by David Ricquish
1931 Was Highlight Year
The year 1931 was a highlight year for early radio broadcasting in New Zealand. Less than a decade after new broadcasting rules were introduced in 1923, New Zealanders had enthusiastically built private radio stations throughout the country and a fledgling government national service was serving the four main metropolitan centers.
Before tuning along the radio dial of that year, it’s worth briefly looking at the stations that were broadcasting in the decade beforehand.
The First Stations
When radio licensing started in 1923, the following private stations were on air:
- 1YA Radio Service Ltd, Auckland
- 1YB Charles H Pearson [Newcombe Ltd], Auckland
- 2AH Wanganui Amateur Radio Club
- 2YA Wilkins & Field Ltd, Nelson
- 2YB Wellington Broadcasters Ltd
- 2YK Dominion Radio Co. Ltd, Wellington
- 2YM Gisborne Radio Company
- 3AC Radio Society of Christchurch
- 4AB Otago Radio Association, Dunedin
- 4YA British Electrical & Engineering Company, Dunedin
- 4YO Radio Supply Company [Arundel], Dunedin
Some of these callsigns will be familiar to many older New Zealanders, such as 1YA and 2YA. It may be surprising to know that 1YA used to be a commercial station, and that the original 2YA was in Nelson, not Wellington.
Other Stations Popular
These were not the only stations with regular programs. Amateur radio operators such as 2AZ Taihape also broadcast entertainment programs. Other stations like 3AQ Christchurch also came on the air and left. The Radio Broadcasting Company of NZ was established as a national operation in 1925 only after an earlier plan by the NZ Co-Operative Dairy Company [now Fonterra] to operate a station from Hamilton to serve dairy farmers was rejected.
Over the six following years, more commercially owned and radio society stations came on air, and 1931 emerged as a high point in the country’s early radio broadcasting history. It was short-lived.
Earthquakes, Royalties and Financial Ruin
By later that year, the Napier earthquake had knocked several stations off air. Disagreements over record royalties soon shut down several more stations. More dangerously, the government wanted a stronger national service.
The ‘trade’ or commercially owned stations soon lost permission to accept sponsorship revenue.
Within a short period, the Government would effectively force the nationalization or close down of all but two private stations and introduce its own National Commercial Broadcasting Service with 1ZB.
Listeners used large wooden radio sets, with glowing valves inside, and connected to outside wire aerials to tune along the dial in 1931. At night, stations from Australia, Hawaii, California and even Asia could be easily heard because there were so few local stations to listen to, and stations such as 2FC Sydney, KFI Los Angeles and KGU Honolulu were very popular.
Looking Back Along the 1931 Radio Dial
These are the local New Zealand stations that were heard:
|Frequency [AM]||Call Sign||Power [Watts]||Owner||Location|
|600||2ZK||120||DA Morrison & Co||Victoria Avenue||Wanganui [ST]|
|600||2ZR||150||Radio Specialties Ltd||205 Victoria Avenue||Wanganui [ST]|
|630||1ZH||50||GS Anchor||165 Victoria Street||Hamilton|
|650||4YA||500||The Radio Broadcasting Company of NZ||Lower Stuart Street||Dunedin|
|720||2YA||500||The Radio Broadcasting Company of NZ||Featherston Street||Wellington|
|820||2ZP||4||EA Perry||128 Queen Street||Wairoa|
|820||3ZR||20||Greymouth Radio Society||5 Cowper Street||Greymouth|
|820||3ZE||50||Schaef’s Garage||Mackay Street||Greymouth|
|910||1YA||500||The Radio Broadcasting Company of NZ||Karangahape Road||Auckland|
|980||3YA||500||The Radio Broadcasting Company of NZ||Gloucester Street||Christchurch|
|1050||2ZF||150||The Manawatu Radio Club||King Street||Palmerston North [ST]|
|1050||2ZO||10||JV Kyle||50 Waldegrave Street||Palmerston North [ST]|
|1080||4ZB||20||Otago Radio Association||182 Rattray Street||Dunedin [ST]|
|1080||4ZM||45||JD McKewen||21 Princes Street||Dunedin [ST]|
|1080||4ZO||30||Barnett’s Radio Supplies||The Octagon||Dunedin [ST]|
