Out went the Silver Strings – in came John, Paul, George & Ringo

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Johnny Douglas, the broadcasting programmer who introduced state-owned radio to The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino in the late 1960s, died in Wellington last week aged 79.

“He kicked Mantovani for touch – and replaced him with John, Paul, George and Ringo,” said the death notice in the Herald.

Former Radio New Zealand chief executive Dame Beverley Wakem called him “more than a legend in his own lifetime”, by ensuring the national radio service survived and thrived in an increasingly competitive environment.

When he first started working as a cadet at NZBS head office in Wellington in 1956, aged 17, the people who hired him thought his career would be short-lived. “Although Mr Douglas is undoubtedly talented and articulate, his weak eyesight may be an impediment to progress in the service,” his personal file stated.

He was also an accomplished pianist. Because of his impaired eyesight he could not read music but he could play tunes in different keys, and fit in with other musicians.

Once through the door of the NZBS, his encyclopaedic knowledge of light music found a ready outlet compiling programmes for what was then the non-commercial YA network.

Douglas lobbied to produce a weekly programme of new pop, although at first he had to avoid records that had been banned, such as Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife.

“It wasn’t all rock’n’roll by any means,” he said at the time, ‘but it was quite acceptable music. If it had all been rock’n’roll it would have been taken off for sure!”

Sources: The Dominion Post, and Blue Smoke: The Lost Dream of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964, Chris Bourke.

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