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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)

The Mountain comes to Mahomet! — Commercial Broadcasting Visits The Listeners

page 60

The Mountain comes to Mahomet!
Commercial Broadcasting Visits The Listeners

The wedding of Rail and Radio in Railway Studio 5ZB is very fitting—for 5ZB typifies the whole spirit of Radio and Railway progress.

An idea passes into a possibility—the possibility is tested by critical examination and becomes a reality, to take its place in the spotlight for a short hour and having served its purpose moves on, not to be lost, but to remain as a milestone on the path of progress and an achievement to be surpassed in the future. That is the keynote of Radio and Railway policy—such a conception is 5ZB, light-hearted younger sister to the main ZB stations, who in her new party frock of ivory and scarlet moves out of the night, and after a brief stay passes on with a flirt of her skirts leaving fourteen of the major North Island towns disconsolate.

In many of its aspects 5ZB is somewhat unique in the Radio World. During the tour valuable information is being collected as to the effective coverage of the main Radio stations, the acceptability of main station programmes, and the business possibilities of the towns visited. Local talent is being fostered and interesting “discoveries” are being made. The main purpose, however, is that “ZB” may become a living reality to as many as possible of the thousands to whom the ZB stations have formerly been just a voice from the ether. During the tour, dwellers in the smaller towns have an opportunity to inspect the unit and learn something of the inner workings of commercial Radio.

The enthusiastic support accorded to this station by national and local advertisers has made the venture commercially successful.

The car itself is the coach of the General Manager of Railways, and on examination it was found to need very little alteration to adapt it into a firstclass broadcasting unit. The finished job, 5ZB, is a real broadcasting station in miniature, and has facilities for handling recorded programmes, features, “live” studio presentations, and outside relays—in a word, any of the main functions of a major broadcasting plant.

The lounge of the car is an excellent studio, the quality of vocal and band numbers broadcast from it having aroused much favourable comment.

It is rather surprising that whereas when a studio is built by “sound” engineers, with the experience of years of research at their command, its complete success can never be assured until it is finally tested, the lounge compartment of a railway carriage, without any special treatment, should prove acoustically excellent.

The car is sub-divided into a commodious studio, a control room containing the complex transmitting equipment, an office and sleeping compartment, and bathroom and kitchen accommodation for the crew of two.
5ZB in working order. While travelling, the masts (35 ft. in height), lie flat along the roof of the car.

5ZB in working order. While travelling, the masts (35 ft. in height), lie flat along the roof of the car.

The lounge furnishings are simple but very practical, consisting of a miniature grand piano of truly beautiful tone, its rosewood case matching the rich panelling of the walls, deep lounge chairs and the desk from which the announcer works. The floor is carpeted and the windows tastefully curtained.

The control room, visible from the studio through a large plate glass panel in the dividing wall, is even more “strictly business” and contains the rack carrying the transmitting equipment, technician's desk with its mounted panel of signal lights, dials and switches and inset with three turntables, three telephones (two automatic and one manual, to standardise with whatever telephone system is in use at the various towns), and tables and shelves for records and spare parts.

The office is simply furnished with desk and typewriter, and provides page 61 space for the storage of a large part of the records carried.

The car is quite independent of the main stations and carries its own record library and feature programmes.

The transmitter masts are carried flat on the roof of the car during travel. On arrival at a broadcasting point, the masts are erected and stayed, connections made to local power and telephone lines, and after brief tests 5ZB is ready for the air.

The tour commenced at Rotorua just prior to Easter, the station being enthusiastically received by residents and visitors during its stay of a week. The longest stay of the tour was made at Hamilton, where, in all, sixteen days were spent, after which Whangarei was visited for a week. At Auckland no regular broadcasting schedule was maintained, but the car was on display and made special broadcasts in conjunction with 1ZB. From Auckland, the unit moved through the King Country—with stops at Te Kuiti and Taumarunui, and across to the West Coast, broadcasting from New Plymouth, Wanganui, Hawera and Palmerston North.

During June the car is crossing the centre of the Island, with stops at Dannevirke, Napier and Hastings, with a final stop at Masterton to conclude the tour.

The car then returns to Wellington where, shorn of her finery and decked once more in work-a-day maroon she re-enters regular railway service after a brief three months’ escape into the glamour of the “show business.”

The tour is proving a strenuous one for the staff (which consists only of two members) as the car while broadcasting, is on the air 12–2 p.m., 6–10 p.m. each day of the week, and on all days (excepting Sundays) a breakfast session from 7–9 a.m. is broadcast. In addition to these broadcasts a special dance programme is on the air until midnight on Saturday nights. However, the tour—which is made mainly in daylight—is through country of great scenic interest—and this fact combined with the warmth of their reception at the towns en route, is doing much to compensate the staff for the strenuous nature of the trip.

Members of the Australian Boys’ Band rehearsing in the studio on 5ZB.

Members of the Australian Boys’ Band rehearsing in the studio on 5ZB.

Splendid reports of the programmes broadcast have been received from all sides, and excellent reception is widely reported. As a result of the pressure of advertising business offering, the broadcasting hours have had to be considerably extended at times.

Many congratulatory reports have been received on the conception of the scheme, and the interest which is being shown in the car and its progress must be very gratifying to the Broadcasting Service and the Railway Department alike.

Even at stations where no stay was made, enthusiastic crowds have greeted the arrival of 5ZB and taken the opportunity of the brief stop to inspect this unique broadcasting unit.

A new generation is growing up around us—a generation that is taking the marvels of this age for granted without surprise and without wonder; and to them 5ZB can only be a novel railway coach. But those of us who have watched the whole growth of Radio cannot but feel that the tide of progress is still surging strongly—when Radio goes on wheels.

So, until that smart little lady takes her final curtain call—good luck—5ZB.

“Tell me,” said the tobacco-hater, excitedly, “one single good point possessed by tobacco.” Here he glared defiantly at his fellow-passengers in the Wellington tram, and “paused for a reply.” It came. “I can tell you two or three, governor,” remarked the man smoking the big calabash. “What are they?” snapped the crank. “Firstly,” said the calabash smoker, “it wards off infection. There's no finer disinfectant than tobacco-smoke. Ask any doctor. Secondly, tobacco-smoke preserves the teeth, and preventes decay. Ask any dentist. Thirdly it bucks you up no end when you're feeling as cheap as twopence-half penny. It heightens one's joys and soothes one's sorrows.” (Hear, Hear!—from everybody, bar the crank, who scowlingly tried to speak again, and finding they wouldn't let him, dried up). Yes, the weed has many virtues but there's none like the five renowned toasted brands: Cut Plug No. 10, Riverhead Gold, Desert Gold, Cavendish, and Navy Cut No. 3. For flavour and fragance they challenge the world. Absolutely harmless, too! They are toasted—and safe to smoke even to excess.*