1953: Opening of Himatangi Radio

Manawatu Herald, 6 Nov 1953

Official Opening of Himatangi Radio

The Postmaster General (Mr Broadfoot) extends a cordial invitation to the general public to take part in the opening ceremony of the new Himatangi Radio Station, to be held at 2pm on Monday, 9th November, 1953, and later to view the equipment and buildings.

The ceremony will be held at the main transmitter building at the end of the main driveway in the station grounds.

(The station is located on the main road approximately five miles north of Foxton.)

The first portion of the following newsreel from the New Zealand Film Unit features the opening of Himatangi Radio in 1953:

Unknown newspaper, 10 Nov 1953

Radio Himatangi Opened

Himatangi Radio building in 1953
The impressive building of modern design which houses the transmitting equipment, generating plant and administration block at the Himatangi Radio Station, opened by the Postmaster-General, Hon WJ Broadfoot, yesterday. The station is for the transmission of radio-telegraph and radio-telephone messages to the United Kingdom and many other countries throughout the world.

Important Contact Now Established:
Ceremony Held Yesterday at Station

With the official ceremony yesterday Radio Himatangi now provides a modern link for radio-telephone and radio-telegraph communications with overseas.

This marks an important step in the progress of New Zealand, for, on the transmission of messages quickly and efficiently, depends much of the economy of the country. Previously, all radio-telephone conversations with England and the USA were routed via Australia.

Situated 19 miles such [sic] of Palmerston North in a barren section of country near the coast, the £300,000 project occupies more than 800 acres of land covered for the most part with a sprawling system of aerials. There is also a huge transmitting and powerhouse and administration block, two rows of staff houses and a long singlemen’s quarters and recreation rooms.

The ceremony of declaring the station open was carried out by the Postmaster-General, Hon WJ Broadfoot, and a crowd in the vicinity of 1000 were present to witness the event. The attendance was beyond expectations and a great many had to stand among the transmitting equipment during the ceremony.

Memorable Occasion.

J Hogan at Himatangi Radio
The officer in charge of the station, Mr J Hogan, consults some of the complicated plans and specifications used to build the transmitting equipment.
All speakers paid tribute to the staff of the Post and Telegraph Department who had worked on the project. The Director-General, Mr PN Cryer, presided and remarked at the outset that it was a memorable occasion in the history of the New Zealand Post Office. He remarked that he hoped the little group of workers located on the site would make some contribution to the community of the surrounding district.

“Today brings to fruition what has been a dream for many years. That it is so today is due to the work of a great many people – and among them we must not forget the pioneers in the field of radio. I would like to take the opportunity – and it is one which does not occur very often – of paying a tribute to those men behind the scenes in our communications system, the P and T radio staff,” added Mr Cryer.

“It is remarkable to think that in my short lifetime I have seen the birth of radio as a communications art. Now after developing throu radio broadcasting, up to radar, we are faced with a project as complex as this. Yet, for all the advances, this is a field still its infancy so far as radio communications within New Zealand and radio telegraph beyond the country is concerned.”

Intriguing Thought

“I am intrigued that when one speaks to the United Kingdom via radio-telephone it is possible for one side of the conversation to travel over the Arctic, the over over the Antarctic.

“During the war we were dependent on a tenuous, slender cable link with the outside world which could have been cut easily by the enemy. We did not have much to fall back on in those days. With the transmission of 1,000,000 messages a year, many of a secret nature, many vital to New Zealand’s overseas trading, we now have this important link.”

Sir Matthew Oram, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and MP for Manawatu electorate, remarked that the project was just one more achievement by the P and T along the road of giving service to the public.

“These days, with the radio and newspapers, we come in contact with what has been achieved by inventive genius, but it is not until we come face to face with this magnificent building and what it contains that we realise this ceremony is indeed an event of worldwide importance. To think that people in New Zealand can converse with others in the United Kingdom without a visible link. It is a remarkable occasion which is only drive home at a time such as this.”

Tracing the history of communications with New Zealand, Sir Matthew said that a great advance had been made since Cook Strait has been crossed by cable in 1866 and the link with Australia completed in 1876.

