Woman Gibson, Grace Isabel
- Radio executive and Radio producer
Written by Maryanne Doyle, National Film and Sound Archive
American born Grace Gibson established one of the most successful radio production companies in the world. An astute businesswoman she brought to Australia the latest technology and business practices from the radio industry in Hollywood.
Born in El Paso Texas in 1905, Grace Gibson moved to California to finish her schooling. Her first job was for 'La Fiesta de Los Angeles', an event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of Los Angeles in 1931. Though not necessarily seeking a career in radio, her next position was as office secretary for the Hollywood recording division of the Radio Transcription Company of America or TRANSCO. This company was one of the earliest producers of radio transcriptions, which were recordings of radio programs on discs that could be distributed to a number of radio stations.
In late 1933 Gibson successfully sold a number of radio programs to a visiting Australian station executive, A.E. Bennett, manager of the Sydney radio station 2GB. On his return to Australia, Bennett offered Gibson a six-month contract to take up the role of secretary for the new transcription department of radio station 2GB in Sydney, which aimed to sell American serials to stations all over Australia.
Gibson arrived in Sydney in May 1934 and together with Bennett established the American Radio Transcription Agency (later called ARTRANSA),probably the only woman in the world to be heading up a radio transcription company. She introduced such early American serials in Australia as: 'Pinto Pete and his Ranch Boys', 'Chandu the Magician' and the 'Air Adventures of Jimmy Allen'.
Gibson liked life in Australia, enjoyed personal success, and decided to stay, although she did offer some critical commentary about women's place in Australian society, especially with regard to the relative lack of business executive opportunities available for women. 'The field is much wider in the United States', she said, 'and there women do not have to fight so hard for recognition' (The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1937). She did, however, return to Hollywood for a buying trip in late 1941, just before the bombing of Pearl Harbour and was unable to return to Australia for several years. During her enforced stay in the USA, Gibson was made managing director of the Transcription Company of America and had great success in sales of radio programs.
On her return to Australia in 1944 she formed Grace Gibson Radio Productions, one of the most successful radio production companies in the world. Though Gibson concentrated on the sales side of the business, she could recognise a good script and was noted for her skill at spotting talent. Considered careful where money was concerned she was also generous to her staff and was admired for her skill at sales and her total commitment to work.
Gibson's company specialised in soap operas and serials, ranging from long-running family dramas 'Dr Paul' and 'Portia Faces Life', to crime serials 'Night Beat' and 'Dossier on Dumetrius'. Scripts were often imported from the United States and adapted for Australian audiences, produced using local actors and then syndicated to radio stations across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong and the West Indies. Many shows were so popular that they were still being produced for up to 14 years after the original American scripts ran out, with local writers developing the scripts.
In 1952 Gibson made a serious attempt to expand her business into the new broadcasting medium by making a television pilot, aimed at the Australian and American markets. Due to the financial risks involved, Gibson chose not to proceed with any further television productions. However she provided assistance to Frank Packer in his successful application for a Sydney television license and continued to produce radio programs for some years following the introduction of television.
What made Gibson so effective? She had a 'hands on' approach to her business, and a keen eye for talent, especially in her selection of drama directors and script writers. Ever aware of the power of a good story, she nevertheless noted that 'in the early days, name players were a distinct advantage' when it came to convincing audiences to listen. 'They were good business for us.' But as time passed, names mattered less. 'Listeners', she said, 'prefer a good story, well told'. (The Sunday Herald, 6 February, 1949). By all accounts, another secret to Gibson's success was her ability to command ferocious loyalty from her staff. Having a woman boss was even regarded as a pleasant novelty by some of her male employees. 'Working for a woman helps you to understand them', said John Woodward, manager of one of her recording subsidiaries. 'I find it very pleasant' (The Sun-Herald, 6 June 1954). The success of Gibson's production company also reflected her ability to understand her Australian audiences while maintaining an American international sensibility.
When Gibson sold the business in 1978, Grace Gibson Productions had produced and sold around 40,000 quarter-hour episodes. In recognition of her services to radio, Gibson was awarded the Order of Australia in 1987. She passed away in 1989.
Additional sources: Gibson, Grace : Interviewed by Jenny Anderson: Oral History, 1986, 817755; National Film and Sound Archive; James, Reg : Interviewed By Bruce Leonard: Oral History, 15 March 1994, 260093; National Film and Sound Archive; Vine, Valerie : Interviewed By Beverley Dunn, 1993: Oral History, 12 July 1993, 268925; National Film and Sound Archive; Vine, Valerie : Interviewed By Beverley Dunn, 1994: Oral History, 2 August 1994, 272071; National Film and Sound Archive; Broadcasting April 15, 1934 http://www.americanradiohistory.com/Archive-BC-IDX/34-OCR/1934-04-15-BC-OCR-Page-16.pdf Broadcasting October 12, 1953 http://www.americanradiohistory.com/Archive-BC-IDX/53-OCR/1953-10-12-BC-0022.pdf#search=%22grace%20gibson%22 Grace Gibson Productions, http://www.gracegibson.com.au/.
National Film and Sound Archive
- Deadly Nightshade. Eps 001-002, 485746; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
- Gibson, Grace : Documentation, 276617; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
- Gibson, Grace : Interviewed by Jenny Anderson: Oral History, 1986, 817755; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
- James, Reg : Interviewed By Bruce Leonard: Oral History, 15 March 1994, 260093; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
- Vine, Valerie : Interviewed By Beverley Dunn, 1993: Oral History, 12 July 1993, 268925; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
- Vine, Valerie : Interviewed By Beverley Dunn, 1994: Oral History, 2 August 1994, 272071; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
- Doyle, Maryanne, Women in Radio - Gibson, Grace Isabel, Women and Leadership in a Century of Australian Democracy, National Film and Sound Archive, 2014. http://www.nfsa.gov.au/research/papers/2014/02/28/women-and-leadership-century-australian-democracy/#gibson. Details
- 'About Grace Gibson', in Grace Gibson Productions, http://gracegibson.com.au/?page_id=724. Details
- 'Grace Gibson', in Radio: Women in Radio, National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), http://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/radio/women-in-radio/grace-gibson/. Details
- 'An American Girl Sells Sixty-Two Radio Serials', The Australian Women’s Weekly, 2 March 1935, p. 25, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52247499. Details
- 'These Women Have Unusual Occupations', The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 1937, p. 4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17359298. Details
- 'Soap Opera's Leading Lady', Sunday Herald, 6 February 1949, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18463896. Details
- 'John Quinn's RADIO ROUND UP', The Mail, 5 July 1952, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article57697563. Details
- '"Deadly Nightshade" On 5 AD', The Advertiser, 3 July 1952, p. 11, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47422534. Details
- 'Would You Have A Woman As Your Boss?', The Sun-Herald, 6 June 1954, p. 44, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28664401. Details
- Moran, Albert, Some beginnings for Australian television, Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, vol. 4, 1991, 171-183 pp, http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/4.2/Moran.html. Details
- Murphy, Lynne, 'Gibson, Grace Isabel (1905-1989)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (ANU), c.2012, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gibson-grace-isabel-12534/text22557. Details