2GB’s 80th – and memories of the Happiness Club | radioinfo

2GB’s 80th – and memories of the Happiness Club

Friday 25 August, 2006

2GB celebrated its 80th birthday Wednesday with a cake in the shape of an old wireless. Its major shareholder John Singleton remembered how unsuccessful the station was until Alan Jones was hired in 2002.

Meantime Bridget Griffen-Foley, who is writing a history of commercial radio in Australia from its origins in the 1920s to the present day, remembers the 2GB Happiness Club. A historian at Macquarie University, Bridget Griffen-Foley is the author of three earlier books on the Australian media and has sent radioinfo this account:

Many of the great names of Australian radio worked at 2GB, the station now celebrating its 80th anniversary. Jack Davey, Bob Dyer, Terry Dear, Ken Howard, Eric Baume, Brian White, John Laws and Andrea all passed through 2GB’s studios or the famous Macquarie Auditorium.

There is another name, now largely forgotten, that was inextricably associated with 2GB: Mrs Eunice Stelzer, founder of the extraordinarily successful 2GB Happiness Club.

In the era of radio ‘aunts’, ‘uncles’ and ‘fairy godmothers’ came commercial radio clubs, usually headed by popular station personalities and organised on non-political and non-sectarian lines. They were at their height during the Great Depression, with radio presented as a means not just of escape, but of help and support.

A music teacher, Eunice Minnie Stelzer joined 2GB, where her husband worked, shortly after its formation in 1926. In 1929 she began hosting an afternoon session for women that drew letters from listeners confiding their worries and seeking advice.

Stelzer organised local suburban branches to assist her to answer the letters that poured in, and in September 1929 announced her intention to form a club to gather together the branches. Two hundred and fifty women attended the meeting at 2GB’s headquarters in Bligh Street that spawned the 2GB Happiness Club. Its motto was ‘Others First’, its signature verse was ‘Pull Together’.

Issued with membership badges, women chatted about the club on the train and offered their homes to form branches, the first in Campsie. Another 63 branches, each officially opened by Stelzer on 2GB and featuring its own colours, followed across Sydney and beyond. In time branches were formed in Nez Zealand and even Exeter. Afternoon teas, ‘musicales’ and ‘conversaziones’ were held at David Jones and Mark Foys.

Thousands of pounds raised from parties and concerts were donated to hospitals and homes. Members visited the sick and collected clothes for the poor. Mrs Stelzer became the darling of Australia’s radio magazines, particularly when she wrote to Marconi in 1932 to congratulate him on the part he had played in the development of broadcasting.

She was one of the personalities featured in Macquarie Network catalogues, as advertisers used the ‘intimate appeal’ of clubs to sell clothes, cosmetics, domestic appliances, furniture and food.

By 1934 the world of radio clubs was so crowded that Jack Davey declared it might be time to form the Miserable Club to report on suicides, murders and funerals, and establish a new serial, ‘How to Murder in Your Own Home’.

But Stelzer and her members were unstoppable, throwing themselves into the war effort and announcing plans to establish comfortable holiday homes for aged and needy couples. Stelzer donated land in Newport, on Sydney’s northern beaches. In 1940 the Minister for the Army, Percy Spender, turned the soil at the site known as ‘Eurobodalla’.

In 1948 the 2GB Happiness Club had over 20,000 members and was producing its own magazine. But by now the club was, if anything, too big and unwieldy for the station to manage, and in 1949 ‘2GB’ was dropped from its title.

The club continued, having raised £158,858 for charity by 1950. Awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation medal in 1953, Stelzer died in 1962.

The Happiness Club, now known as the Eurobodalla Homes Charitable Organisation, remains staffed by volunteers and still bears the motto ‘Others First’. Mrs Stelzer’s daughter, Joyce Moorhouse, who worked at 2GB for fifty years, died in 2005.

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