Wellington Radio 1930-39

1930: The steel lattice tower on Tinakori Hill, which blew down in 1926, is replaced four years later by a similar tower. A new receiving site is opened at Mt Crawford.1

New steel mast under erection at the Government wireless station on Tinakori Hill. A somewhat similar mast, erected after the removal of two large wooden masts, was blown, down a few years ago.

“REPLACING A LANDMARK — New steel mast under erection at the Government wireless station on Tinakori Hill. A somewhat similar mast, erected after the removal of two large wooden masts, was blown, down a few years ago.” (Evening Post, 08 April 1930)

In the same year wireless technology allowed regular telephone service between Wellington and Australia to begin. Short-wave radio had already (1926) been used to provide the first telephone link between Britain and Canada. On 30 April 1930 a UK-Australia radio-telephone link was established. By 26 August the new 3 kW short-wave transmitter at Wellington provided a telephone link to Sydney, extending to Melbourne by landlines on 22 September and to London on 3 October. The Australia-New Zealand link was formally inaugurated on 25 November 1930 by a conversation between Sir Apirana Ngata, Minister of Native Affairs, and JE Fenton, Acting Prime Minister of Australia.2

1934:

Operators at Wellington Radio ZLW in 1934

Operators at Wellington Radio ZLW in 1934

1935: Along with improvements in the building accommodation at Wellington Radio, arrangements are made to modernise all the transmitting facilities. Improved stability provided for the trans-Tasman radio-telephone transmitter, and arrangements in train to facilitate a quick change of wave-length which will be necessary to enable a 24-hour service to be provided. [Evening Post, 4 Oct 1935]

1939: Six steel lattice towers are erected.

The first of six new steel tower-type masts which are being constructed at the Government wireless station on the top of Tinakori Hill was raised this morning by means of an electric winch, after waiting for some time for a windless day. It is 155ft high and weighs 9 1/2 tons. Inset, workmen scaling the mast to release the steel ropes used in pulling it into position.

“The first of six new steel tower-type masts which are being constructed at the Government wireless station on the top of Tinakori Hill was raised this morning by means of an electric winch, after waiting for some time for a windless day. It is 155ft high and weighs 9 1/2 tons. Inset, workmen scaling the mast to release the steel ropes used in pulling it into position.” (Evening Post, 29 June 1939).

The second of six masts being installed at the wireless station on Tinakori Hill was hoisted into position yesterday afternoon. The first mast erected can be seen in the middle distance. The mast erected yesterday is in the immediate foreground. Others are almost ready for raising.

“The second of six masts being installed at the wireless station on Tinakori Hill was hoisted into position yesterday afternoon. The first mast erected can be seen in the middle distance. The mast erected yesterday is in the immediate foreground. Others are almost ready for raising.” (Evening Post, 05 August 1939)

In September 1939, the P&T Department set aside four ZLW transmitters for Navy use, for an annual payment of £2500. The Mt Crawford receiving station was reopened.3

Undated photo showing aerial feeder gantry at ZLW.

Undated photo showing aerial feeder gantry at ZLW. The tower appears to be one of the six steel lattice towers erected in 1939. Photo courtesy Chris Underwood

Telegraphists Jack Bonisch, Ken Tweeddale and Henry Louis Seebeck. Probably photographed at Wellington c1939

Telegraphists Jack Bonisch, Ken Tweeddale and Henry Louis Seebeck. Probably photographed at Wellington c1939 as all three men were there at the time. Courtesy Alex Glennie

Wellington Radio ZLW was featured in this 1939 promotional film for the New Zealand Post & Telegraph Department:

The shortwave operator sending the message at 7.03 in the video above is John Burt, my father.
He started work as a message boy in Westport in 1925, and at some stage became a telegraphist, in which capacity he served at Awarua Radio and Wellington Radio. In 1942/3 he was posted to Fiji, and returned in 1944 to Napier. I was born there in 1946 and we moved in that year to live on Harewood Airport. My father completed the first course in communications (this must have been with the Dept of Civil Aviation) and then became Communications Instructor at No. 2 Technical Training School (2TTS) at Wigram. He remained in that post for the rest of his working life, retiring in 1965.
He was one of two brothers, the other being WB (Bill) Burt, who were telegraphists, and they served together at Awarua and Wellington.
– Neil Burt (Oct 2018)

John Burt at Wellington Radio in 1939

John Burt at Wellington Radio in 1939, from the NZ Post & Telegraph Department’s promotional film From Back-Blocks to High Seas.

Transmitters at Wellington Radio ZLW in 1939, from the NZ Post & Telegraph Department’s promotional film From Back-Blocks to High Seas.

Transmitters at Wellington Radio ZLW in 1939, from the NZ Post & Telegraph Department’s promotional film From Back-Blocks to High Seas.

Transmitters at Wellington Radio ZLW in 1939, from the NZ Post & Telegraph Department’s promotional film From Back-Blocks to High Seas.

Transmitters at Wellington Radio ZLW in 1939, from the NZ Post & Telegraph Department’s promotional film From Back-Blocks to High Seas.

The transmitter in the centre of the trio above was Serial 14 which, in my day (1950s) didn’t see much use. When on the ‘doggo’ midnight to 8.00am shift I used to take one of the wire mesh sides off the transmitter and balance the iron frame between four chairs, one at each corner. I then tossed the sleeping bag I kept in my locker on top of the frame and caught up with a bit of sleep. A bit uncomfortable but better than on the table or floor. I had to make sure that I was up well before the “boss” arrived at around “eight” in the morning. Nearly got caught a couple of times though!
– Brian Gallagher


Notes

1,2 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 116), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.

3 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 138), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.

» 1940-1949