American Radio Stations in New Zealand: The 1ZM Story

The history of mediumwave station 1ZM in Auckland New Zealand is quite unique and very interesting.  For a period of many months during the year 1944, the station was operated by American forces as part of their Mosquito Network, and their different programming format was very popular throughout New Zealand.  We go back to the beginning.

It was in August 1930, that the radio entrepreneur William W. Rodgers installed a small low powered radio broadcasting station in association with his radio shop, the Silvertone Radio Service, on Massey Road at Manarewa in suburban south Auckland.  That new radio broadcasting station was intended to provide a service for his radio business, so that local people could hear the sound of a radio station in their own radio receivers.  In the United States, and in Australia also, that new 1ZM would be described as a Dealer Station.

The new 1ZM was really quite small, with just 17 watts on 1260 kHz, and it was on the air in short transmissions of a few hours on each occasion, throughout the day and into the evening.  They issued their own QSL card, and they encouraged local people to join their 1ZM Associated Broadcasting Society.

1ZM QSL card from 1933. © Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

Most of the early radio broadcasting stations in New Zealand were established commercially and privately, though the New Zealand government began to take these stations over and to form their own national radio broadcasting networks.  Seven years after its inauguration (1937), the government radio organization bought station 1ZM for £2500, closed it down, transferred it into the new radio headquarters building at 74 Shortland Street in downtown Auckland, consolidated it along with stations 1YA and 1ZB, and relaunched it under the same callsign 1ZM, with 1 kW on 1250 kHz.

During the Pacific War in the middle of last century, American forces poured into the South Pacific by the million, with multitudes coming into Auckland also, for Rest & Refreshment and also as a staging area before transferring into the islands to the north.  In prewar days, the American army officer Major Purnell H. Gould had been employed at radio station WFBR in Baltimore MD, and he was subsequently appointed as the regional commander for American forces entertainment radio stations in the Pacific.

A request was lodged with the cluster of government radio stations in Auckland for a radio station to serve American personnel, and Professor James Shelley, Auckland Director of the National Broadcasting Service of New Zealand granted him station 1ZM, with its 1 kW on 1250 kHz.  The Shortland Street radio building had a brick frontis to the street, but in the downward slope behind, there were four storeys of radio studios and offices.  The American operated 1ZM occupied two radio studio rooms in the basement area, along with the co-operation and assistance of the manager of 1YA, Alex O’Donoghue.

AES Auckland
A live studio performance underway. © The Listener in ‘Voices in the Air’, Radio New Zealand/Methuen 1976, Radio Heritage Foundation Collection.

Initially five American personnel were appointed to the programming staff at the American operated station 1ZM in Auckland New Zealand:-

  • Officer in Charge Lieutenant Commander Brooks Gifford 
  • Day to day operation Sergeant Larry Dysart
  • Assisted by Private Eugene Twombly (CBS Hollywood) announcer
  • Corporal Karl Jean as announcer/operator
  • Private First Class Frank Gaunt, who was their main announcer

The total schedule for 1ZM included locally produced programming, off air relays from shortwave KWID at San Francisco in California, and large recorded discs that were flown in from OWI headquarters in Los Angeles, California.   The pre-recorded discs presented programming from all three major radio networks in the United States (ABC NBC and CBS) though all of the commercial advertising had been removed.

The American station 1ZM was the dominant station on 1250 kHz as heard in New Zealand and Australia, though station 9PA in Port Moresby New Guinea operated on the same mediumwave channel, and at times, one or two other AFRS stations in the Pacific also.  Station 1ZM was accorded network status as a member of the informal American AES network known as the Mosquito Network, along with four other AES stations:-                               

NoumeaNew CaledoniaWVUS1 kW975 kHz
GuadalcanalSolomon IslandWVUQ1 kW690 kHz
MundaNew GeorgiaWVTJ¼ kW1000 kHz
BougainvilleSolomon IslandsWVTI1 kW670 kHz
AucklandNew Zealand1ZM1 kW1250 kHz

The first day of broadcast for the American 1ZM was Wednesday April 12, 1944, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Honorable Peter Fraser, gave a welcome to the station with a prerecorded message on disc.  The American style programming over 1ZM was very popular also among the local listeners on both islands of New Zealand, and when it came time for the station to close, a large number submitted their disapproval.  The last day of broadcast as an American station was Sunday December 17, 1944, and the few remaining American staff flew out in early January (1945).

Soon afterwards, radio station 1ZM resumed its normal New Zealand style programming, and two years later the callsign was changed to 1ZD, and subsequently to 1YD, and then back again to 1ZM.  Although many listeners in New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, sent reception reports to the American operation of 1ZM, not one QSL was ever issued.  However, numerous QSL cards were issued by the original privately operated 1ZM, and also by the National Broadcast Service for 1ZM, both before the 9 month American usage, and again subsequently afterwards.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of August 7, 2022

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