Arthur McClay – NZs First DXer?

By Arthur Cushen, reprinted from the December 1996 DX Times.

Seventy five years of broadcasting in New Zealand has been celebrated as November 17 was the commemoration of the first radio broadcast in New Zealand, back in 1921 when Professor Jack of the Physics Laboratory at Otago University, Dunedin, first broadcast music.

He had been experimenting with a radio since early August. The following year, 1922, there were six experimental stations operating in New Zealand and the numbers rapidly increased but the Government showed little interest in this modern means of communication.

In 1924 the Broadcasting Company was formed and expanded throughout New Zealand but it was in 1932 that the Government realised the potential of radio and so the New Zealand Broadcasting Board was established. With the election of 1935, the Government nationalised all broadcasting stations and this resulted in what we knew as the NZBC, and later Radio New Zealand with the subsequent sale of the commercial network.

The establishment of broadcasting in New Zealand has been well documented, but little publicity has been given to the early radio listeners. We feel that Arthur McClay was the earliest radio listener. The late Arthur McClay was a former League member and he was born in Ceylon in l897, and along with his family, he arrived in Wellington in 1905. Their home was in Gordon Place, Newtown, Wellington and they had a cottage at the back of the property and here Arthur McClay began experimenting with radio listening.

He used this building up to 1914 and after the end of world war II in 1922, 2YK the forerunner of 2YA was established by Arthur. He was at Wellington Boys College in 1911 and was interested in science. He became interested in wireless and though it was illegal to possess equipment, with a 500 pound fine or six months imprisonment, Arthur was able to secure from visiting ships, pieces of equipment in order to enable him to listen.

There was very little available on the theory of wireless. Arthur was able to build a primitive receiver and began listening to spark transmissions, and each evening after dark would pull up his antenna and extend his range of reception.

He was out one evening walking and saw a young man also pulling up an aerial, and on another occasion he found another would—be radio listener, and the three of them joined from 1911 to 1914 to enjoy this hobby. Arthur was overcome with joy and amazement in seeing this young man, Guy Tinney having an interest, and made himself known to Brian Robinson. Arthur was able to see Brian’s receiving and transmitting equipment and he also saw a replica of a standard Telefunken receiver which Brian had made.

As an electrician, Brian Robinson visited ships that came into Wellington and was able to secure a considerable amount of equipment. Arthur McClay learnt the MorseCode, but was not interested in sending, but only receiving ship signals. The three men took good care that their aerials were always out of sight
during daylight hours and operated only at night time. By 1912 the three met regularly and at that time agreed that they were the first DX long distance listeners in the country.

Later 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.

The three men were called before the Post and Telegraph, but the Minister of Justice intervened on their behalf and the law was changed immediately to allow citizens to own and operate telegraphic receiving equipment, but it had to be under the control of the Post Office registration. They would be the first to receive a radio licence to operate anywhere in New Zealand and when World War I broke out in 1914, the Post Office asked them to dismantle their aerial and equipment.

After the war Arthur McClay became interested in broadcasting and at his home 2YK was established and operated until 1925 when it became part of the Broadcasting Company, and is now 2YA.

It is interesting to recall these pioneer listeners and feel that we in the DX League have a link with them over these many years.