Radio Broadcasting from Ships in New Zealand Waters

This article was originally broadcast on AWR’s “Wavescan” DX program and now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to South Pacific DX Resource hosted on for a period of five years from June1 2002. Author: Adrian Peterson

The South Pacific nation of New Zealand was settled first by Polynesians migrating south from the Central Pacific more than 1,000 years ago. The islands were first visited by European explorers in 1642 when Abel Jans Tasman tried unsuccessfully to make a landing. He named the islands after “Sea-Land”, a coastal province in northern Holland.

The first European settlements were established by foreign traders around 1790, and British administration of New Zealand was established from Sydney in 1839. The Treaty of Waitangi (WHY-TANG-ee) in 1840 guaranteed the rights of the Maori (MAU-REE) people, and in 1841 New Zealand became a separate Crown Colony. Although there was some discussion with Australia around the turn of the century a little more than 100 years ago, New Zealand opted not to be federated into Australia, and separate Dominion status was granted in 1907.

New Zealand lies 1,000 miles off the coast of eastern Australia with the Tasman Sea separating the two countries. In the era of travel before aeroplanes were modernized, obviously sea travel connected the two countries to each other and with the rest of the world.

In those days, all of the large ocean going passenger liners and cargo vessels were constructed overseas, usually in England and Northern Ireland. Several of these ships were noted with the broadcast of radio programming and we look at these in this edition of Wavescan.

On February 3 in the year 1931, there was a massive earthquake in the Hawkes Bay area, on the west coast of the north island of New Zealand. Telephone communications were knocked out and electricity services were disrupted. The only means for adequate communication was by radio, amateur and professional.

It so happened, that the Royal Navy vessel, HMS “Veronica” was anchored in Hawkes Bay near the city of Napier at the time and their radio equipment relayed personal messages, voice reports and radio programming out of the area for wider broadcast. Several other unnamed ships at anchor in Hawkes Bay also provided a similar radio relay service.

In the year 1934, a refrigerated cargo vessel, the “New Zealand Star”, was launched at Belfast in Northen Ireland. This ship was considered to be the most modern ship of its type and it was constructed for the New Zealand meat trade.

The launching ceremony was scheduled for Thursday morning November 29, 1934 at Belfast in Northern Ireland and it was planned that this event would be broadcast worldwide on shortwave. In preparation for the launching ceremony and the radio broadcast, a rehearsal of the entire program was conducted on the Monday, four days in advance.

The New Zealand section of the rehearsal ceremony, including a speech by the Governor-General of New Zealand, Lord Bledisloe, was broadcast from the 1 kW shortwave transmitter of station ZLW at Titahi (tit-AH-hee) Bay, near Wellington. In Sydney, station VK2ME relayed the rehearsal program to London with one of its 10 kW shortwave transmitters, where it was recorded as a precaution in case of propagation difficulties at the time of the actual event.

The rehearsal broadcast from ZLW was heard in Melbourne quite by chance by the column reporter for the weekly radio journal, “Listener In” and he reported the event a few days later in his newspaper.

The Australian trade magazine, “Broadcasting Business”, reported in full detail in 1937 about a special broadcast from the passenger liner “Mariposa”. While the ship lay at anchor at Circular Quay (KEY) in Sydney Harbour, AWA engineers installed a 250 watt broadcast transmitter. This unit was tuned to 190 metres, 1580 kHz, which was at the time, just above the top end of the standard broadcast band.

While the “Mariposa” was still an hour or two away from Auckland Harbour in New Zealand, a broadcast was made over this small and temporary radio station. The live programming consisted of songs by the famous Italian tenor, Tito Scipa, and a speech by the Mayor of Auckland, Sir Ernest Davies. This programming was picked up by station 2ZB in Auckland and relayed on the ZB network throughout New Zealand.

While the “Mariposa” was anchored at Suva in Fiji, Tito Scipa made another broadcast, though this time in the Suva Town Hall, and not from the ship itself.

Another New Zealand vessel, the “Dominion Monarch”, made an international radio broadcast while on its maiden voyage to London in 1939. This event was reported in the daily newspaper, the “Melbourne Herald” on February 10, 1939.

In 1947, DXers in New Zealand heard radio communications on 4460 kHz from the inter-island ship, the “Hinemoa” (HIN-nee-MOH-a), under the callsign ZMFQ. The DX report in the Australian magazine, “Radio & Hobbies”, states that the 500 watt transmitter was constructed as a broadcast transmitter, but it was instead installed in the “Hinemoa”. Even though this transmitter was a broadcast quality transmitter, there is no reference anywhere to the broadcast of radio programs from this ship.

The most famous of all radio ships in New Zealand waters during this era was the passenger liner, “Awatea” (AH-wa-TEE-a), but that’s an interesting story for another time.

Radio Broadcasting from Ships – New Zealand Waters

Time Lines

Year Ship Country Location Broadcasts
1931 Veronica England Hawkes Bay Feb 3 1931 earthquake
1931 Ships N Zealand Hawkes Bay Feb 3 1931 earthquake
1934 NZ Star N Zealand Belfast Launching tests
NZ Star N Zealand Belfast Live broadcast of launch
1937 Mariposa N Zealand Tasman Italian tenor broadcast
Mariposa N Zealand Fiji Broadcast Suva Town Hall
1939 Dominion Monarch N Zealand Tasman Maiden voyage to London
1947 Hinemoa N Zealand Local Callsign ZMFQ

Radio Broadcasting from Ships – New Zealand Waters


Ship Reference
Dominion Monarch International broadcast 1st voyage London; Note Book 79.217B 12

Hinemoa ZMFQ 500 w broadcast transmitter; R&H 79.13 9-47 86 ZMFQ QSL card 9-10-47 500 kHz calling ZLW; AWR collection

Mariposa Full article, relay from ship; 79.3 BB 29-7-37 1
Concert in Fiji Town Hall; Ven e-mail messages

New Zealand Star Launching in Belfast, preliminary tests; LI 79.23 1-12-34 59
QSL card GYCR 8-4-46 12320 calling ZLW8; AWR collection

Veronica, HMS Relay messages & programs Hawkes Bay earthquake; VITA NZ 60
Feb 3, 1931
VK2ME relay ZLW Napier earthquake; WW 79.1 20-2-31 17

Ships WW 79.1 2-2-31 17 Earthquakes

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