Radio, someone still loves you

By AISHA AZEEMAH February 11, 2024

ZJV radio was owned by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd and was Fiji’s fi rst radio station. Picture: RADIOHERITAGE.COM

On August 1, 1981, video killed the radio star. Or so new wave band, The Buggles, yelled to the world the day MTV was launched in New York, USA.

In Fiji, families gathered around the radio together for at least a decade more. Some still do.

For us the transmission transition came much later with the launch of Fiji TV in June of 1994, nearly 60 years after the launch of our first radio station, ZJV radio in the mid-1930s. ZJV was started by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd, better known as AWA.

So, before we turned to YouTube for our grog session background music.

Before the nationwide excitement surrounding the first transmission of CFL founder William Parkinson’s likely somewhat panicked “Hey! Do something! We’re on the air!” at the launch of FM96 on Saturday July 6, 1985.

Before the passing of the Broadcasting Commission Bill in late 1952 that led to the birth of the Fiji Broadcasting Commission (now Corporation instead) the following year.

Before the members of The Buggles were born some 16,000 kilometres away to someday perform their chart-topping debut single about the death of radio, there was, I’ve read, a lone man sitting at a control desk in a building on Victoria Parade, Suva.

According to Sir Leonard “Len” Usher, former editor and publisher of The Fiji Times and former Mayor of Suva, this man at the control desk of Fiji’s first radio station was one Hamilton Huntley.

“The home of ZJV was in two rooms on the ground floor of the Cable and Wireless building in Suva,” the great Sir Len’s book This is Radio Fiji 1954-1979 read.

One of the two rooms apparently housed racks of gramophone records and the medium wave transmitter needed to beam the signals out to those sitting by their radios waiting to hear the music.

The other room was the studio, where Huntley did his thing as announcer, station manager and chief technician. There was a transmitting aerial somewhere between the Cable and Wireless building, now the Fintel Mercury House, and where Civic Centre now stands.

According to Usher’s book, soon after ZJV opened, a Edyth Tarte visited the station and said to those listening back home in Taveuni; “It seems unbelievable to me that I should be standing here in a room that looks like any other comfortably furnished room, speaking nervously into what looks like a tiny movie camera, while you people miles away are listening to my remarks.

“If I sound nervous, is it any wonder,” she’d reportedly said.

“There is a man sitting not far away, wearing what looks like a stethoscope and twiddling knobs and things and watching my voice (so he tells me) on a little jumping meter, and through a glass door I can see into the transmitter room where little red, white and blue lights are glowing, and tiny needles are flapping about.”

I imagine some variation of the phrase “living in the future,” might have crossed her mind.

The station had also allotted a weekly session to the Fijian Affairs Office. For an hour every Tuesday evening, families began to gather around their radios to hear what I presume were the first iTaukei broadcasts to ever reach them via radio wave.

But before even this, before commercial radio stations blasted music and boasted quirky radio personalities, radio had a more solemn purpose.

In 1909, representatives from several South Pacific nations including Australia and New Zealand discussed the establishment of a network of radio stations for the Pacific, largely to allow communication between the islands and with naval ships that were battling the waves in isolation when out of radio range.

Three stations were erected in Fiji in 1913, in Suva, Labasa, and Taveuni followed by one in Savusavu years later.

These stations were later upgraded, and one established at Suva Point for World War II.

As I sat typing this 111 years later, and as you sit reading it now, radio waves continue to zoom past and through us at the speed of light like determined carrier pigeons, many destined for some faraway electronic device that can make sense of their messages.

While, yes, in some ways video did kill the radio star and picture may have broken radio’s heart, radio itself, like radio waves, seems near indestructible and determined to stay.

And perhaps, as British rock band Queen said, radio really is yet to have its finest hour.

Much of the information used to construct this article was gathered using Sir Leonard Usher’s book This is Radio Fiji 1954-1979, Dr Anurag Subramani’s The Fiji Times at 150, and the Radio Heritage Foundation’s online archives.

World Radio Day is celebrated on February 13.


© The Fiji Times website – February 11, 2024

This material remains © FijiTimes and is only to be used for non-commercial personal or research use. Any other use requires permission of the copyright holder.

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