1965: The life of a junior technician at ZLW

By Chris Underwood, former Senior Technician, Wellington Radio ZLW

When I joined the Post Office Radio Depot in January 1965 I was put with Jack Colman as his junior in General Section.

Jack and another senior technician, Bert Wiggins, were the acknowledged experts on ZLW, both having worked there when it was fully manned on a 24 hour basis. Well before I joined, ZLW was demanned and two technicians from the Radio Depot attended during normal working hours Monday to Friday.

The usual timetable was to sign on at the Radio Depot at 8.00am, collect any spares required, then depart about 8.30am unless it was payday or a meeting was on. We usually arrived on station about 9.15am.

First stop was the RO where the senior Tech would check with the Supervisor if any faults or problems. We then continued on to the TX station, arriving around 10am. My first job was to boil the zip for morning tea while the boss gave all the TX’s a quick check to ensure all was well.

After morning tea my job was then to return to the RO via the track through the bush and establish myself in the small technicians room. I would then work my way through the small faults such as replacing headphone cords, checking the standby batteries and once a week testing the fire alarms.

As a very raw junior nobody took much notice of me and once I’d found my way around and got into the routine I couldn’t help but notice how expert the operators were. They could be reading a book while sending or receiving routine Morse code messages.

There was a map of the coast of NZ in the small ships room. It had a steel backing and small magnets representing each ship the station was communicating with were placed on the map in the location the ship was last worked. The operators were continuously moving the small magnets as the ships updated their location.

Placing magnets on a map of the South Pacific at Tinkori Hill radio station in 1957.

Placing magnets on a map of the South Pacific at Tinkori Hill radio station in 1957. Evening Post photo

Regular vessels, such as the Cook Straight ferries, the cement ships, fuel tankers, etc. each had their magnet with their radio call sign marked on it. There were other unmarked magnets representing casual visiting ships and, on occasion, warships.

Around 11.45am I’d walk back up the track to boil the zip for tea making for lunch. I used to enjoy lunchtime when I was on with Jack, as he would tell me about the station’s history, the various techs who had worked there, etc. Not so interesting when other bosses were there as they’d ring their wives or girlfriends and talk to them.

After lunch when I’d done all the junior’s duty of washing up, cleaning the lunchroom, etc. it was time to do my assignments. I found the best place to do this was in ED Becket’s old office; it still had his desk and a comfortable chair.

If I’d completed my assignments I would read one of the old QST ham radio magazines that were stored there in a large bookshelf. Unless a problem occurred or the boss wanted a hand with something I was usually left to my own devices which suited me. I found the old books and magazines in Ed’s old office fascinating.

This period of the day always passed too fast. Then it was time to boil the zip again for afternoon tea. After cleaning away afternoon tea, the next job was to clean the station. Most days this meant brushing down the fronts of the equipment, polishing things and generally making the place tidy. Once a week I had to wax and polish the floor.

I’d usually just be finishing up around 4pm when our ride back to the Depot turned up and another day was over as we got back to the Radio Depot just in time to sign off at 4.30pm. Occasionally a fault occurred which delayed our departure but fortunately these were fairly rare.