Broadcaster and historian Peter Downes wrote to us in response to a recent blog entry about the history of popular music charts in New Zealand, with this fascinating behind-the-scenes background on music hits shows in New Zealand during the 1950s.
I was pleased to see you’ve included the N.Z. Hit Parade (1952) on your blog.
It so happens that this was yet another of my “babies” and I thought you might like to have some background to it. In those days, apart from some radio drama, New Zealand Broadcasting Service producers were not allowed to be credited.
In the early 1950s most of the so-called “local” radio stations, that is those with a YX call sign, were running their own Hit Parades, with results taken from sales in their town’s record shops. I was a producer at 2YA in Wellington, and it occurred to me that if these results could be combined we would have a near enough to true measure of the most popular songs in New Zealand for that week. In fact it would create a N.Z. Hit Parade. My boss was enthusiastic, and the stations thought it was a good idea and willingly co-operated by sending me their weekly “charts.”
This was in contrast to commercial radio’s Lifebuoy Hit Parade, whose results were based mainly on charts in Billboard (USA) and later in The New Musical Express (UK). The Lifebuoy show was presented by 2ZB’s Rex Walden (pictured in the window display), who had a deep, dark chocolatey BBC type voice.
We couldn’t hope, nor did we try, to compete with the Lifebuoy show, but we had the advantage of being able to include songs recorded by New Zealand performers when they became bestsellers here but who would never have made the overseas charts.
An outstanding example of this was Between Two Trees, in the number two position for the year 1952. This American song had been recorded by the Andrews Sisters in the USA, but was only a minor success. However, a cover version recorded for the New Zealand Stebbing Recording label by Auckland singer Esme Stephens went viral (as they say) in her homeland. It reportedly sold well over 7,000 copies – quite remarkable for that time. It was accompanied by “the guitars of Buddy Kane”.
“Between Two Trees,” by Esme Stephens, courtesy of Stebbing Recording. A large back catalogue of early New Zealand recordings has been remastered and is available on the Stebbing Recording website. Continue reading