Story: Green, Grace Winifred

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Green, Grace Winifred

1907–1976

Radio broadcaster, journalist

This biography was written by Margaret Lovell-Smith and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Grace Winifred Green was born in Christchurch on 13 February 1907, the daughter of Bridget Teresa Barrett, a city councillor and hospital board member, and her husband, William James Green, a grocer and prominent trade unionist. Grace was educated by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions at St Joseph's primary school and Sacred Heart Girls' College, where she gained her university entrance and higher leaving certificate. A teacher once told her, 'you'll never earn a living by talking'. After failing to gain entry to teachers' training college, Green took a clerical position with the Municipal Electricity Department and studied at Canterbury College with a view to becoming a journalist.

In 1929 she took a job as announcer with a small part-time private radio station, 3ZC. She began by conducting the women's session but was soon doing all the announcing and selecting the programmes. 3ZC closed down in 1932, but in March the following year New Zealand's first commercial radio station, 3ZM, began broadcasting. Green, as announcer, was one of only two staff members. She introduced breakfast sessions, request sessions, radio scavenger hunts and sponsored programmes. Broadcasts of studio play performances were another 3ZM innovation, with sound effects ingeniously provided by Green. After about a year the government banned sponsored programmes. Faced with the threat of closure, 3ZM listeners rallied round and formed a radio club whose subscriptions kept the station open. 3ZM became known as the 'Sunshine Station' and Grace Green the 'Sunshine Girl'.

In 1937 the government took over most radio stations and 3ZM was forced to close, but when the government-owned commercial radio stations began broadcasting the following week, Grace Green joined 3ZB. She was the only woman announcer among 12 men and by the outbreak of war in 1939 she was the senior announcer. During the war the 3ZB team were in great demand for patriotic fundraising functions and at one time Green worked for 2½ years without a day off. She did numerous audience participation quiz shows, and with Jack Maybury became well known for the popular children's programmes which began in November 1937.

During the electricity shortage of 1947, when the government was appealing for a reduction in domestic power usage, Grace Green climbed 3YA's radio mast in Gloucester Street in order to broadcast from a position where she could see the lights of the city. As she exhorted her listeners to turn off their lights the suburbs gradually plunged into darkness. Her appeal was so successful that she later did similar broadcasts from the Cashmere Hills and from an aeroplane flying over the city. One of her most popular programmes was 'Views, News and Interviews'; it was also the last programme she broadcast, in March 1957. From that time on Green worked as a programme organiser. It was belated recognition of her expertise and many years of experience.

When her mother became ill in 1962, Green applied for six months' leave in order to care for her. Shortly before her mother's death she decided to retire but was immediately invited to become women's editor of the Christchurch Star. She remained in this position for 11 years until her retirement in 1974, even then continuing to conduct tours around the Star building and to represent the paper on bus tours for the elderly.

Grace Green's voice was deep and friendly, so that she became known as 'The Girl with the Dark Brown Voice'. She chalked up many firsts as a woman radio announcer and was always popular with listeners. Throughout her career she worked long hours, but as she said, 'I enjoy every minute of it. My job is my hobby.' Green was a woman of warmth and compassion, who considered the work she had done with children to be the happiest times of her radio life. She was just over five feet tall and weighed only seven stone; listeners, expecting her to be as large as her radio personality, were always surprised by how small she was. Grace Green did not marry, and continued to live in the family home until her death at Christchurch on 25 May 1976.