Wellington Radio 1911-19


On 26 July, wireless station NZW opened at the Chief Post Office in Wellington. It was New Zealand’s first official wireless station (amateur radio operators were already on the air).

Chief Post Office in Wellington, 13 Dec 1907
Wireless station NZW was initially located in the tower of the Chief Post Office in Wellington . Photo: 1907 National Library of NZ
1911: The 0perating position at Wellington wireless station NZW, located in the General Post Office.
1911: The operating position at wireless station NZW in the Chief Post Office, Wellington.

The original location was not intended to be permanent. Three months before NZW went on the air, the Government announced it would acquire land in a much better location on the Tinakori Hills. Construction of the new station was underway by the end of the year.


On 6 July, NZW changed to VLW under a new international agreement on callsign allocation.

On 14 October, an official opening ceremony was held at the Mt Etako (Tinakori Hills) site, 985 ft above sea level, and the station went into continuous operation from that day. Power was supplied from an extension to the city’s electricity grid.

The temporary 1.5kW station at the Wellington Post Office was dismantled and sent to the Chatham Islands.

Early radio DXers Guy Tinney and Arthur McClay helped save a ship in distress:

Arthur McClay recalls how he was awoken from his sleep at midnight when Guy Tinney called distressed as he had heard a ships SOS and it was drifting towards a reef in Wellington Harbour. A quick decision had to be made and they contacted the Chief Post Office in Wellington and the vessel was brought in through the storm safely. The cause of the storm also put out the Wellington Post Office wireless station.1

Clive Drummond – later to achieve fame as one of New Zealand’s radio broadcasting pioneers – joined Wellington Radio as a radio operator.

Wellington Radio transmitter building, c1912
Transmitter building on Tinakori Hills, c1912. Photo courtesy Chris Underwood
station on Tinakori Hill in 1912.
Radiotelegraph station on Tinakori Hill showing one of the two oregon pine masts in 1912. Photographer Unknown
Inside the radiotelegraph station on Mt Etako (Tinakori Hill), Wellington, c1912
Inside the radiotelegraph station on Mt Etako (Tinakori Hill), Wellington, c1912. Photo: Sydney Charles Smith
Wireless operator at work, Tinakori Hill, 1912
Wireless operator at work, Tinakori Hill, 1912. Courtesy David Smith

At night signals are exchanged with vessels within a radius of 600 to 1000 miles, according to the varying atmospheric conditions, and almost nightly with some of the Australian stations.
Telephone and telegraph wires between the station and the city facilitate the prompt handling of messages.
The aerial, which is supported by two masts of Oregon pine, 150 feet high and about 300 feet apart, is of the flat-top type, and is composed of four phosphor-bronze wires four feet apart. From the middle of the aerial four wires extend downward to the building. The earth connection consists of 300 copper wires, radiating about 300 feet from the station, situated midway between the masts. The ground is of rocky formation, with irregular surface. The results obtained from the working of the station have exceeded expectations.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1913

Early in the First World War [Wellington Radio operator Clive Drummond] intercepted a message between two German naval ships in the Pacific which, when decoded in Melbourne, led the authorities to delay the sailing of the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
– (See Clive Drummond biography)


Wireless weather forecasts which were discontinued at the commencement of the war have been resumed during the year, and are sent out through the radio stations at Awanui, Wellington, and Awarua on the usual reporting nights, and at other times when deemed necessary.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Marine Department, 1916

The native trees that have been planted on the 30-acre site of the Wellington radio-station on Mount Wakefield are doing well, and giving promise that in a few years they will relieve the denuded aspect that prevails at present.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1916


Improved methods of detecting signals by means of the ultraudion were introduced at Awarua, Wellington, and Auckland a few months ago, and apparatus for the other stations has been procured and will shortly be brought into use. The results obtained at Awarua, where the apparatus has been extensively experimented with, have been particularly gratifying. The signals of stations using damped and undamped waves invariably come in of readable strength from American, Asiatic and European stations. The use of this detecting-apparatus with a particular combination of the receiving-circuits has demonstrated that daylight signals from stations using the ordinary wave-lengths can be rendered plainly audible, which by the ordinary methods and the use of the crystal detector could not be heard.
– Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives: Post & Telegraph Department, 1917

» 1920-1929


1. Cushen, A., 1996. Arthur McClay – NZs First DXer?, DX Times, republished by NZ Radio DX League