GIBSON, GRACE ISABEL (1905–89)
Born in Texas, Grace Gibson worked as a sales executive for the Radio Transcription Company of America. 2GB’s managing director, A.E. Bennett, met her while on a buying trip to the United States and bought all of her available radio transcripts. When the programs proved to be popular and profitable, he persuaded Gibson to come to Australia in 1934 to help him set up his own transcription company. Though originally on loan for six months, Gibson stayed as managing director of American Radio Transcription Service of Australia (ARTRANSA), and became one of the most powerful women in radio. With the exception of a three-year hiatus when she was stranded in the United States during World War II, Gibson remained in Australia until her death.
Returning to Australia in 1944, Gibson established Grace Gibson Radio Productions. It imported scripts from the United States, which were revised and then recorded for the Australian market. Her recipe was simple: ‘American scripts and Australian actors and producers’—and she was not flattering about the quality or speed of Australian writers. Her speciality was the ‘self-contained radio serial built around a continuing character or theme’ and she produced some of Australia’s longest running and most popular serials including Night Beat (1949–70), Dr Paul (1949–71), Dossier on Dumetrius (est. 1951) and Portia Faces Life (1954–70).
Gibson was a shrewd businesswoman, and her negotiating skills were legendary. By 1957, she was reportedly the only woman director with her own radio production and distribution firm in Australia. Many programs were on-sold to Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. Gibson and her third husband, Ronnie Parr, lived well, frequently holding large parties at their elegant penthouse in Potts Point.
Part of Gibson’s success was her ability to adapt to the changing radio world: when the American scripts ran dry, she used local writers to extend the serials; and when the need for radio dramas had all but finished, due to the uptake of television, she produced five-minute radio dramas. By 1972, Grace Gibson Productions was the only company in the world producing drama for radio apart from the ABC and BBC.
The company was sold in 1978, by which time it was estimated to have produced and sold around 40,000 quarter-hour episodes. The company still exists today. Gibson was awarded an OA in 1987 and a Grand Pater (Australasia Broadcasting) Award the same year.
REFs: D.R. Combe, ‘Radio Serial Industry in Australia’ (PhD thesis, 1992); R. Lane, Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama (1994).