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The New Zealand Radio Dial 1930-31

by David Ricquish

1931 Was Highlight Year

image of Advert for 1931 Gulbransen radio

Advert for 1931 Gulbransen radio available in NZ.
© Radio Heritage Foundation Collection

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

image of 2ZP Wairoa, listener card

2ZP Wairoa, listener card.
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

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

image of 1ZR Auckland, detail from Lewis Eady letterhead

1ZR Auckland, detail from Lewis Eady letterhead.
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation Collection

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

image of 1ZH Hamilton detail from letterhead

1ZH Hamilton detail from letterhead.
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation Collection

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.

image of 2ZW Wellington, listener card

2ZW Wellington, listener card from the 'Voice of the Capital'.
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

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.
image of 4ZP Invercargill , listener card

4ZP Invercargill sent this hand drawn card to listeners.
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation Collection

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]
1420 1ZS 5 McCabe’s Radios Newton Auckland

image of 4ZM Dunedin detail from letterhead

4ZM Dunedin detail from letterhead of McCracken & Walls, well known 'piano, gramophone & radio dealers.'
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation Collection

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]
image of 3ZE Greymouth, listener card

3ZE Greymouth issued this card to confirm reception. A note on the back apologizes for operating 10kc off frequency!
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation Collection

Trade Stations

image of 3YA Christchurch card

3YA Christchurch, detailed card signed by AR Harris of the Radio Broadcasting Company in 1928.
© Noel Brown Collection in September 2006 issue of "Tune In" Radio Bulletin of the NZ DX Radio Association.

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.

image of David Ricquish outside old 3YA Christchurch studios

David Ricquish outside old 3YA Christchurch studios in 2005. Note the set of bronze radio towers still used for outside decorative lighting.
© Radio Heritage Foundation Collection

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.

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