A Short History
of New Zealand Radio
Key Points
Radio celebrated 100 years on December 12th 2001. A century
has passed since Marconi demonstrated the practicality of the
medium when he sent a radio signal from Cornwell, England to
Newfoundland in Canada. Domestic radio services did not start
immediately, and it was to be almost 20 years before anyone
thought of using radio communications to entertain, let alone
use as the base to build a business.
2LO London started the world’s first regular transmissions in
1918-1919, while KDKA Pittsburgh USA was the first to
recognise the commercial potential of the new medium. KDKA
still broadcasts today and has been number one in its market for
nearly 30 years.
Key Points
In New Zealand constant political interference and strong
ancestral ties to “Mother England” saw the BBC approach
adopted and the slow introduction of commercial radio here.
Constant changes in direction, a Thirty-year state monopoly and,
now, the most free radio environment on the planet have all
contributed to ensure the New Zealand radio industry is vibrant,
colourful and rich in heritage.
There is debate about the first broadcast – in terms of longevity
on air.
What is known in 1919, the radio station now called Radio Dunedin
(4XD) started broadcasting in Dunedin, New Zealand when founder
"Toots" Mitchell was presented with a triode amplifying tube by his
engineer friend Edward Meinung. The opening song was "Robin
Adair," sung by Mitchell's girlfriend at the microphone while Meining
pedaled his bike the three kilometres from the sending station to his
house where he had built a receiver.
Not really the worlds biggest broadcast but
at least his girlfriend got to sing the first
song live on air!!
November 1921:
Professor Robert Jack makes the (controversial) first broadcast
of recorded music in NZ from Otago University. Unlike Dunedin
– this broadcast covers some of the region! He played a song
called “Hello my Dearie”!) Many amateur and experimental
stations follow.
April 1923:
The first broadcasting regulations are issued under the “Post
and Telegraph Act.”
The Radio Broadcasting Company is set up to operate Radio
Stations on behalf of the government it buys a number of
privately owned stations and converts them – including 1YA
July 1927:
2YA Wellington is the last of the “YA” stations to go to air. The
four RBC stations are on air for just seven hours daily and each
takes it in turn to have one “Silent” day each week. No
advertising is permitted and religious programmes run all day on
Sundays. There are no News Broadcasts.
November 1931:
A map published at this time indicates that, as well as
the four RBC stations; there were 34 “B” class private
stations. These were owned mainly by music stores
or “Gramophone” Companies eager to promote their
wares. They were forbidden to Broadcast
April 1932:
Frustrated by the lack of progress made by The RBC,
the government hands control of the YA station’s to
the New Zealand Broadcasting Board. The NZBB
buys a number of privately owned stations in order to
extend services and a second station is set up in four
main centres – these later became the YC stations,
now known as Concert FM.
November 1935:
On the eve of the general election, Uncle Scrims
“Man in the Street” broadcast on privately owned
station 1ZB Auckland is jammed by the Post and
Telegraph department by order of the government,
though this is later denied. It was widely believed
that “Scrim” (Colin Scrimgeour) would use the
programme to denounce the government’s decision
to close the “B” stations.
April 1936:
Newly elected Prime Minister – Michael Joseph
Savage, concerned that privatised radio may be anti
Labour Party like many of the newspapers of the day,
dismantles the NZBB and sets up the NBS (National
Broadcasting Service) as a government
September 1936:
The National Commercial Broadcasting Service is set up to run
New Zealand’s first commercial stations and Colin Scrimgeour is
appointed its first director.
The broadcasting industry is virtually nationalised and the
remaining “B” class stations would all close within eighteen
months. Privately owned stations would not emerge again in
New Zealand for another 34 years.
September 1937:
Three days before the NCBS Wellington station 2ZB
was due to start broadcasting, rival government
agency the NBS started popular “Commercial” style
programmes from a brand new station (It’s third in the
capital) 2YD – later to become 2ZM. Though noncommercial, it was the first real taste of competition.
With commercial ZB stations now operating in all four
main centres, the NCBS sets up a temporary station 5ZB – at the centennial exhibition in Rongotai. Later
in the year 5ZB was installed into a railway carriage
and toured provincial New Zealand promoting
commercial radio
During WWII the government allowed radio to
broadcast news for the first time. “News from the
Prime Minister’s Office” as it was known was a
regular feature until a full news service was set up in
1960. NBS and NCBS are amalgamated into the
Auckland station 1YD is loaned to the United States
Army for use by American troops stationed here
during World War II.
A complete re-vamp of frequencies brought New
Zealand in line with the Geneva International
broadcasting convention. New Zealand and Australia
also formed an agreement on the use of certain
frequencies shared by both countries. All radio in
this country is controlled by the government with the
exception of the last two remaining “B” stations - 2XM
Gisborne and 4XD Dunedin (Now Radio Dunedin –
the oldest surviving radio station in the British
April 1st 1949:
A stunt by 1ZB breakfast announcer Phil Shone has
Aucklander’s in their thousands spreading honey on
window sills to trap an imaginary mile wide swarm of
wasps supposedly headed towards the city. Shone
had his listeners spellbound as he issued phantom
reports on the progress of the swarm.
