans operated. Not just in terms of on–air hosting style, but they felt that the Americans were able to get away with infringing copyright, and many of the broadcasting restrictions that the New Zealand stations were subjected to during these years. One anonymous broadcasting official interviewed for Harry Bioletti’s The Yanks Are Coming: The American Invasion of New Zealand 1942–1944, called them pirates and thought that they had all the privileges and none of the responsibilities.[4] Whether or not they did have the privileges but no responsibilities is unrecorded, but it is known that the operating procedures for the AEBS stations were radically different from those for New Zealand stations.

This anonymous broadcasting official also perhaps overstated the accusation of copyright infringement. Over half of the AES broadcast material was AFRS packages, V–discs, or other transcription discs that had been compiled by the military, and covered under special regulations. The rest of the broadcast material was made up of locally acquired material (the AES staff were given licence to use the 1ZM library) and live programming, which dispensed with the need to illegally broadcast material.

The commander of AES Auckland, Lieutenant Commander Brooks Gifford, was a lawyer in his civilian life, and was also in charge of censorship of American material that might be printed in the New Zealand press. Also, the manager of 1YA, Alex O’Donoghue, although not responsible for AES, made it his job to guide the AES crew in “the right direction” according to Dysart, for which they were grateful.[5] In addition to this guidance, New Zealand technical staff, fully cognisant in local copyright laws, supplemented the American broadcasting staff. With all this guidance and with their commander being more than familiar with the legalities of the situation it is probable that the AES staff were far less the pirate crew that has been expressed.

After the closure of AES Auckland and the station’s return to NCBS control parts of the New Zealand, and particularly Auckland radio audience hoped that the experience of the American style of broadcasting might infiltrate into the slightly stuffy style of broadcasting that was prevalent at the time. However, it was not to be, or at least not immediately. The official response was to try to get things back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible, and fans of the more relaxed colloquial American style would have to wait until the 1950s and the advent of the hit parade for something a little less formal.

[1] It should be noted that the 290th Army Band that was in New Zealand was not the famous 290th Army Band (which was in Europe at the time). This band was actually redesignated from the 101st Medical Regiment of the 26th Army Division which was serving in the Pacific.

[2] Calder Prescott interview with Aleisha Ward (2010).

[3] Larry Dysart Oral Hist. 1ZM file letters to the editor Dennis Huggard Jazz Archive [DHJA] (Alexander Turnbull Library); also letters to the editor New Zealand Listener  19/1/1945, 7; ‘Radio Viewstreet’ NZL 22/12/1945, 8-9.

[4] Bioletti, 60.

[5] Larry Dysart Oral Hist. 1ZM, DHJA.


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