Until the first Government radio station was established at Wellington in 1911, wireless was the preserve of amateur enthusiasts (later known as “Radio Hams”) operating under P&T permits.
In 1909 Burall Henry Courtis (later radio amateur ZL3AH) was attending Timaru Technical School. Friends taught him morse, two being Post Office telegraphists. Together they experimented with wireless telegraphy and built a low-power spark transmitter using a 4-volt battery and a motor vehicle ignition coil.
On 23 November 1909, HMS Pioneer was berthed in Timaru and was attempting to communicate with HMS Challenger berthed in Wellington. However, as the senior naval officer on Pioneer later reported to the Postmaster-General:
2 December, 1909
Sir, — I have the honour to submit that on 23rd November, 1909, when in Timaru Harbour and signalling to Wellington, we were constantly receiving signals, other than service ones, and as they were impeding us, I requested them to cease.
The Superintendent of Lines wrote a warning letter to Mr Courtis and his colleagues, however leniency was extended to them and no prosecution ensued.