Radio ZJV Suva
Foundations of Radio Fiji
by Len Usher and Hugh Leonard
The first Fiji Broadcasting Commission was appointed
in June 1953, as assumed control of broadcasting on July 1, 1974.
ZJV Suva QSL Card
© Adrian Peterson Collection
Its foundations had been laid, at least in part, by the Fiji Broadcasting
Company, which began operations in 1935, under licence from the Posts
and Telegraphs Department, with the call-sign ZJV.
The home of ZJV was in two rooms on the ground floor of the Cable and
Wireless building in Suva. One room housed the MW transmitter and racks
of gramophone records. The other room was the studio, with the announcer
sitting at a control desk in one corner. The transmitting aerial was
on the lawn between the Cable and Wireless building and the present
civic center. For the first few years, the announcer was also the station
manager and chief technician. He was, for most of ZJV's history, Mr
The company was a subsidiary (with a few local shareholders) of Amalgamated
Wireless Australasia Limited (AWA), which at that time, was responsible
for Fiji's external radio communications. The AWA manager, then Mr Frank
Exon, was in overall command.
Although those who could afford the fairly expense equipment required
had been able for a number of years to listen to broadcasts, usually
on SW, from overseas radio stations, there was little knowledge of how
these distant programs originated.
Ravuama Vunivalu on the air at ZJV Suva
Soon after ZJV opened, Mrs Edyth Tarte, on a visit to Suva, told the
people back home in Tavenui what the ZJV they had been hearing about
looked like: " It seems unbelievable to me that I should be standing
here in a room that looks like any other comfortably furnished room,
speaking nervously into what looks like a tiny movie camera, while you
people miles away are listening to my remarks.
If I sound nervous, is it any wonder? There is a man sitting not far
away, wearing what looks like a stethoscope and twiddling knobs and
things and watching my voice (so he tells me) on a little jumping meter,
and through a glass door I can see into the transmitter room where little
red, white and blue lights are glowing, and tiny needles are flapping
The power of the transmitter was 500 watts. It gave good reception in
Suva and in most of south-eastern Viti Levu. Mountains and distance
produced fading and weak signals elsewhere, but people nevertheless
listened in growing numbers during the station's brief breakfast, midday
and evening sessions, and sales of receivers grew.
Outside the comparatively few towns (Suva, Levuka and the CSR (Colonial
Sugar Refinery) mill centers) with electricity supplies, these receivers
were powered by batteries. The A battery, usually an ordinary car type,
had to be regularly charged, and this led to frequent periods of radio
silence when ships did not bring back a re-charged first battery before
the spare ran out. Few of today's listeners realise the transformation
that was brought about by the invention of the transistor.
The Fiji Broadcasting Company's aims were primarily commercial. It got
its revenue from advertising and from a proportion of the listener's
licence fees which were collected by the Posts and Telegraphs Department
and passed on to the company.
The revenue was necessarily limited, but by combining management, programing,
announcing, and technical supervision in the same people, the company
was able to operate with a very small staff, and so profitably. There
was no money available for such things as a local news service, or elaborate
transmitters to serve outer islands, or programs in languages other
However, fairly early on in the life of ZJV, the Fijian Affairs Office
in Suva was allotted time for a weekly hour-long program in Fijian.
Leone Batigai conducts the Tuesday night Fijian session at ZJV Suva
The results were spectacular. In towns, Fijian household staff members
and their families clustered around the radio or gathered outside the
windows to hear Ratu Walesi (at first Mr A W Small and later Mr R H
Lester, followed by Leone Batigai) present his programs on Tuesday nights.
In remote areas, Fijians walked for miles to villages where there was
a radio receiver. The coverage was very far from complete, but for the
first time in history, it was possible for news and information to reach
Fijians in many scattered parts of Fiji at the same time. It was an
indication of the influence and value of a broadcasting service.
Images are from the Fiji Broadcasting Commission publication 'This is Radio Fiji - Twenty-Five Years of Service 1954-1979.' Original publication held by Dr Adrian Peterson.
ZJV QSL Image © Adrian Peterson Collection