Old Problems in a New Country 

19 December 2022 tbs.pm/76427

New Zealand’s Broadcasting Progress

 

 

World-Radio cover

From World-Radio magazine for 17 January 1936

NEW ZEALANDERS are innovators, and it is therefore of special interest to examine how this enterprising community dealt with the new opportunity afforded by broadcasting. Legislative experiments were so numerous a generation ago that it used to be alleged that the average New Zealander, when he read of a new law somewhere, at once said: “Let’s enact it!” But broadcasting has not been handled in this easy-going way; on the contrary, the Dominion’s policy has been cautious, very closely following that of Britain. First, there was an initial era of private enterprise, the Government regarding the new phenomenon as highly uncertain and speculative, though in giving private capitalists an opportunity to exploit the field, it was careful to impose terms enabling the State to resume the service in its own time. That time arrived in January, 1932. Up till then the New Zealand Broadcasting Company had been operating a station in each of the four centres — Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. They are mentioned in geographical order, North to South, and Auckland is distant from Dunedin about 800 miles [1290km]. These stations operated at 500 watts, Wellington’s power eventually being increased to 5 kW. The service was limited. All stations had a “silent day” every week, and the hours of transmission were about 10,600 annually from each station. To-day, the Board’s four national stations are in operation for 25,700 hours per annum.

Advertising Barred by Statute

How has New Zealand dealt with the major problems involved in broadcasting? One may regard advertising as an outstanding point, and after three years’ experience of control by a State-appointed Board, the Dominion decided without qualification against the continuance of advertising. By Statute this phase has been placed outside the control of the Board by the following prohibition, briefly but clearly expressed in the Act: “No advertisement intended for the pecuniary benefit of any person shall be transmitted from any broadcasting station, whether operated by the Board or by any other person.”

A man sits in a chair, smoking a pipe, a newspaper on his knees, with a radiogram behind him

The Rt. Hon. Michael J. Savage, New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, listening in his home in Auckland [Auckland Star]

Advertising secured entry into New Zealand broadcasting during the period when the whole service was in the experimental stage, four national stations being operated by a company, and over twenty private stations providing local services. The latter secured revenue from listeners’ voluntary contributions and charges made for advertising announcements limited by Regulation to the name and address of business firms sponsoring programme items.

It was difficult to enforce this Regulation, and constant controversy arose over interpretation. Now the matter is happily settled beyond dispute, and could be reopened only by Parliamentary action. The B stations, however, still present a problem, for they have no independent source of revenue, and are being pressed by gramophone manufacturers and copyright-owners for payment on recorded items broadcast. The New Zealand Broadcasting Board subsidises eight B stations to improve the coverage of the national stations by rebroadcasting the latter’s principal programmes.

One of the most interesting examples of how radio has “found its feet” is provided by the programmes. New Zealand has gone through the stage of public outcry against failure fully to utilise local talent. This is welcomed, and anxiously looked for, if it is of real entertainment value; and the fairness of the Board’s staff in this assessment is demonstrated by contrasting these items with the recorded performances figuring so largely in the programmes. The necessity of maintaining a reasonable proportion of original studio items has been met in a more effective way, as the remarkable development of broadcasting in the Antipodes has made it financially practicable for artists of high standing to make the long journey from the Northern hemisphere under engagement to the broadcasting stations of Australia and New Zealand. They are usually able to make contracts covering about three months in Australia and six to eight weeks in New Zealand. Muriel Brunskill (contralto) and Percy Grainger (pianist-composer) are well-known artists who were touring the Board’s stations when this article was in preparation. Recorded features from the BBC programmes have provided outstandingly successful entertainment, the public appreciation of which can be gauged by the many requests for repetition of the items. The Empire short-wave service is frequently used for rebroadcasts of national events in Britain. With radio stations spreading over nearly ten degrees of latitude it can be imagined that reception of the short waves may vary considerably in different parts of the Dominion. Each national station, therefore, secures its own independent reception, but they all keep in touch, and if, for instance, reception is poor in Auckland, but good in the South, the better signal is at once introduced into the broadcasting channel. Wireless dealers for a year past have been enjoying excellent business, for there has been almost a boom in the sale of all-wave sets.

 

A man sits in the middle of a spacious, empty studio at an announcer's desk

The Auckland announcers’ room; each of the windows looks into a studio [Auckland Star]

 

A Progressive Policy

Broadcasting on the national scale became a State-owned service, operated by a nominated Board of three members, in January, 1932, and listeners have been so well satisfied with the substantial improvements under this system, based substantially on BBC methods, that early in 1935 the sole control of broadcasting — except the issue of new broadcasting licences, selection of wavelength, and hours of transmission — was transferred to an enlarged and reconstituted Board of seven members, who may also exercise control over the nature of the B station programmes.

 

The New Zealand Broadcasting Board

 

The Board’s record in three years has been one of steady progress in technical excellence, variety and quality of programmes, and hours of service. It has the financial responsibility, not only of paying off the cost of the assets acquired for £59,839 [assuming £ sterling, this is about £4.5m today, allowing for inflation – Ed] from the former Company, but improving equipment out of revenue. It has already installed new 10-kW transmission plants at Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin in substitution for installations of 500 watts, while the main national station, 2YA Wellington, operating on 5 kW, is shortly to be stepped up to 60 kW with the object of covering the whole Dominion during daylight if, in any emergency, all other means of communication is cut off. This is probably prompted by the severe earthquake disaster in Hawkes Bay in 1931, but the history of earthquakes throughout the world demonstrates that the area of severe damage is not likely to be nation-wide.

E C Hands

MR E. C. HANDS, General Manager for the Broadcasting Board, who is visiting Christchurch for the opening of the 3YA transmitting station this evening.
STAR (CHRISTCHURCH), VOLUME LXIV, ISSUE 944, 14 DECEMBER 1933, PAGE 5 – Star Media Company Ltd/National Library of New Zealand–Te Puna Mātauranga o AotearoaCC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Board’s Auckland studio is the only one specially designed and built for broadcasting. New studios are planned for the other three centres, and the Board’s staff has so outgrow’n its head office that the new Wellington building will have to be imposing in size. 1YA, Auckland, utilises one 500-ft. mast carrying a BBC-type umbrella aerial, and the latest new transmitting station at 4YA, Dunedin, on a coastal site giving a good sea track to populous areas North and South, also has this type of aerial. Christchurch (3YA) works with two 300-ft. masts and the T-type aerial, and it is intended to provide the new 60-kW transmitter of 2YA (Wellington) with the umbrella type, carried on a 700-ft. mast. Auxiliary broadcasting plant is available at the four national stations, to provide alternative programmes and to meet emergencies caused by power failure, as they can be operated from batteries.

The Board has, in a few years, under the direction of its General Manager, Mr. E. C. Hands, brought together a good staff of 130, which includes eight programme organisers, four permanent orchestras, and some of the best qualified musical people in the Dominion. The technical side has kept pace with developments in radio engineering, the quality of the transmissions being highly satisfactory. The most convincing proof of progress is to be found in the rapid increase in the number of listeners during the Board’s regime. There were 73,036 licences when the Board began to function in January, 1932, and the total to-day is over 176,000, which is equal to half the number of inhabited houses in the whole Dominion.

C.E.W.

 

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