Ti­tahi Bay mast trans­formed ra­dio

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

Would a tow­er­ing ra­dio mast in Ti­tahi Bay bring en­light­en­ment, or creep­ing pro­pa­ganda to New Zealand in 1937?

New Zealand’s early de­bates over public ra­dio in the 1930s were played out as a 213-me­tre mast crept sky­wards on Mt Cooper.

‘‘As far as the Gov­ern­ment is con­cerned, we will bring ra­dio to every­body, and will give the best pro­grammes, and we shall see that broad­cast­ing is con­trolled by the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple,’’ post­mas­ter- gen­eral Fred Jones in­sisted in 1936, as the Labour gov­ern­ment at­tempted to make the air­waves public.

Broad­cast­ing had be­gun in New Zealand in 1921, and by the 1930s in­de­pen­dent sta­tions were flour­ish­ing. The gov­ern­ment be­gan buy­ing th­ese small sta­tions fol­low­ing the Broad­cast­ing Act of 1936, lay­ing the foun­da­tion for a fu­ture Ra­dio New Zealand.

But state-owned ra­dio was a step on the road to Hit­lerism, and pro­pa­ganda would in­vade homes like a nox­ious weed, op­po­si­tion MPs ar­gued.

At­tempts by the Gov­ern­ment to run the air­waves since 1931 had re­sulted in fee­ble tal­ent and am­a­teur pre­sent­ing, with ba­sic mi­cro­phone skills ab­sent, Ti­maru MP Clyde Carr said in a 1936 par­lia­men­tary de­bate.

‘‘The thing that gets me is the self- suf­fi­ciency, the ar­ro­gance, and the as­sump­tion of the Broad­cast­ing Board,’’ he said.

Prime Min­is­ter Michael Joseph Sav­age in­sisted po­lit­i­cal cov­er­age would be kept to a min­i­mum, and his move to rid ra­dio of ad­ver­tis­ing was ap­plauded by New Ply­mouth MP Syd­ney Smith.

‘‘ Large sums of money were ex­pended that gave cer­tain per­sons great in­flu­ence. The air was needed for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses,’’ The Evening Post re­ported from Smith’s speech.

Ti­tahi Bay’s mast, and its sur­mount­ing aerial, tow­ered over a new 60-kilo­watt trans­mit­ting sta­tion that was the most pow­er­ful in the south­ern hemi­sphere. The mast is still New Zealand’s sec­ond- tallest struc­ture, af­ter Auck­land’s Sky Tower.

‘‘With mod­ern re­ceivers, it will be pos­si­ble to hear the new sta­tion day and night all over the Do­min­ion,’’ The Post re­ported when the new sta­tion was pro­posed in Au­gust 1935.

The sea­side sub­urb was cho­sen over the old lo­ca­tion in Mt Vic­to­ria be­cause ra­dio sig­nals kept their strength when passed over wa­ter.

Broad­casts by the Gov­ern­ment’s lower North Is­land sta­tion 2YA would be heard strongly in pre­vi­ously patchy ar­eas like Palmer­ston North and Feild­ing, the pa­per said.

By March 1936, a small vil­lage was be­ing con­structed above Ti­tahi Bay. The £86,000 sta­tion in­cluded a large trans­mit­ting build­ing, mar­ried and sin­gle men’s quar­ters, and a 50,000-gal­lon wa­ter reser­voir.

‘‘Where sheep had grazed six months ago, thirty work­men were busy dig­ging the foun­da­tion of the power-house for the new and more pow­er­ful 2YA broad­cast­ing sta­tion,’’ the Post re­ported.

‘‘ At the present time Mount Cooper looks down on the work­men dig­ging in their pits ... but in un­der a year the trans­mit­ting mast of the sta­tion will look down upon the mount from its su­pe­rior height of seven hun­dred feet.’’

The Ti­tahi Bay sta­tion of­fi­cially be­gan trans­mis­sion on Jan­uary 25, 1937, with the na­tional an­them and an orches­tral med­ley. Sav­age was on hand to give a speech, and ‘‘Maori maids and war­riors in Na­tive dress’’ gave a haka, the Post said.

‘‘The cough, scrape, and fid­get com­mon to any au­di­ence hushed sud­denly; eyes strayed to a large no­tice: ‘Per­fect si­lence, please’, and a red light glowed. The new na­tional broad­cast­ing strength through the medium of the 60-kilo­watt trans­mit­ter at Ti­tahi Bay was on the air.’’

In 1949 a smaller, 122-me­tre mast was erected on the hill, to be re­placed by a 137-me­tre mast in 2005. Its salt-cor­roded big brother was it­self re­placed in 1979.

A fire in 1977 de­stroyed the ex­panded trans­mit­ting build­ings be­low, and now only traces can be seen of its con­crete re­place­ment.

To­day the masts trans­mit the Ra­dio New Zealand AM and par­lia­men­tary ser­vices, Newstalk ZB, Ac­cess Ra­dio and Te Upoko O Te Ika.

Photo: PATAKA MU­SEUM COL­LEC­TION

Ti­tahi Bay’s 213-me­tre ra­dio mast tow­ers over its trans­mit­ting sta­tion, and the sub­urb, in the late 1960s.

Prime Min­is­ter Michael Joseph Sav­age speaks at the launch of Ti­tahi Bay’s ra­dio trans­mit­ter in Jan­uary 1937.

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