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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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New Zealand Broadcasting Service, 1936–62

Responsibility for the control of the National Broadcasting Service – as it was first termed – was placed in the hands of a Minister of the Crown who was charged with the administration of the Act. Because of its early function as essentially another means of communication, broadcasting in New Zealand, as in most countries, was associated with the responsibilities of the Postmaster-General. But, with the coming of the Labour Government, the concept of broadcasting as a social force was fully established by the change in 1936. Its importance in this respect may be gauged from the fact that M. J. Savage, Prime Minister, assumed the portfolio of Broadcasting. The Act also provided for the appointment of a Director of the National Broadcasting Service, Professor James Shelley being appointed to the position on 1 December 1936.

Among other provisions of the Act was one providing for programmes of all privately operated stations to be subject to ministerial scrutiny. Advertising was absolutely prohibited, except from commercial stations controlled by the Minister.

In 1936 parliamentary broadcasts began as a regular feature. Direct broadcasts from the House of Representatives were a new and radical departure from established practice both within and beyond New Zealand. In December 1936, the power of Station 2YA was increased to 60 kW, and debates from the House of Representatives were brought within the range of most of the country. In the meantime, the National Broadcasting Service continued to pay monetary subsidies to stations in areas where reception was difficult. Stations subsidised at this time were 4ZC Cromwell, 2ZJ Gisborne, 2YB New Plymouth, 2ZF Palmerston North, 2ZH Napier, 2ZD Masterton, 3ZR Greymouth, and 4ZP Invercargill. In addition, 14 other private stations continued their transmissions. These were 1ZB and 1ZJ Auckland, 4ZR Balclutha, 3ZM Christchurch, 4ZB, 4ZM, 4ZL, and 4ZO Dunedin, 2ZM Gisborne, 2ZL Hastings, 1ZM Manurewa, 2ZR Nelson, 2ZO Palmerston North, and 2ZP Wairoa.

In 1937 an Act was passed that was to have a tremendous impact on the pattern of broadcasting. This was the Broadcasting Amendment Act 1937 which provided for the establishment and operation of a commercial broadcasting service, to be called the National Commercial Broadcasting Service. While licence fee revenue was to continue as the main source of finance for the stations formerly directed by the Broadcasting Board, the new service was to be financed directly from the sale of advertising time. Unlike the United Kingdom which had a high density of population encompassed within a small geographic area – and a correspondingly large income to meet its capital requirements – Australia, Canada, and the United States had early seen that radio advertising provided a ready means of financing a broadcasting service. New Zealand now prepared to tap this source of revenue. Within 18 months of the 1936 Act, 12 non-commercial stations and four commercial stations were being operated by the Government. The stations at Manurewa, Nelson, and Invercargill had been taken over by the National Service, and Station 1ZB Auckland, previously the “Friendly Road” station, had been absorbed by the National Commercial Broadcasting Service. In addition, commercial stations 2ZB, 3ZB, and 4ZB at Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin were in service. The success of the new venture was almost immediate. While radio licences had continued to increase and by 31 March 1939 totalled 286,057, with licence fee revenue exceeding £308,000, the commercial stations' sales already amounted to £98,418. Within a short space of time, advertising revenue was to make the Commercial Broadcasting Service financially independent and to provide at the same time a substantial contribution to taxation revenues.

In such a period of expansion, the privately operated stations struggled unavailingly to hold their place. Still handicapped by lack of sufficient finance and facing increasing competition for an audience against stations which had the benefit of wide programme resources, they were gradually being absorbed into the unified system that was developing. A number disposed of their assets and, having made their substantial contribution to the development of the industry, disappeared. Others sold their assets to the Government but continued to function under contract, such as the Government-owned stations 2YB New Plymouth, 2ZH Napier, 2ZJ Gisborne, 2ZP Wairoa, 3ZR Greymouth, and 4ZC Cromwell. The private stations 1ZJ Auckland, 2ZM Gisborne, and 4ZD and 4ZM Dunedin, continued broadcasting. During the following year Stations 2ZH, (renamed 2YH) Napier, and 3ZR Greymouth, were fully taken over by the National Service. The Wairoa and Cromwell stations ceased to broadcast.

During this period the National Commercial Broadcasting Service continued to grow with the opening of Station 2ZA, Palmerston North, but the amalgamation of the two Services, which had begun on 21 August 1942, when the engineering sections of the two were combined as an economic wartime necessity, was completed with the passing of the Statutes Amendment Act 1943. Under this Act the Commercial Broadcasting Service as a separate entity was abolished and both Services passed to the control of a single Director of Broadcasting. With the exception of two privately owned stations running under a subsidy, the long process of unification was complete.

Up to this time the development of broadcasting in New Zealand had been confined to coverage within the country, but its tremendous force as a world service had been amply demonstrated during the Second World War. It was not surprising, therefore, that Dominion Day 1948 saw the commencement of the first regular programme transmissions from New Zealand to Australia and the Western Pacific Islands.

Meanwhile, the function of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service had expanded far beyond the field of broadcasting. On 30 June 1939, the New Zealand Listener made its appearance – a journal which incorporated the earlier publication, the New Zealand Radio Record. Another feature was the establishment of the New Zealand National Orchestra which gave its first public performance in the Wellington Town Hall on 6 March 1947.

The year 1949 was also marked by two new developments. The first was the opening on 18 January of 3XC Timaru. This was a composite station combining both advertising and non-advertising functions which had a threefold purpose – an outlet for local talent and a centre of community interest, a coverage outlet for important programmes from larger centres, and an advertising medium. It proved to be successful and was rapidly followed by similar stations at Hamilton, Whangarei, Wanganui, and Gisborne.

The second development concerned television. The influence of radio on the social habits of people everywhere had been considerable, but it was as nothing compared with the impact of television. Despite certain misgivings, its eventual introduction to New Zealand was inevitable and in 1949 the Government established a committee of broadcasting and Post Office representatives to investigate and advise on overseas television developments.

Steady progress continued in broadcasting through the repowering of existing stations or the establishment of new ones. By 1960 a clear pattern of programme service had developed, with stations exercising the following functions:

  1. Stations 1YA, 2YA, 3YA, 4YA, 1YZ, 2YZ, 3YZ, and 4YZ: broadcasting non-advertising programmes over a wide area of the country.

  2. Stations 1YC, 2YC, 3YC, 4YC, and 2YX: providing alternative non-advertising programmes to the YA and YZ stations but with slightly less extensive coverage. On 27 May 1965 the call sign of 2YX became 2YB.

  3. Stations 1ZB, 2ZB, 3ZB, 4ZB, 1ZD, 1XH, 2ZA, 2ZC, 4ZA, 1YD, 1ZC, 2XB, and 2YD: presenting advertising programmes mainly of a light nature and with coverage comparable to the YA and YZ stations.

  4. Stations 1XN, 2XG, 2XP, 2XA, 2XN, and 3XC: composite stations serving their immediate coverage areas and presenting advertising and non-advertising programmes during specified hours.

  5. Stations 1YW, 1XA, 1XE, 3YW, and 4YX: relay stations providing improved coverage from 1YA, 1XN, 3YZ, and 4YA respectively.

In 1960 a general election led to still another change in broadcasting control. The new National Government, which had ousted Labour from office, had promised that television, which was being administered by the Broadcasting Service, should pass to corporate control. As the result of a caucus committee investigation, radio was included in the change.