The first iwi radio station, Te Upoko o te Ika in Wellington, officially began broadcasting in 1987. It was developed from the pioneering experimental Wellington station Te Reo o Poneke (1983–86). Māori gained wider access to broadcasting frequencies from 1989 onwards, following a series of Waitangi Tribunal recommendations and court challenges to government decisions.
Twenty-one local iwi stations were set up between 1989 and 1994. Their licences stipulate that the frequencies must be used to promote the Māori language and culture, and be aimed at a primarily Māori audience. Support was provided by NZ On Air and, from 1995, by the Māori broadcast funding agency Te Māngai Pāho. Iwi stations are owned and controlled by Māori tribal interests, broadcasting within specific tribal areas.
Henare Kingi, former announcer at Te Upoko o te Ika, said, ‘A lot of elders thought if nothing was done about the language it would die out. That was one of the reasons why those who fought for the airwaves actually took it into their own hands, to the government and to the Privy Council, and later it was proved when we started broadcasting.’1
In 2013 there were a number of radio stations specifically mandated for ethnic or other minority groups, including:
- 531PI, a full-time Pacific Island service broadcasting in Auckland
- Samoan Capital Radio, a part-time service in Wellington
- Niu FM, a networked station transmitting from Auckland to a number of cities and regions, focusing on Pacific communities
- the Radio Reading Service, a small radio station based in Levin for anyone who finds it difficult read printed material.
- APNA Radio and Radio Tarana, both broadcasting to the Indian community
- Radio Samoa in Auckland
- Radio Chinese, broadcasting in Auckland in both Mandarin and Cantonese
- the four Christian radio networks operated by the Rhema Broadcasting Group.
These stations all receive state funding support either through NZ On Air or other government agencies.
A significant proportion of minority radio broadcasting is carried out by stations without state support. They operate either as fully commercial broadcasters or through support from sympathetic followers. Major contributors in this category include:
What student radio is
Otago University’s Radio One FM describes itself: ‘We're about variety. We're about diversity. We're about goodness. Our DJs cover everything from punk-pop futurefunk to bangin' bhangra beats, catchy synth singles to cosmic soul death disco. Planted at the heart of urban culture, sorting the gold from the gunk and turning it up – that's us.’2
Campus-based radio is often supported by the local students’ association. Student radio provides a range of alternative news, current affairs and opinion pieces aimed at a student audience.
The earliest student radio in New Zealand, Auckland University’s ‘Radio Bosom’, was launched illegally in 1969 as a capping stunt. It became Radio B in 1980 and was later renamed 95bFM. Over a 20-year period stations were established on six New Zealand university campuses. In the 1970s and 1980s student radio was one of the few platforms where emerging New Zealand bands could get airplay.
Each campus radio is a stand-alone station but occasionally they come together in an alternative nation-wide radio network, bNet. Most stations receive a small amount of financial support from NZ On Air from a fund designed to support New Zealand music on radio.
New Zealand also has a large number of informal radio stations operating in what is commonly called the ‘guard band’. This is a small area of the radio spectrum set aside to prevent the ‘bleeding’ of one major user of the spectrum with another. Within this narrow band it is possible to broadcast a low-powered service. Guard-band stations cover a wide range of activities from local commercial radio broadcasts through to schools, religious groups and individual hobbyists. It is estimated that there could be up to 200 such services operating at any one time.