The NZBC and the introduction of television
After the National Party became the government in 1960, it began reducing government involvement in broadcasting. The New Zealand Broadcasting Service became a public corporation, renamed the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. The NZBC was finally allowed to establish an independent nationwide news service.
Saved by the transistor
The recently arrived transistor technology helped New Zealand radio survive the onslaught of television in the early 1960s. Transistor radios were ideal for a youth audience, making radio portable – ideal for outdoor summer activities. They gave young people control over which station they listened to, whereas the tuning dials of big family radios had generally been in the hands of their parents.
The NZBC was also responsible for setting up a television service. Television, along with new social attitudes and tastes in music, presented major challenges for radio. Evening radio went into decline as people switched to television. This led to the demise of the big radio quizzes, ‘give away’ shows and talent quests, which were replaced by music-based programmes. Radio adjusted to no longer being New Zealand’s principal broadcasting medium.
The pirates lead the way: Radio Hauraki
Changes in society in the early 1960s were not strongly reflected on radio. Commercial stations did introduce disc jockeys such as ‘Cham the Man’, Neville Chamberlain. They played popular music, although generally the more mainstream songs. Broadcasting bureaucrats were not impressed, strongly resisting pop music and ‘foreign’ influence. In response a ‘pirate’ radio ship was launched in November 1966. Radio Hauraki, broadcasting from international waters, captured Auckland’s young listeners with its top-40 programming.
The perils of being a pirate
It was not all smooth sailing for pirate station Radio Hauraki during its 1,111 days at sea. Their first ship, the Tiri, was wrecked after running aground on Great Barrier Island in January 1968. Its replacement, the Tiri II, also ran aground, in June 1968, but was refloated. The last day of seaborne broadcasting, 1 June 1970, was marred by tragedy, with the drowning of announcer Rick Grant during the voyage back to Auckland.
In 1968 the government set up the Broadcasting Authority (BA), tasked with regulating broadcasting standards and licensing public and private radio stations. The BA took a more liberal approach than the NZBC had. In 1970 Radio Hauraki and three other private stations received licences, beginning a gradual reduction in state influence and control.
Changes in commercial radio formatting followed as more private stations gained warrants. Music stations focused on popular music. The talk radio format was established, beginning with Auckland’s Radio i featuring Eccles Smith and Gordon Dryden. Commercial radio entered a period of fierce competition. The tradition of radio stations providing ‘something for everyone’ disappeared. New stations focused on target audiences, determined by a range of factors including age, gender, social status and lifestyle.
The birth of the National and Concert programmes
The YA and YC services were able to broadcast nationwide signals from Wellington. Increased national content meant reduced local and regional programming. In 1964 the YA stations were rebranded as the National Programme and in 1975 the YC stations were labelled the Concert Programme. In the mid-1970s the National Programme launched flagship shows such as Morning report, Evening report (later renamed Checkpoint), and the Nine to noon show covering social and cultural issues. Many prominent broadcasters emerged through these programmes, including Geoff Robinson, Sharon Crosbie, Kim Hill and Sean Plunket.
The changes to the National Programme meant many traditional programmes lapsed. Drama was reduced to one small unit and religious programming was greatly diminished. Local music all but disappeared from public radio, a situation that persisted until the 1990s.
Māori – a small but significant presence
The Māori presence on the National Programme remained small. During the 1950s the Napier radio station broadcast Te reo o te Māori, a weekly half-hour programme in Māori, hosted by Ted Nēpia. In 1963 the show was absorbed by the NZBC’s Māori Programmes section, with coverage extended to eight stations. Te Reo o Aotearoa, a Māori and Pacific Island broadcasting unit, was set up in 1978. Significant Māori broadcasters from these programmes included Wiremu Kerekere, Haare Williams, Whai Ngata and Henare te Ua. Te Ua went on to front the Radio New Zealand programme Whenua from 1995 to 2003.