Monday, April 30, 2018

Radio Hauraki


Radio Hauraki is named for the Hauraki Gulf, a bay protected by a 50-mile long peninsula in New Zealand.  As a pirate radio station, Radio Hauraki broadcast on 1480 in that bay from aboard the Tiri. The boat was built in 1931 by G.T. Nicol of Auckland, NZ. It was 101 feet long and weighed 169 tons and was probably not still seaworthy when they first broadcast in 1965. Nonetheless they were the first pirate radio station to broadcast from a ship in the whole southern hemisphere. More here and here.

That seaworthiness thing was a sticking point. We will get back to that. In 1965, David Gapes, a journalist writing for the NZ Truth. In that era, New Zealand only had government -owned broadcasters. But Gapes had lived in Australia, which had both private and public radio. Inspired by what he heard, he wanted nothing short of an end to the monopoly of the BCNZ (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation). He and fellow journalist Bruce Baskett quit their jobs to start Radio Hauraki. They recruited Denis O'Callahan as a radio engineer then struck lucky and encountered BCNZ announcer Chris Parkinson, and BCNZ stffer Derek Lowe who were also planning an offshore pirate radio project. More here. (Another pirate, Radio Maverick aka Radio Ventura may have test broadcast around this time)

In 1966 things got moving. They selected 1480-AM because it was isolated on the dial; far from most NZBC frequencies and the receivable Australian broadcasters.The plan was to start broadcasting at 11:00 AM October 1st, 1966. On September 16th the Tiri MV set sail. The boat was detained within a day. So began the battle of the Tiri.

On October 23rd the Hauraki crew decided to set sail anyway. Jim Frankham, the head of the freight company A.J. Frankham arranged for them to buy a 35 year old, neglected, wooden boat with structural problems, named the Tiri. It was a bargain at $6,000 on a 5-year plan. If they could make it to international waters, they would be free to operate outside the reach of NZ law. With advice from more experienced mariners, they would head for an anchorage between Great and Little Barrier Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula. But the NZ marine department declared the ship unsafe to proceed to sea without serious danger to human life. The crew decided to sneak out to sea on September 22nd.  More here.

The authorities closed the drawbridge in an attempt to trap the Tiri . David Gapes and Peter Telling went ashore and sat under the giant jaws of the bridge mechanism to force them to keep it open.A crowd had gathered and they roared in approval.  But the Tiri was stuck in the mud of the western viaduct by the bridge. A line was passed to the crowd and some 200 supporters pulled. The Tiri was set free and began to sail but was being trailed by a police boat.  The police boarded the boat, and stopped the Tiri again by pulling the fuel line.  The Hauraki crew were subsequently arrested. They were variously charged with obstructing Marine Department inspectors, and defying the detention order, disorderly behavior and obscene language. More here.

The crew was bailed out of jail. Their hearing was scheduled for October 26th. Over 2,000 Radio Hauraki supporters jammed the Auckland Town Hall. In a surprising move, the judge found that the Tiri had been detained improperly for it's intent to broadcast illegally, not because the ship was unsafe. The crew was free to go. The Hauraki cast off again and on Monday, November 21st, 1966 Radio Hauraki’s first weak transmissions reached rock n' roll fans on shore.  They survived on generous donations from fans while they struggled to keep their equipment working. But struggle they did. More here. It took years, but in 1970 the NZ government relented and began allowing private broadcasters to obtain licences. By June Radio Hauraki was broadcasting from on land, as they continue to do today.

For the full story of the pirate beginnings of Radio Hauraki, I recommend Adrian Blackburn's book The Shoestring Pirates