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Story: Radio

Every evening in radio’s golden age, from the 1930s to the 1960s, most New Zealanders tuned in to popular quiz shows, talent shows, talks and music. In the 2000s New Zealand had a large number of radio stations for a small population, many serving specific communities and groups.

Story by Brian Pauling
Main image: Stuey 'Wolfman' Mitchell at Dunedin's Toroa Radio, 2008

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

Early radio, 1921 to 1932

The first radio broadcast in New Zealand was made by physics professor Robert Jack in 1921. The first radio stations were run by enthusiasts, but then businesspeople saw the commercial potential of radio and also set up stations.

The government controlled the radio spectrum and charged radio stations fees for licences to broadcast, and the public paid for a licence to receive broadcasts. The first live sports commentaries were broadcast in the 1920s.

State takes over radio, 1930s

In 1935 the first Labour government created the New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS), which took over almost all radio stations in New Zealand. The government also began regular live broadcasts of Parliament, partly because it didn’t trust the newspapers to report on it accurately.

In 1937 the NZBS was split into two divisions, the non- commercial National Broadcasting Service (NBS) and a state-run commercial division, the National Commercial Broadcasting Service (NCBS).

The golden age of radio, 1936 to 1960

Radio announcers did not use their real names on air – they were known instead by a fictional name or as various ‘uncles’ or ‘aunties’ – but some still became very well known. Maud Basham, who was known as Aunt Daisy and hosted a morning radio show, is the best known.

Evening programmes included popular quiz shows and talent contests. The non-commercial National Broadcasting Service tended to have more highbrow programming such as talks, radio plays and music.

In 1942 a Māori-language news service was established to broadcast war news.

Changes in radio, 1960s

The introduction of television into New Zealand in 1960 meant fewer people listened to the radio in the evening. Changes in society and pop music were not reflected on radio, leading Radio Hauraki, a ‘pirate’ (unlicensed) radio station, to begin broadcasting from a ship in international waters in 1966. It became very popular with young people.

The government began to reduce its involvement in radio. In the mid-1960s it brought its non-commercial radio stations together into two national stations: the Concert Programme (later Radio New Zealand Concert) and the National Programme (later Radio New Zealand National).

The rise of private radio, 1970s to 2010s

More independent commercial radio stations gained licences. In the late 1980s and 1990s the government deregulated radio and sold its commercial stations with the aim of increasing competition. Radio stations tended to become national rather than regional, with many broadcasting from Auckland. By the early 2000s most of them were owned by two major overseas-owned companies, The Radio Network and MediaWorks.

Public and community radio from 1989

NZ On Air is the government agency that funds much of the non-commercial broadcasting in New Zealand, including radio, with the aim of supporting local content that reflects New Zealand identity. Radio New Zealand, New Zealand’s public radio broadcaster, is funded through NZ On Air.

In 2003 there were 12 access radio stations in New Zealand, on which community groups and individuals could broadcast.

Māori radio

The first iwi radio station, Te Upoko o Te Ika in Wellington, began in 1987. By 1994 there were more than 20 iwi radio stations. They aimed to promote Māori language and culture.

Minority stations

In 2013 there were many radio stations for particular cultural or minority groups, such as Pacific communities or people with limited sight. Many received funding from the government.

Student radio

Radio stations have grown up around universities, some supported by the local students’ association.

How to cite this page:

Brian Pauling, 'Radio', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/radio (accessed 23 November 2017)

Story by Brian Pauling, published 22 Oct 2014