The hoax had its consequences in parliament when the
Broadcasting Minister voiced his displeasure and
assured “Party Members” that steps were being
taken to ensure that “Nothing like this ever happens
After a quarter of a century of broadcasting, the Post
and Telegraph department is finally able to supply
high fidelity “Wide Band” lines to link stations
The 45rpm record is introduced – it revolutionises
record buying, and eventually the recording and radio
Bill Haley and the Comets release “Rock Around The
Clock.” Rock n’ Roll is born and music will never be
the same again.
The first Television programmes are transmitted from
AKTV-2 Auckland - Stations in Wellington,
Christchurch and Dunedin follow over the next two
April 1962:
Control of broadcasting passes from the NZBS to the
NZBC (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation) a
statutory government body. The NZBC is given the
power to licence independent radio stations but never
Broadcasting House Wellington is opened. It’s the
first solid state (fully transistorised) broadcasting
facility in the Southern Hemisphere. With the new
state-of-the-art studios the National Programme is
established with all programmes networked from the
Wellington studios of 2YA - 24 hour a day.
The telephone is introduced as a programme tool –
the first talk-back programmes start.
December 1966:
The first weak signals from Radio Hauraki are heard.
Hauraki is a “Pirate” radio station modelled on
successful English stations. It broadcasts from an
old wooden scow “Tiri” in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.
By Christmas she is broadcasting at full power on
1480, a frequency chosen because it would interfere
least with existing NZBC stations.
January 1968:
The MV Tiri slips anchor to join in the search for a
missing fisherman. As night falls her engine fails and
she is unable to pick up her mooring. Tiri hits the
rocks on Great Barrier Island and is wrecked. The
Hauraki crew continues to broadcast as the ship goes
down. The station returns to the air a month later
broadcasting from a new ship renamed Tiri II.
The New Zealand Broadcasting Authority is formed to
listen to applications for the establishment of private
radio stations. The Auckland hearing takes place in
January 1970.
March 1970:
Radio Hauraki is one of two new Auckland stations
granted a permanent broadcasting warrant. The
other goes to Radio I, which had been sharing the
1ZM frequency with the NZBC for the previous two
June 1970:
Radio Hauraki’s last days as a “Pirate” station. The
“Tiri” stayed in International* waters until the last
programme – a documentary about the station had
played. She then slipped her moorings and headed
for shore but on the way back to port one of her
announcers – Rick Grant – was lost overboard
Early 1970’s:
Private radio licences were granted to Radio
Waikato, Radio Whakatane and Radio Otago.
Christchurch’s Radio Avon started up in late 1973
and Radio Windy in Wellington (Now The Breeze)
was the last of the first batch in 1974.
The newly elected Labour Government decided to halt
the introduction of additional stations and reversed a
Broadcasting Authority decision that gave ownership
of New Zealand’s second Television channel to a
private company. Instead Labour insisted the
channel be run by the NZBC and disbanded the
Broadcasting Authority.
The last station licensed by the Authority was
Auckland student station Radio Bosom – renamed
Radio B – now B-FM.
The newly elected National government splits the
NZBC into three; Television One, South Pacific
Television and Radio New Zealand. The BCNZ,
Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand is set up
as an administrative body to represent the interests
of all three at governmental level.
The Broadcasting Authority is reformed as the
Broadcasting Tribunal, and additional licences go to
Victoria University’s Radio Active and to new
commercial broadcasters in Palmerston North and
November 1978:
In compliance with international convention, New
Zealand changes AM band channel spacing from 10
to 9 kilohertz, leaving the United States Mexico and
Canada as the only countries still on 10 kilohertz.
Early 1980’s:
Radio Pacific (Auckland) & Rhema (Christchurch)
licensed. The Broadcasting Tribunal starts hearings
on FM radio. Radio Active became the first to
convert to FM in 1982
NZ’s first commercial FM stations go on air in
Auckland; Magic 91 – (now 91ZM) and 89X – (now
heard as Newstalk ZB). Radio New Zealand’s 1ZM
was forced by the government to de-commercialise.
1984 - 89:
FM stations for Hastings, New Plymouth, Nelson and
Whangarei. Many stations give up their AM band
operations. 2ZM became ZMFM and its AM
frequency was made available to local Maori Iwi’s.
Auckland’s 1ZB switches to News & talk (1987). All
Student radio moved onto the FM band and a
number of Community stations were set up, most
notably Plains FM in Christchurch. (1988)
De-regulation – The New Zealand Radio Frequency
Service, a division of the ministry of commerce, was
charged with setting up an auction process to sell off
remaining frequencies. Radio New Zealand
introduces the Newstalk Format to its remaining ZB
stations. This was the year TV 3 Started
broadcasting, Sky TV started eight months later.
The first large batch of new stations goes on air including MORE
FM, The Edge and The Rock. Companies like Radio Otago
and Energy Enterprises expand rapidly.
