American Radio Stations in New Zealand

Just three weeks ago here in Wavescan, we presented the story of a mediumwave station in New Zealand (1ZM in Auckland with 1 kW on 1250 kHz) that was on loan in 1944 to United States personnel for the broadcast of their own American style programming.  Before station 1ZM became available, American programming was carried by both government radio networks in New Zealand via stations with callsigns in the YA and ZB series.  Among the programs noted by local listeners were news, sports and musical programs, including the American Command Performance, and the local New Zealand version of the same program under the name Kiwi Command Performance.

Right, and now in Wavescan today, we present additional interesting information about American radio stations in New Zealand, back during that same World War 2 era, and also subsequently.

It was in May 1942 that the first contingent of American servicemen, navy personnel, arrived in New Zealand and their first responsibility was to build an American naval base in Auckland, together with a shortwave communication station.  Back at that stage, with the rapid increase of Japanese victories in the islands of the Western Pacific, American strategy called for an American naval base in New Zealand to serve as their naval headquarters in the South Pacific.

Initially the American navy was granted shared usage of Auckland Radio ZLD, up until work was completed on their own shortwave communication radio station which was granted a New Zealand callsign ZLK.  The ZLK transmitter station was built at the junction of St. John’s and St. Heliers Bay Roads at Mt Roskill, some four miles south of downtown Auckland.

Aerial photograph of ZLK site taken in 1944, faintly showing shadows from the masts. Photo: Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum

A dozen tall masts were erected to support the shortwave antenna system at station ZLK, which was the only communication station in New Zealand that was operated by American personnel during World War 2.  The receiver station was installed at St. Helier’s Bay, about ten miles distant.

However, subsequent war history demonstrates that fortunately the Americans did not need a naval base in New Zealand after all, so they abandoned it in 1944 and donated it to the New Zealand government.  Station ZLK was soon afterwards taken into various forms of government communication usage.

Interestingly two years later (1946), the young international radio monitor Jim Burfield at Strathalbyn in South Australia heard this same station with official messages on behalf of the Auckland Central Police.  He received a brief QSL letter acknowledging his reception of the station as heard on 1680 kHz under the callsign ZLK2.

However some thirty of forty years later, there was another American communication station at another location in New Zealand that was noted on the air under the same callsign ZLK.  That new ZLK was located near the airport in Christchurch in the South Island, adjacent to the local airport communication station at suburban Weedons.  The receiver station was seven mile distant, quite near the airport itself.

U.S. Navy Communications Facilities at Weedons, New Zealand, view looking South East. Photo: “US Navy Radio Communications – 1950s & 1960s” website by Nick England K4NYW.

The second ZLK was constructed under the American project in Antarctica that was identified as Operation Deep Freeze Antarctica, in order to provide shortwave communication between North America and the Antarctic mainland.  This ZLK contained half a dozen 10 kW shortwave transmitters that were in operation at about 4 kW due to their age.  This station was no longer needed when satellite communication became available.

Some twenty years ago, the Americans installed two very large radar stations in the South Pacific, one in Tasmania and another in New Zealand. These two radar stations were launched under the project name Tiger Radio and they were established for the security of the southern areas of the South Pacific.  The Tasmanian station is located off the east coast on the small Bruny Island, and the New Zealand station is located near Invercargill at the southern tip of the South Island.

The TIGER-Unwin Radar array at Awarua, near Invercargill, New Zealand. By Nankai – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of August 28, 2022

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