Australian Representative.

Representing the Australian Overseas Telecommunications Commission, Mr J Malone brought a message of greeting to New Zealand. He said his country was very interested in national events in New Zealand and in particular the radio link with the outside world. Australia was engaged in a similar project to Himatangi where existing equipment would be modernised. Himatangi showed evidence of wise planning and sound methods of scientific engineering, design and construction. “The overseas Imperial Commonwealth radio link is a well-knit body,” he commented. “Any improvements made in this country are reflected in benefits to other countries. We in Australia know you are able to take advantage of any technical advances and make good use of them. There are still many difficult problems to be overcome.”

It was a graceful thought and gesture on the part of the Minister of the Department to invite a representative of the press of the country to speak at the ceremony, said the chairman of the New Zealand Press Association, Mr PHN Freeth. Any improvements in the speed and efficiency of the service the press gave to the public was to be welcomed. The P and T as the carrier and the newspapers as diseminators [sic] of news were almost a working partnership, he added.

The Minister opened his remarks by thanking the Australian telegraph services, through Mr Malone, for the service New Zealand had received for many years. He paid tribute to those whose work had made the station possible and then referred to his recent radio-telephone conversation with the United Kingdom Postmaster General, the Rt Hon Earl de la Warr. A recording of this conversation was replayed to those present and it was an impressive moment when the two voices could be clearly heard, that from the United Kingdom having passed 12,000 miles across the world. The clarity of the conversation was a revelation of the power of the station.

After making his official declaration, the Minister remarked that he looked forward to the time when it would be commonplace to receive a call to the telephone and hear “London calling.”

The Radio Station

Where two years ago there was nothing but a wide expanse of open land, today Radio Himatangi is almost a self-contained community – almost because being some distance from Palmerston North and Foxton, it is rather difficult to arrange supplies at the moment. However, the 20 odd men on the station will not lack interest. Most have hobbies of one sort or another and there is a billiard room and other facilities.

It is a full 24-hour day job guarding the flow of signals across the world. With a link established to Australia, America, the United Kingdom, Colombo and Barbados, three eight-hour shifts must be worked. Previously New Zealand has had to rely on a relay system with Australia for radio-telephone links with the rest of the world.

In order to cope with the weather conditions, there are 30 systems of aerials with 90 masts over 70 feet high and 750 feeder poles. Some of the bigger masts weigh over four tons – necessarily so because they carry a good percentage of the 40 miles of wire strung above and below the ground. Installation of this feature cost is in the vicinity of £22,000.

Inside the huge transmitting hall, list by floor to ceiling windows and fluorescent lamps, there is more than £163,000 worth of the best English equipment with the most modern features available. To the lay mind the mass of technical data involved simply passes one by, but even the lay mind can appreciate beauty of design and finish.

Twelve Transmitters

Twelve transmitters will eventually occupy this hall from five kilowatt for short “hauls,” to the 50kW high-speed automatic telegraph transmitter and the 40kW equipment for the radio-telephone links with the the rest of the world. This will provide two voice channel links (on the 40kW single sideband transmitter) to the United Kingdom, which means two telephone conversations can be carried on at the same time; direct radio-telephone links (the 50kW frequency shift transmitter) to the United Kingdom and as well as the transmission of radio pictures and radio teletype – in the event of a break in the cable system -; and several radio-telegraph and telephones with other countries.

Over one of these transmitters the Queen’s Christmas message will be sent out from New Zealand. Broadcast from Auckland, it will be relayed by land-line to Himatangi and Waiouru Naval Radio Station. The reason for the duplication is that it is necessary to ensure weather conditions do not interrupt the speech. There is just a chance that at that particular time Himatangi will be blocked by ionespheric [sic] conditions and Waiouru will not.

For some time the station operated on its band of four efficient diesel engines driving generators, but now the main power feed has been cut in and the diesels will be standing by for emergencies.

Will household radios pick up the signals? This is quite possible, but only if the radio is not in proper working order. However, there is no possibility of being able to make sense of any conversations because the equipment uses special converters for sorting out the speech when it arrives.