The first digital automation system in Australasia (Audisk) is
installed at 91ZM Christchurch.
Mai FM opens in Auckland – because of a scarcity of available
frequencies it is given a radiotelephone Licence and becomes
the first station to broadcast outside of the allocated FM Band 89
– 100
RNZ (still owned by the government) bought 89X in
Auckland. Twelve months later the rock format is
discontinued and the station simulcasts Newstalk ZB.
Other Maori Language stations are set up including
Radio Aotearoa in Auckland and Rotorua. Iwi
stations make an appearance.
New Zealand Radio Sales (RNZ) and P.R.I.S.M.
(Private Radio Industry Sales and Marketing)
combine forces to form The Radio Bureau – a
national rep house for ALL commercial stations. Low
powered “Guard Band” stations are allowed.
Radio New Zealand’s operations are split into two
separate divisions (New Zealand Public Radio & RNZ
Commercial) in preparation for the sale of the
commercial stations. A second round of spectrum
auctions releases a completely new batch of
frequencies and stations begin to form networks.
The government (as owner) sells Radio New
Zealand’s 41 commercial stations for $89 million to a
consortium including American Clear Channel
Communications. It becomes TRN (The Radio
Network) while Public Radio returns to using the
Radio New Zealand name. ZM stations in provincial
centres are networked, and the ZB network expands
beyond the main centres.
Consolidation - TRN buys Primedia from British
based GWR for $39 million, including Radio I and
Radio Hauraki. Radio Otago sells it’s 7 North Island
stations to RadioWorks, and buys Christchurch’s C93
and Nelson’s Fifeshire FM. RadioWorks and Radio
Pacific merge. The Rock, Edge and Solid Gold
networks expand.
CanWest Global Systems (owners of TV3) buy
MORE FM for $31 million, including 5 MORE FM’s, 3
Channel Z stations and The Breeze in Wellington.
RadioWorks buys Radio Otago and independents in
Palmerston North, Kapiti, Masterton, Whangarei and
Tauranga. Solid Gold, Edge and Rock networks
move to Auckland.
TRN expands the Classic Hits and ZM networks.
CanWest Radio buys RadioWorks for $100 million.
The last remaining land mobile stations are removed from the
upper FM band and the100 – 108mHz part of the spectrum is
opened and designated “The Crown Reserve Band” exclusively
for the expansion of non-commercial services.
Pacific network “Nui FM” and Maori TV both get away to
troublesome starts.
The “Last” auction for radio frequencies takes place.
A handful of provincial frequencies (used temporarily
on the basis they would one day be auctioned) are
sold to the highest bidder. Interest is still keen and
high prices are paid for some low powered and nonupgradeable properties.
CanWest buys one of two Auckland frequencies for
$6 million dollars – yet to go to air. TRN wins the bid
for the second and pays $6.5 million – Now Coast
New “Guard Band” station regulations are introduced.
The government opens up the upper end of the
frequency band to more than just non-commercial
It auctions 31 local FM commercial frequencies with
strict local ownership and programming conditions.
Not all are taken up and those not occupied are later
offered for full commercial use.
While this was a boon for an operator like Beach FM
serving Kapiti and Horowhenua for ten years leasing
frequencies on a short term basis, many of the other
leasees of the new local frequencies did not survive
or failed to go to air, including those in Auckland,
Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Reasons – the world-wide economic downturn, the
existing fierce competition in the bigger markets and
some smaller operators who were not well equipped.
The first portion of this band 89 – 93mHz was made available in
1983, prior to that all radio broadcasting in New Zealand was on
the AM band. The 93 – 100mHz portion was opened up in 1991
and 100 – 107.7mHz in 2001.
Stations are permitted to have a 200kHz bandwidth, though the
band is allocated in 100kHz steps
88.0 - 88.7
Lower Guard
Reserved for low power stations, Band
with strict limitations on power and
coverage. Local conditions vary.
89.0 – 100.0
Commercial FM Remaining non-commercial Band stations will
vacate this part of the band and move above
100.0 – 106.5
Crown Reserve
Non-commercial and ethnic services;
National Radio, Nui FM. Concert FM,
University stations and Community Stations
will move here. Some commercial stations
occupy this part of the spectrum.
106.7 – 107.7
Upper Guard
Reserved for low power stations with strict
limitations on power and coverage.
National radio will continue to expand its FM coverage.
Concert FM, University, Community and Polytechnic stations
will move to the portion of the band above 100.0 FM, leaving
a number of lower frequencies to be auctioned off.
In April 2011 the whole spectrum is up for auction again,
though a deal between the Minister and incumbent
broadcasters is expected to circumvent this process.
DAB ……………(Digital Audio Broadcasting)
HDTV …………..(High Definition Television)
DBS …………….(Direct Broadcast Satellite – like Sky TV)
RDS …………….(Radio Data System – Some stations already
using this in a limited form)
iPOD ……………Will this revolutionise radio usage ???

A Short History of New Zealand Radio