A centenary of New Zealand radio

Radio has played an important role in New Zealand life, bringing us news and entertainment at home, in the car, at work, and at backyard barbecues. This November marks 100 years of radio in Aotearoa. It’s soundtracked our lives for so long and here we take a quick look at some of that history.

Why should the people of New Zealand not be allowed to hear the best things going? – Professor Robert Jack (1921)

The first crackles of voices through the air in New Zealand were heard on 17 November 1921 when Otago University’s Professor Jack made the first radio broadcast, including the popular song “Hello My Dearie”. Jack and his pioneering colleagues recognised the immediacy and intimacy of radio and their audiences responded – picking up listeners from around the country.

You can hear Professor Jack’s voice here, in a 50th anniversary tribute broadcast in 1971.

Explore RNZ's 'Aotearoa on the Air'
Explore RNZ’s ‘Aotearoa on the Air’

As a source of both news and entertainment, radio quickly gained a stronghold in the living rooms of the nation. Broadcasts began in Wellington in 1922 and were followed by dozens of stations in towns big and small.

Prime Minister Savage announcing New Zealand’s entry to World War II

Basil Clarke on listening watch at 2YA during World War II, recording an in-coming broadcast. (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection)
Basil Clarke on listening watch at 2YA during World War II, recording an incoming broadcast, (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection.

Though recordings of waiata by Ōtaki Māori College aired on Wellington stations in 1927, it wasn’t until the 1940s that regular te reo Māori broadcasts began. Later hosts like Ted Nepia and Selwyn Muru were prominent in the revitalisation of the language. Through Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori, Iwi Radio Network, there are now more than 20 iwi stations across Aotearoa.

Ted Nepia presenting Te Reo o te Maori

Many radio broadcasters became household names. ‘Aunt Daisy’ was on air for three decades, released cookbooks and travelled the world. Selwyn Toogood was a much-loved host of It’s in the Bag and other programmes. RNZ newsreader Catriona Macleod remains a popular voice on the station. Most New Zealanders could name a radio icon they enjoy listening to.

Aunt Daisy (Maud Ruby Basham), Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Documentation Collection.

State control of the wireless was broken in 1966 by Radio Hauraki and their pirate station – broadcasting from offshore Auckland. This connected audiences with popular and alternative music, and led to an increase in options on the airwaves.

Radio Hauraki’s first breakfast radio broadcast

The diversity of voices being transmitted has only increased and includes the Community Access network, ethnic and student stations, pop, classical and talkback. Our ability to tune in has also increased through internet streaming.

Whatever you listen to, it’s a happy 100 years to radio in New Zealand!

Explore our radio and sound collection


Listen to Voices in the Air, a presentation by sound researcher Sarah Johnston.

Sources for this item include Voices in the Air by Peter Downes and Peter Harcourt.

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