Radio Pioneer Dies

Radio pioneer, ’Aunty’ Blanche Lather, has died in Brisbane.

In the ’40s and ’50s, she was a popular host of children’s show, the 4BC Pals’ Club, with ’Uncle’ Jim Iliffe – another big Brisbane star. Pals Club, sponsored by Peter’s, was especially popular with pre-teens and widely broadcast in city and country areas.

Lather died last Monday night, aged 82. It is understood she had been in good health until about two months ago when dementia kicked in and she had to be placed in a home and was not given much time. Until then, Lather was still teaching drama.

Beyond the on air popularity, Blanche Lather worked off air as head record librarian in the ’50s and ’60s and merged her position into music programming when 4BC introduced Top 40 in 1958.

Most significantly, she was a Program Director of 4BC, making her (arguably) the first female PD in a capital city station.

Lather is also credited ith ‘breaking’ the sound of Motown and the US west coast (Beach Boys, Jan and Dean etc) well ahead of other Australian radio markets.

On the 4BC website – in a detailed history section – is the following tribute:

“Blanche Lather was the record librarian and also inaugurated the first children’s radio theatre program in Brisbane from 4BC. The 4BC Pals’ Club had an immense following of south Queensland youngsters. The daily session was first conducted by ‘Aunty’ Blanche, with the membership enrolment running into many thousands.”

Radio historian, Wayne Mac has allowed radioinfo to reproduce quotes, provided by Lather earlier this year for an upcoming book:

“We started the Pals Children’s Club in the ’40s …no TV, of course, back then. I was always keen on doing shows that could involve the young ones in performance.

“One program that became an off shoot of the Pals’ Club was the 4BC Radio Children’s Theatre. We had 20 or so young child actors come along to 4BC to perform. This would have been in the early to mid ’50s. The play itself – whatever we were doing – was recorded on Saturday morning. Sometimes, we’d do a well known story like Cinderella and stretch it our over a few weeks or there was the odd occasion when we might perform an original play like ‘The Young Carpenter’, which we did as a Christmas special one year”.

When she eventually left radio, Lather continued private tutoring in drama and voice. One such voice student was current 4BH Music Director/Assistant Program Director, Geoff Harrison, who has paid tribute to Lather. In fact, he attributes his radio career to her:

“I sincerely appreciate radioinfo’s keenness to acknowledge the contribution to radio made by Blanche. I believe Blanche is partly responsible for my concern that we don’t let the interesting history of Australian radio disappear.

“As I’ve been gathering my thoughts about Blanche, I can’t help but think she would be somewhat embarrassed that such a fuss was being made about her. She was very modest about her achievements.

“I’m sure much has been said about her on air radio work, particularly as Aunty Blanche, who delighted so many Brissie kids when she would magically transport a present into their lounge room on their birthday.

“4BC host, John Miller, recounted this bit of radio magic the other day on his breakfast show, saying that as a kid, he really thought Aunty Blanche did have magical powers.

“Not to mention her pioneering work in introducing the Top 40 chart to Brisbane and really promoting the Motown and surf sounds, which she realised would have such a natural fit with the sunshine state environment.

“I was 13 when I started regular work experience in my holidays at 4BK and 4BC. I met Blanche when I was about 15. Graham Kemp (then 4BK Program Manager) suggested Blanche would be able to help me ‘talk properly’. That shouldn’t be mistaken for sounding like the old style ABC/BBC.

“Blanche was training several tv and radio people. I was always interested to see the recognisable names on the cassettes we were recorded on. The names were like the ‘who’s who’ of Brisbane radio and tv, so I really knew I was being helped by a lady who knew her craft and I certainly felt privileged that she would take on a school kid.

“I enjoyed the weekly lessons, as Blanche always included time to talk about things I had heard on the radio in the week past or the personalties and formats. I was encouraged to express my thoughts and I’m sure the knowledge and stories Blanche shared with me have given me a better understanding of how radio works. She certainly gave me an insight into the history of radio here. I went to Blanche for lessons over a few years (from school to my first radio job in Ipswich).

“My parents credit Blanche for my radio career. I credit the three of them.

“Although the lessons came to an end, we remained good friends. I was delighted Blanche took an ongoing interest in my career. We would catch up from time to time on the phone and have a good, long chat about what was going on in the radio world.

“It was thrill to see Blanche inducted in to the Queensland Radio Hall of Fame in 1995 and attend her 80th birthday celebration a few years ago. Blanche was always in fine form, with an interesting radio story to tell, and she was always interested to know how my family and I were.”

Radioinfo thanks Geoff Harrison for such a moving tribute.

A funeral service will be held today at 11.30am in the Eastern Chapel at the Mt Thompson Crematorium & Memorial Gardens, Nursery Road, Holland Park.

As a footnote, Blanche Lather has a great niece, Sorren, who has continued the tradition. Sorren works at 4KQ in Brisbane as a receptionist.