New Zealand Broadcasting Board, 1932–35
Difficulties of radio coverage vary from country to country, and New Zealand presented its own challenge to broadcasting engineers. Unlike the great continents of Australia and America, New Zealand as a broadcasting country faced the problem not of vast distances, but of bringing within range of the radio transmitters the relatively small pockets of population concentrated in the fertile areas which lay among mountain ranges. Thus an adequate service to back country dwellers became the most pressing problem confronting the Board at its inception. A commission was set up to investigate the position and report its findings, the commissioners recommending, among other things, the replacement or stabilisation of the existing transmitters and changes in the sites of the four main-centre transmitters. At the time, there were 30 privately owned radio stations still operating in New Zealand. Of these, six were in Dunedin, four were in Auckland, two in Christchurch, two in Gisborne, two in Grey-mouth, and two in Palmerston North, with one each in Hastings, Invercargill, Napier, Hamilton, Balclutha, Cromwell, Manurewa, Masterton, Nelson, New Plymouth, Wairoa, and Wellington.
As a result of the report of the Coverage Commission, the Board decided to give financial aid to a number of private broadcasting stations operating in areas where reception of the Board's stations was unsatisfactory. The stations so subsidised were 1ZH Hamilton, 2YB New Plymouth, 2ZF Palmerston North, 2ZD Masterton, 2ZJ Gisborne, 2ZH Napier, 4ZP Invercargill, and 3ZR Greymouth. But a price had to be paid for this aid, and the Broadcasting Amendment Act 1934–35 charged the Board with the responsibility of supervising the programmes broadcast by private broadcasting stations. Unification of the whole system was the obvious aim. The Broadcasting Amendment Act 1934–35 increased the number of Board members from three to seven and, under this new provision, the first meeting of the reconstituted Board was held on 11 April 1935.
During the brief life of the Broadcasting Board – from 1 January 1932 until 30 June 1936—it pressed ahead with its own extension of radio coverage of New Zealand. Relatively high-powered transmitters were ordered for use in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin and were sited at points to achieve best coverage. The sites chosen were: Auckland – at Henderson; Wellington – at Titahi Bay; Christchurch – at Gebbies Pass; and Dunedin – at Highcliff. On 23 January 1935, Station 1YA, Auckland, moved into the first specially built broadcasting premises. At the same time, the new 1YA 10 kW transmitter at Henderson came into operation. In the same year, on 4 August, Station 3YA, Christ-church, was raised to 10 kW from 500 watts; on 2 December 1935, 4YA, Dunedin, was also repowered.
With reasonable coverage provided from the main centres, the Board turned its attention to another pressing problem – the question of alternative programmes. The popularity of radio was such that transmission hours were too short to accommodate the wide range of programme material offering, and four new stations were brought into operation. On 24 February 1933, 2YC Wellington was opened; on 28 July, 1YX Auckland commenced transmission; and in 1934 two stations – 3YL Christchurch, and 4YO Dunedin – were opened on 1 January and 26 March respectively. These stations provided alternative programmes for each of the four districts and established a pattern of service that continues to the present time. Meanwhile the rapid growth of licence-holders continued. In the four-year period from 1932 to 1936, the number of licence holders trebled – from 70,000 to 210,000, a remarkable evidence of growth in an otherwise depressed period.
The stage, however, was set for another change. In 1935 New Zealand had gone to the polls and decisively returned its first Labour Government. One of the legislative measures passed during the 1936 session was the Broadcasting Act 1936, which came into force on 1 July 1936, and abolished the New Zealand Broadcasting Board. All the rights, property, liabilities, and engagements of the Board were transferred to the Crown. Thus for the next 25 years, broadcasting was to be administered as a Government Department.