ZK1ZA Cook Islands Educational Radio

By Arthur Cushen

ZK1ZC logo.
© Keith Robinson Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

Broadcasting to the islands of the South Pacific was introduced in various ways. In the case of the Cook Islands, it was an educational radio station that started the interest in broadcasting.

During 1954 a station commenced operating from Rarotonga, when the New Zealand Government gave a gift of post and telegraphic transmitters and technical staff to commence an educational radio station.

The broadcasts were on an hourly basis on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 2300-2400 UTC, and later, on July 22, an entertainment transmission was added. The station used various frequencies including 1390kc, 5050 and later 6180kc.

It was on May 1 1957 that a frequency change from 5050 to 4954kc was made and the broadcast was on the air on Thursdays at 0230 UTC. The transmitter was used for telegraphic communication at other times.

At the same time, the New Zealand Government was pressed for a commitment to extend the operating hours, but they were reluctant to do so.

It was also suggested that a radio amateur who had a commercial licence could commence this service.

First QSL card issued by Radio Station ZK1ZA, Rarotonga.
© Arthur Cushen Collection.

Initial broadcasts of the Cook Islands Broadcasting Service were heard on ZK1ZA Rarotonga operating on 4954kc and heard on May 29 1957 using a power of 350 watts. This station was followed by the reception of ZK5 on 5045 and ZK6 3265kc on July 19 1962.

In the same year, the Cook Islands Broadcasting Service added new calls to its transmissions and extended its service. The former callsign of ZK1ZA was taken over by the new broadcast band transmitter on 820kc.

ZK5 was the new call on 5050kc and ZK3 on 9695kc according to the closing announcement of the station.

On March 21, 1981, still assigned the call ZK4, broadcasts were heard on 11760kc throughout the day with a relay of the mediumwave service and using a power of 500 watts. The transmission continued for some 10 years on this frequency until the transmitter building was destroyed.

‘Cook Islands Educational Radio’, appeared in the Shortwave Listening column by Arthur Cushen in the Electronics Australia, May 1994 issue. © Arthur Cushen. Courtesy: Quartz Hill ZL6QHC Radio Users Group Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

More Power for Cook Island Radio

Radio Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, is to boost its power on three frequencies to 5kW shortly, and increase its program hours to cover morning, lunch hour and evening.

The station was established 15 years ago, when, at first, it used the Post and Telegraph transmitter at Rarotonga for its broadcasts to the Island territory.

Mr Percy Henderson, a New Zealand schoolteacher, introduced the broadcasting service to the Cook Islands, and is now Manager of the Cook Island Broadcasting Service.

The station started with a 30-minute program each week on the Post and Telegraph communications station. Later, station personnel built some transmitters and also used second-hand equipment from the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation.

Weekends were spent in building their own studios, a large one for concerts and audience participation, and two smaller ones.

The station has now ordered three 5kW transmitters to replace the present 500 watts unit on broadcast band 820kc, and 250 watts unit on shortwave 5045, 3265kc.

The station schedule is now 10am to 1pm, and 6pm to 1030pm local time, or 2030-2330, 0430-0900 GMT, the live session being of an educational nature, other programs being in English and Cook Islands Maori in equal parts.

Radio New Zealand news is relayed at 0730 GMT in the evening service. The station plans to operate a breakfast session soon, to be on the air 1630-1930 GMT.

Nine members form the staff of the station. Mr Henderson is the only non-Cook Islander on the staff.

‘More Power for Cook Island Radio’ appeared in the Listening Around the World column by Arthur Cushen in the Electronics Australia, August 1967 issue. © Arthur Cushen. Courtesy: Quartz Hill ZL6QHC Radio Users Group Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

Cook Islands Radio 1956

A short-wave broadcasting service commenced in 1954, and early in 1955, the transmitter was operating on 5050kc. The station, located at Black Rock [Rarotonga], is operated by the Radio Department, with material provided by the Education Department. There is a program of news and entertainment each Wednesday, commencing at 6.30pm and there are also some daytime educational broadcasts to schools.

Excerpt from ‘The Cook Islands’ in Pacific Islands Year Book 1956. © Pacific Publications Pty Ltd. Radio Heritage Foundation Collection.

The Unofficial History

As usual, there is also an unofficial history.

In 1944, a long wave aeronautical beacon transmitter at the RNZAF base at the Rarotonga airfield was unofficially modified to provide an entertainment service for New Zealand military personnel.

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Posted by Radio Cook Islands – The Voice of the Nation on Thursday, 4 July 2019
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