Happy Days Radio, Palmerston
New broadcast venture
By Bill Campbell
Otago Daily Times
Veteran broadcaster Lawrence McCraw is about to launch his fifth private radio station.
Lawrence McCraw in the studio he is developing for his Happy Days 88.3 FM Radio station in Palmerston. Photo: Bill Campbell.
The Palmerston-based station, to be called Happy Days 88.3 FM, will have low-power FM repeaters at Oamaru, Waimate and Waikouaiti and will begin broadcasting in June.
In his time Mr McCraw (64), of Palmerston, has been involved in running five radio stations as well as several short-term stations.
"I was born to radio."
Mr McCraw is completely blind in his left eye and has 6/48 vision in his right eye.
His first radio station was a pirate station at Homai College for the Blind in Auckland.
Mr McCraw was in the fifth form when he and a group of students set up a pirate radio station with the reluctant agreement of the college’s principal, who shut it down when school certificate exams rolled around.
His next station, Radio Sunshine, broadcast from the Kuriwao Gorge, near Clinton, for almost six years, up to 1976.
The radio station had a deal with the Apple and Pear board that gave them cases of apples and cases of apple juice in return for advertising. The promotions that the station undertook were extremely popular.
Then one day the station got "a bit big for its boots" and set up an aerial from the station mast to a high nearby tree, Mr McCraw said.
The new aerial greatly increased the broadcast coverage, but then an Invercargill listener told the Post Office an illegal station was on air.
The Post Office was responsible for enforcing a ban on private radio stations and took a dim view of any illegal activity.
Mr McCraw worked for the Post Office in Dunedin at the time.
He was investigated by the chief radio inspector of the day and prosecuted in the Balclutha court.
The maximum penalty was a $3000 fine or three years in prison. He had no idea if he would be going home the night of his appearance, but the judge took a lenient view and he was convicted and discharged.
The case, which attracted a petition signed by many Clinton people, received considerable media coverage from radio, TV and newspapers.
Two years later, after the publicity from his court case had died down, Mr McCraw was sacked from the Post Office for having a conviction.
Radio Sunshine was the longest running on-shore pirate radio station.
Since then, Mr McCraw and his friends have operated various legal short-term stations around Otago and Southland.
During that time the stations raised more than $20,000 for charities in Te Anau, Dunedin, Balclutha and Gore.
From 1974 to 1992 Mr McCraw operated "Safari Sounds" mobile disco with over 700 gigs throughout Otago.
In 1986 he got a job as an announcer at 4XO in Dunedin where he worked until 1990.
That year he went to Ranfurly to raise money to restore the former railway station, which led to full-time radio station Classic Gold Radio being established in the building, with the help of Ranfurly Lion publican David Weyer and the wider community.
By that time private radio stations were legal.
Work started on Puketapu Radio in Palmerston in 1997, after Mr McCraw moved there, and the station eventually went to air on May 19, 1999.
Setting it up and keeping it going was tough, but the station continued to be popular with listeners in a wide coverage area, Mr McCraw said.
Mr McCraw left Radio Puketapu last year, and is striking out on his own with Happy Days.
He said he was delighted by the level of community support already apparent for the station.
Two volunteer announcers had said that they would work with the new station and other people had said that they liked his music choices and his "on air" style and would listen to the new station.
Original article by Bill Campbell, Otago Daily Times, published in May 2017.
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Visit the Happy Days Radio website: www.happydaysfm.com