Radio Section, part 11: 1965-1987

By Chris Underwood

Satellite Earth Stations

Warkworth satellite earth station under constructionGreater connectivity with the rest of the world became a priority with greater bandwidth required to meet the growing demand for both new and existing services.

In the 1970s the best way to achieve this was by the use of satellites and New Zealand needed a Satellite Earth Station (SES).

A natural bowl near Warkworth was chosen as the best site.

Site development for this station started in 1969 after months of planning.

The station was commissioned in 1971.

Warkworth satellite earth station in 1971 or 1972
Warkworth satellite earth station in 1971 or 1972

During the 1980s additional small Earth Stations were built near Wellington and Christchurch.

SES station being constructed in Wellington
SES station being constructed in Wellington near the old Fort Balance site, Mahanga Bay
Wellington satellite station construction
Wellington satellite station construction

Technicians working on the satellite earth stations received pre-installation training at Warkworth. Post-installation training by instructors from Mitsubishi and Varian was provided at Christchurch.

Kevin Heyward running tests at Rangiora SES
Kevin Heyward running tests at Rangiora SES. Photo courtesy K Heyward
Rod Macintosh working on HPA Rack Rangiora SES
Rod Macintosh working on HPA Rack Rangiora SES. Photo Courtesy K Heyward
Main dish at Rangiora SES
Main dish at Rangiora SES. Photo courtesy K Heyward
Inside the hub of the large dish at Rangiora SES, showing a low noise amp (one of two) and associated plumbing
Inside the hub of the large dish at Rangiora SES, showing a low noise amp (one of two) and associated plumbing. Photo courtesy K Heyward

Single-Line Rural Radiotelephones (Country Sets)

A growing demand existed to provide telephone service to customers in rural areas, small offshore Islands, ski fields, hill-country farms and other locations where conventional phones lines were uneconomical to install.

Country set antenna at the Hari Hari exchange
Country set antenna at the Hari Hari exchange in the South Island
This was met by the provision of single line radio telephones known as Country Sets. Initially, STC sets were used. but later the transistorised sets made by AWA NZ Ltd were most commonly used and proved very reliable.

Normally these installations comprised one end installed at a local telephone exchange and the other end in a farm or other building, depending on the customer. For reliability, the remote unit was usually powered by a battery charged by photovoltaic solar modules.

Unusual installations were at Lake Coleridge, where a special station holding (from memory) around 30 exchange end units supplied service to ski fields and high-country stations. This station was connected by cable to the nearest telephone exchange.

Another interesting installation was the provision of telephone service to the Wahine wreck recovery ship Holmpark, located near the entrance to Wellington Harbour.

Salvage ship Holmpark with Wahine wreck
Salvage ship Holmpark with Wahine wreck. Evening Post photo, Wellington Museums Trust Collection

A little story about this installation.

I was involved in microwave site testing at the time and in the days before cell phones, communications from the field back home to the family or the office meant finding a public phone box. These were rare, even in those days, especially on the sides of mountains in the typically remote locations where we worked. After much negotiation I managed to acquire a pair of AWA Country Sets for use while on site-testing missions. They had been damaged and written off. I had just finished restoring them to full working condition when the urgent need for a pair of country sets for the recovery of Wahine came up. AWA couldn’t provide any at short notice and considerable pressure was being put on the NZPO to provide service – there was even talk of running cable out to the ship. I was keeping “my” country sets very quiet but someone high up had seen me working on them and remembered. Guess what happened to them?

Multi-Access Radio Systems

With the growth of ski resort villages, such as Castle Hill in the South Island, and tourist and holiday homes in places like the Marlborough Sounds, something capable of providing more circuits in rural areas was required.

A new technology known as Multi-Access Radio met the requirement and was cost effective.

Setting up Multi-Access Radio in Christchurch
Setting up Multi-Access Radio in Christchurch

In the Christchurch region, where these photos were taken, various sized small Portacom type huts were used to house the radio equipment. To speed installation, as much prefabrication as possible was undertaken at the Christchurch Radio Depot.

Christchurch Multi-Access Radio installation

Christchurch Multi-Access Radio antennas

All photos courtesy Chris Underwood (except where noted).


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