2YA radio broadcast station on Mt Victoria

Heritage Panel Map Reference 06 – 2YA radio station

“A medieval castle overlooking the city”

As construction neared completion on the top of Mount Victoria in 1927, this is how the Evening Post newspaper described the new radio broadcasting station for 2YA.

2YA under construction 1927.  Alexander Turnbull Library EP-0997-1/2-G

2YA under construction 1927. Alexander Turnbull Library EP-0997-1/2-G

“The four concrete walls and the concrete roof, which is flat and surrounded by battlements and surmounted by a little tower, are now practically finished . . . There is nothing remarkable in the building itself except the large amount of window space; in fact the four walls may be said to be all pieces and windows.” It also reported that the men who had been working on the building “can now speak with authority on the subject of the velocity of Wellington’s winds, of how the rain is dashed against the hillside, and blown over their heads like sea-spray or fog.”

2YA, circa 1930.  Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-046043-G

2YA, circa 1930. Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-046043-G

The launch of the new radio station was awaited with excitement throughout the country. This was still the early days of radio – national broadcasting in New Zealand had only become a real possibility with the introduction of legislation and regulations in 1924 and 1925. This new station was the first intended to reach across the whole country, with its 5 kilowatt power and location on Mount Victoria. (It proved not to be the case, however, as the manufacturer’s promises did not take into account the geography of New Zealand which meant, at the time, that the West Coast was essentially part of Australia’s broadcasting audience rather than being able to receive anything from within New Zealand borders.)

This radio station, and 2YA, were established by the Radio Broadcasting Company Ltd. It was a private company, which had been established in 1925, but it was largely funded through radio dealers’ licences and licence fees, heavily regulated by government and had, of necessity, a close relationship to the State. It became the national broadcaster.

The Radio Broadcasting Company was established by Ambrose Reeves Harris and William Goodfellow. Harris had his own electrical engineering and importing company in Christchurch, A.R. Harris Ltd. Harris had worked with Thomas Edison in the US on various of the famous early experiments in the transmission of sound. When he returned to NZ, he represented Edison’s interests here. Almost as interesting as Harris’s own background is the fact that the person chosen by the company as clerk of works for the construction project in Wellington was Mrs R.M. Dixon, the accountant in his Christchurch firm. Mrs Dixon had gained her first experience as a clerk of works in construction of the Harris Building in Christchurch. “It was here that she gained the intimate knowledge of awards which stood her in such good stead for her work in Wellington. Not only did she source all the material for the station at Mount Victoria, attend to all accounts, and pay the men their wages, but it was she who first approached the City Council for the building permit, and obtained it in quick time. “Wellington is a very businesslike town”, Mrs. Dixon declared.

On opening night, July 16 1927, The Evening Post was at pains to point out that “in order to broadcast their talent on the ether it will be quite unnecessary for performers to ascend to the “castle” on Mount Victoria, as some people seem to think will be the case”. 2YA started with two hours programming from 8-10 pm. A very small number of staff had to do everything to run the station. Like all radio stations at this time, it depended largely on volunteers for programme content – locals who came in to sing, recite or play music. There was little understanding of programming, although a few people were employed as announcers. For a while, though, because of the novelty, the audience was satisfied just to hear broadcasts. Music became the mainstay but regulations permitted only a small amount of recorded music.

The first broadcast from 2YA had occurred before the official opening, however. It was a sports commentary on 9 July 1927 on a Ranfurly Shield match between Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa. Although it was only a test, because of the power of the new transmitter it was heard by many parts of the country and gave a great boost to the popularity of sports broadcasting.

By New Year’s Eve 1927, 2YA was broadcasting from 3.00 pm in the afternoon until close-down at ten minutes past midnight. The programme ranged through Children’s Hour with Aunt Gwen and pupils of Miss Gwen Shepherd (including the delightful sounding recitation, “The Soliloquy of a Chicken”), vocal selections rendered by members of the Wellington Renshaw Quartet, humorous recitations by Mr R. Walpole, steel guitar duets by Berthold and Bent, comedian Mr Doug Stark, Sherwood singing “Queen of My Heart”, weather and cricket results at 9.00 pm and, to round out the night, a relay of New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.