1934: Extension at ZLW receiving station

From the Evening Post, 29 November 1934, p 10

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Increase in radio traffic during the past few months has made necessary an extension to one of the most important but least-known buildings in Wellington, the receiving station on the slopes of Mount Etako, or Tinakori Hills, supplementary to station ZLW. There has been continual increase in traffic both between New Zealand and the Island Dependencies and between New Zealand and all Homeward-bound ships, which are worked on shortwave all the way to the English Channel.

A listener on Tinakori Hills is always on duty with his ears alert for SOS signals from any part of the ocean round New Zealand. That is a service maintained continuously every minute of the year in the interests of ships, sailors, and passengers, and the Government does the job without cost to the ships. Weather reports are exchanged very often, with mutual advantages to the Meteorological Office and the ships inquiring. Thousands of messages are sent — commercial items, news items, and general intelligence — between ships in all part of the world, and Apia, Karotonga, Niue, and Papeete.


One-half of the world does not know how the other half lives or fares. There are buildings on Mount Ekato, and all of them are modest and insignificant so that the character of the work done in them commonly is adjudged to be trifling. Tho extension in course of execution amounts, in building terms, merely to the addition of four wooden rooms to the small concrete receiving hut. But it is evidence of the progress in radio communication. An outline alone can explain the latest development.

There are three Government radio stations in New Zealand, Wellington being the main station. Awanui (Auckland) works ships in tho vicinity of Auckland and Australia, and Awarua is equipped with shortwave service and works distant ships as Wellington does, but Awarua is more in the nature of an auxiliary station.

The main function of ZLW, Wellington (originally VLW) was to keep contact with shipping, working ships’ stations, and keeping watch for emergency. It was established in 1912 as a shore station. At that time contact with tho outside world by radio was mainly carried out by Awanui and Awarua, the latter being primarily an emergency station, but both of them were capable of working Australia and could have been used for that purpose had submarine cables been interrupted.


With the development of short-wave communication, it became possible for tho Post and Telegraph Department to effect considerable economies in power, and arrangements were made for the Wellington station to take over the working of the various Island services, thus avoiding the need for a comparatively expensive establishment at Awanui, which is remote from any centre of population. Consequently Awanui was closed and Wellington took over the work. That necessitated several changes in transmitting arrangements at ZLW and the development of various radio services during the last six years has resulted in a gradual extension of ZLW’s equipment. In the first place, the staff used to be accommodated in the main building on the top of the hill, with sleeping quarters there. The staff later was asked to vacate the building used for sleeping quarters in order to make provision for short-wave equipment.

The main addition to the plant for short-wave working was the installation in 1928 of a 5-kilowatt short-wave transmitter, capable of providing a high-speed radio channel between the Dominion and other radio centres of the Empire. That necessitated the erection of an additional building at Mount Etako to house the receiving apparatus and make provision for the better handling of ordinary radio telegraphic traffic. The operators were accommodated in the new building and the main building was reserved mainly for the power plant and the transmitting equipment. That gave better facilities, in that the operators were not hampered by the noises of the dynamos and the buzzing of the power, which are disturbing. The operators are now quiet.


The overseas radio service was opened on November 20, 1930, and has by now become an established outlet to the toll system of the Dominion, connecting it with both the Commonwealth and Great Britain. This also necessitated additional equipment being installed at ZLW as well as the establishing of a receiving station at Mount Crawford. The telephone traffic is increasing and extends to the British Isles and certain European countries. America is not linked up yet.

With the improvement of the economic situation, the Department deemed it advisable to extend the telegraphic facilities of ZLW so as to provide more adequately for the various radio telegraphic services.

This has necessitated some alterations in the transmitting building at tho top of Mount Etako, as well as an extension of the receiving establishment on the lower site. In the main building, certain partitions are being removed to provide a transmitting hall in which the transmitting equipment will be installed in such a way as to minimise the supervision required.

At the receiving establishment on the lower site, where additional equipment is being installed, the existing building is being extended by providing three additional rooms. The extension to this building is almost complete; and when the plant is rearranged, the facilities for handling radio traffic with the Island Dependencies, Papeete, and Homeward-bound ships, as well as with local and intercolonial ships, will be considerably improved.


Wellington works Chatham Islands, Stephen’s Island, Portland Island, and ships’ stations on medium waves and on short-wave works Apia, Rarotonga, Niue and Papeete, and ships Homeward bound. Even though ships do not maintain a continuous listening service, tho matter of calling them is simple. According to their latitude ships are required to listen on 600 metres for certain periods of the day, the length of time varying with the number of operators aboard.

The general navigation warnings from the Marine Department are put on the air when it is known that most ships will be listening in on 600 metres wave-length. Radio time signals from tho Dominion Observatory also are sent through ZLW, and from those signals ships can reliably correct their chronometers.

But for the advent of wireless, it is practically certain that most of the Island Dependencies would be isolated except for the occasional visit of a steamer with mails. Today they communicate and receive messages at definite intervals on schedules, and there is always someone to receive at the appointed time. Each night at 10.30, ZLW sends out simultaneously a summary of the news, which is picked up by Apia, Rarotonga, and other island stations on 50 metres, and in the case of the Chatham Islands 800 metres. Those reports are usually posted up in the Post Offices and subject to keen scrutiny.

Radio telephone conversations are becoming more frequent between New Zealand and Australia and the Old World, and it is anticipated that with the improvement of economic conditions their use for more every-day affairs will be common.

Directional radio signalling equipment is being installed in different parts of tho world to guide vessels during foggy weather, and the time is probably not far distant when something similar will have to be done in respect of air flights, and the services extended to New Zealand.

Extension of receiving station at Wellington Radio ZLW
Evening Post, 29 November 1934, p 10

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