Titahi Bay mast transformed radio
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.
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.