Historic site: Radio New Zealand Transmission Station

"History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try and hold fast is to be swept aside."

- John F. Kennedy.

 
Image of Radio Transmission Station and aerials, 2007.
Radio New Zealand Transmission Station workshop and aerial, 2007.
Photo by Russell Murray.
 

Broadcasting in New Zealand

 
Image of Transmitting information at the Radio New Zealand Transmission Station, c1945.
Transmitting information at the Radio New Zealand Transmission Station, c1945.
Possibly T.P. Senior at console.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref P.1.97.
 

The first radio broadcast in New Zealand was made by Professor Jack at the University of Otago on 17 November 1921. This new medium quickly took off and by 1922 there were 572 listening licences issued increasing to 71,000 by 1931. In 1925 the Christchurch-based Radio Broadcasting Company (RBC) was formed. Although a private company, it was contracted by the government to extend radio service and provide the government with a measure of control over content.

By 1932 there were 39 stations throughout the country, and the government’s decided to establish the New Zealand Broadcasting Board which came into effect on 1 January 1932. As a result radio broadcasting became a state enterprise. In 1936 parliamentary broadcasts were introduced, the National Commercial Broadcasting Service was established and the first commercial station, 1ZB, started operating in Auckland.

Broadcasting from Titahi Bay

 
Image of Radio New Zealand Transmission Station, c1945.
Radio New Zealand Transmission Station, c1945.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref F.1d.19.
 

In July 1932 the Broadcasting Board Coverage Commission recommended that station 2YA which operated from Mount Victoria in Wellington should be overhauled and that increased power and an emergency plant be provided. The Board selected the site at Titahi Bay to provide this new improved 2YA transmitter service as well as becoming the sole New Zealand radio station for national emergencies. It was built to be the largest medium frequency station in the southern hemisphere and would house the new 2YA 60 kW water cooled transmitter feeding an umbrella aerial suspended from a single insulated mast 700 feet tall.

Transmission Station Buildings and Structures

 
Image of Radio New Zealand Transmission Station under construction, c1935.
Radio New Zealand Transmission Station under construction, c1935.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref F.1d.16.
 

The Station buildings were designed by Crichton, McKay and Haughton in 1935

The Titahi Bay Transmitting Station Buildings were designed by prominent Wellington architects Crichton, McKay and Haughton in 1935 and included the main transmitting building, married and single men’s residences, a garage, a 50,000 gallon water reservoir, a water reticulation system and the main electrical wiring system. The roofing trusses were designed with a sliding joint at one end to permit movement in the expected 100 miles per hour winds, and a special metal insulating material was required for the walls of the emergency studio. The Dominion newspaper of Saturday 23 January 1937 lists all the contractors involved with the project including: the Carrara ceiling Company, W.H. Firth, painting contractors, Winstone Ltd, roof and flooring, John Chambers and Son Emergency Stand-By Generating Set etc.

Supplies and systems were sourced locally and internationally

Sand and gravel were taken from the Hutt River, while the coloured cement, corrugated iron roof and a Gardner diesel generator were imported from England. The water reticulation system comprised a 50,000 gallon reservoir which was used to pump water to two tanks on the roof of the garage then gravity fed the transmitting building and staff houses. The transmitting equipment was designed and built by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia and shipped to New Zealand and over 10 miles of wire was used to earth the system for the mast alone and six miles for the installation of equipment. The 700ft mast was also designed and built in Australia and then shipped over in sections.

The new station could transmit over greater distances more easily

 
Image of Radio New Zealand Transmission Station's 230m mast.
Radio New Zealand Transmission Station's 230m mast.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref F.1d.21.
 

The 700ft (230m) mast was also designed and built in Australia and then shipped over in sections. The aerial was designed to give the greatest radiation in the horizontal direction and least into the sky in an effort to reduce fading to a minimum. The shift of the 2YA frequency from Mt Victoria to Titahi Bay, increased power along with a high mast and the lower loss propagation over sea paths greatly improved the medium-frequency radio coverage nationwide.

Prime Minister Savage opened the station 25 January 1937

 

Image of Transmission building, c1937. Image of workmen at the station.
Transmission building, c1937 (left); workmen at the station (right)
Photos from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref (left) F.1d.15 (right) P.2.156.
 

The new station was officially opened on 25 January 1937 by the Prime Minister the Rt. Honourable Michael Joseph Savage. In his opening speech Savage said "Radio broadcasting was one of the most revolutionary agencies of modern times. It would soon be as necessary to the mind of the ordinary citizen as water to his body, and would be laid on to every home in a similar way". Mr Savage’s speech was followed by the 2YA orchestra and other guests including the Wanganui Maori Party.

Difficulties and upgrades to the station

The water cooling system was fraught with difficulties from the beginning and was eventually replaced in 1960. In 1979 a new mast was built to replace the original 700ft mast which was corroding from the salt laden winds. The new mast was prefabricated in sections and lifted into place alongside the old mast which was used as a support structure. Once the new mast was completed the old mast was dismantled. It is not known when the second mast was built.

 
Image of Radio transmission building c1950.
Radio transmission building c1950.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref F.1d.16.
 

As the broadcasting service developed a number of changes were made to the transmitting service including the provision of a shortwave service to Antarctica, and during the 1950 Commonwealth Games in Auckland they were used to transmit images to Australian and English newspapers- each picture taking 15 minutes to transmit. In 1977 a fire destroyed a wooden building housing the 2YA and 2YC aerial coupling units and was replaced with a concrete building. Over the years additional housing was added to accommodate increasing staff numbers with up to 40 people living on site during WWII. These have all now been removed although traces of them can still be seen.

Additional detail on the post-war years of the Transmission Station has been supplied by W.I. (Bill) McMillan, who worked at the Station for several years.  This is available at Porirua Library’s Local History Resource Centre. Ask at the library’s Help Desk.

The station today

Today the site transmits the Radio New Zealand National's AM service, Radio NZ's Parliamentary "AM Network", Newstalk ZB, Access Radio and Te Upoko O Te Ika.

Continue to Austrian State Houses or return to Titahi Bay.