|1080||4ZW||50||Radio Sales & Exchange Ltd [AAE Clark]||Princes Street||Dunedin [ST]|
|1090||1ZB||18||The La Gloria Gramophone Co||157 Karangahape Road||Auckland [ST]|
|1090||1ZR||40||Lewis Eady Ltd||190 Queen Street||Auckland [ST]|
|1100||2ZU||7.5||Gramophone and Radio Co Ltd/ARC Claridge||13 Rawhiti Street||Dannevirke|
|1120||2ZW||400||2ZW Broadcasting Service Ltd||Nimmo’s Building||Wellington|
|1150||2ZJ||20||CTC Hands||Elsthorpe Avenue||Gisborne [ST]|
|1150||2ZM||110||Atwater Kent Radio Services Ltd||258 Gladstone Road||Gisborne [ST]|
|1160||4ZI||8||GC Batchelor||130 Dee Street||Invercargill [ST]|
|1160||4ZP||16||Parson’s Radio Supplies||155 Layard Street||North Invercargill [ST]|
|1180||2ZD||2.5||WD Ansell||25 Queen Street||Masterton|
|1190||1ZQ||13||LRE Keith||White’s Buildings 15 Karangahape Road||Auckland|
|1200||3ZC||250||3ZC Broadcasting Service Ltd||230 Tuam Street||Christchurch|
|1210||1ZM||10||WW Rodgers||Silvertone Radio House Massey Road||Manurewa|
|1210||2ZE||5||GRS Allen||Main Street||Eketahuna|
|1220||4ZL||180||Radio Service Ltd||243 Macandrew Road||Dunedin|
|1230||2YB||100||The North Taranaki Radio Society||Empire Buildings King Street||New Plymouth|
|1260||2ZB||7.5||TH Boston||116 Wellesley Road||Napier [ST]|
|1260||2ZH||15||CB Hansen & Co||Dalton Street||Napier [ST]|
|1320||1ZJ||26||Johns Ltd||Chancery Street||Auckland|
|1320||3ZR||80||Greymouth Radio Society||Bright Street||Cobden Greymouth|
|1330||2ZI||15||Sutcliffe’s Music Store||Heretaunga Street||Hastings [ST]|
|1330||2ZL||15||Lockyer’s Piano Stores||Heretaunga Street||Hastings [ST]|
|1340||4ZR||4||Renton & Clark||Balclutha [located at Inchclutha]|
As you can see, in some cities, several stations even shared time [ST] on the same frequency, on air at different times and on different days. Imagine how confusing it was for listeners in Dunedin who could leave their radio dial on 1080 and hear four separate stations with different programs. Some large cites such as Wellington and Christchurch only had two radio stations. Not much choice there!
Callsigns and Radio Districts
Many of the stations had interesting logos and designs to brand themselves from competitors. Some examples appear in this article. Callsigns were allocated by the government and divided New Zealand into four radio districts:
- Auckland 1 [roughly a line King Country-Taupo-Whakatane and all points north]
- Wellington 2 [rest of the North Island plus Nelson, Marlborough and the Chatham Islands]
- Christchurch 3 [Canterbury as far south as South Canterbury, plus Buller and Westland]
- Dunedin 4 [rest of the South Island]
Companies involved with selling radio equipment owned many of these first private stations called ‘trade’ stations. In some cases, these had grown out of musical instrument and sheet music stores. Overseas radio manufacturers often supported these local businesses.
In other cases, enthusiastic local people were the inspiration behind the stations, and in 1931, most New Zealanders enjoyed a good variety of radio stations.
What kind of radio sets did people use to listen to these stations? What kinds of programs were popular? Who were the personalities of early radio? Who were early radio amateurs? What memories do early radio pioneers and listeners have about this period? Why did the government want to control all radio broadcasting? What other radio stations could New Zealanders listen to?
This is an introductory article in a new series Celebrating Over 75 Years of Popular Kiwi Radio. Other articles scheduled in this ongoing series will begin to answer some of these questions and cover other radio broadcasting eras right up to contemporary New Zealand today.
If you or your family have memories of any of these stations, images, memorabilia, booklets, photos, old recordings, magazine or newspaper clippings, old advertisements or anything else, please contact us today.
It’s important to make sure they’re not lost or destroyed or the memories forgotten. We have a safe home for New Zealand’s radio heritage.