EARLY RADIO IN NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand’s first broadcast was on 17-11-1921 from the University of Otago by physics professor Robert Jack. Radio Dunedin (4XD) began transmitting in 1922 and is the longest continuously broadcasting station in the Commonwealth. By the end of 1923 stations were broadcasting from Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland, Nelson, Whanganui and Gisborne. All content had to follow a strict moral code; advertising was banned, and Sundays had to have substantial religious programming. In 1926 the Radio Broadcasting Company (RBC) was established to provide a national broadcasting service. The RBC’s main revenue came from a compulsory annual radio licence fee. Existing independent stations became known as ‘B’ stations, in contrast to the RBC’s ‘A’ stations. To avoid interfering with newspaper advertising revenue, advertising was prohibited on radio. Many of the ‘B’ stations only stayed on air because they were sustained by voluntary support or were subsidiary activities of radio and record retailers.
The 1920s saw the development of many standard radio features, including children’s programs, plus school, sport, and religious broadcasts. In 1932 the RBC was replaced by the governments New Zealand Broadcasting Board (NZBB), which inherited the RBC’s stations. The number of stations and range of programs increased, but the conservative nature of broadcasting did not change. Programs generally followed a formal structure resembling a concert. All stations closed no later than 2200. Many people then listened to Australian stations. The state controlled ‘A’ stations were often criticised for bland and unpopular programming.
The cash-strapped ‘B’ stations often relied on listeners to donate records. Many listeners preferred the livelier, independent B stations. They were subject to strict government inspection and were forbidden to run advertisements, but from 1931 programs were allowed to name a sponsor. In 1935 the NZBB absorbed all of the ‘B’ stations, other than Gisborne’s 2ZM (renamed 2XM) and Dunedin’s 4ZD (renamed 4XD). With these two exceptions, broadcasting became a state monopoly for the next 25 years.
From the 1930s to the early 1960s well-known announcers included Maud Basham (Aunty Daisy), Ian Watkins, Selwyn Toogood, Jack Maybury, Phil Shone, Winston McCarthy, Gary Chapman, and Grace Green. The National Broadcasting Service’s (NBS) programming included pre-recorded talks, religious programs, comedies, sport, news (including the Maori language), and drama. Music included records plus live performances by brass bands, orchestras, instrumentalists and vocalists.
The 1950s saw three basic program structures emerging: Light, popular entertainment, based on the ZB commercial radio format:
Mixed or middlebrow, based on the YA stations: Highbrow, the YC stations, modelled on the BBC’s Third Program format.
In the early 1960s, commercial stations played popular music, but broadcast bureaucrats continued to resist pop music. In response a pirate radio ship was launched in November 1966. Radio Hauraki, broadcast from international waters, capturing Auckland’s young listeners with its Top 40 programs during its 1,111 days at sea. In 1970 Radio Hauraki and three other private stations were granted licences. Changes in commercial radio formats followed as more private stations gained licenses. Music stations focused on popular music. The talk radio format was established, beginning with Auckland’s Radio I. New stations focused on target audiences, determined by factors including age, gender, social status and lifestyle. The number of private radio broadcasters rose from five in 1972 to 22 by 1984. Radio personalities included Merv Smith (1ZB), Kevin Black (Radio Hauraki) and Barry Corbett (3ZB).