DENIS O’CALLAHAN’S ADDRESS TO THE 2018 CONVENTION
It started for me when I was living in New Caledonia, having washed up there on a yacht and got a job with a local radio repair shop and a guy called Stan Clinch, who ran an outfit called Kiwi Radio. He’d been a wartime radar technician and had gone back to New Caledonia where he had been stationed during the war, to set up a radio repair shop.
My friend David Gapes, who had a been a drinking companion when I was in New Zealand, he was working for the Truth newspaper in Wellington and he conceived of this idea of copying what Radio Caroline had been doing in the North Sea and breaking the monopoly of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service as it was in those days. He’d worked as a journalist in Australia and heard commercial radio there and thought we could emulate that here.
David wrote to me while I was up in Noumea and suggested this crazy scheme to me, and I wrote back to him and told him he was crazy. I was coming back to NZ to see my family in December of 1965 so I looked up David and he convinced me this was a good thing to try. There was a bit of correspondence backwards and forwards and eventually I returned to New Zealand to help kick this thing off. But I took a side trip to Australia to meet Judy again, I had met her in New Caledonia. I met her family in Sydney and spent some time with her up in Tamworth, where she was teaching. Judy returns to the story a little bit later.
I got a job in a little electronics factory in Northcote building guitar amplifiers and working with David Gapes to plan for the proposed pirate radio station. There were a lot of rumours floating around because we had been talking to various people about money and what boats were available and so on. Eventually Adrian Blackburn, who was a journalist on the New Zealand Herald said, ‘this story is going to break. I’ll write a story that is favourable to you and we will go public.’ So, that’s what happened and over Easter 1966 there was a frontpage story in the Herald and shortly after that David got a phone call from a guy called Derek Lowe who said, ‘we’ve been planning the same thing’.
So David and I, and Derek and Chris Parkinson met at David’s house in Orakei and at first, of course it was a Mexican standoff, but we soon found that we had complementary skills. I had some technical knowledge and maritime knowledge. Chris Parkinson was a radio voice – a very good one and was also a skilled studio technician. Derek was in advertising, particularly radio advertising and David was a journalist who had a lot of contacts in political circles. So, the four of us decided to team up.
The next milestone was when we acquired the coastal trading vessel the Tiri, which was owned by AG Frankham Ltd. There was no future in coastal shipping anymore because road transport and rail transport had reached all the coastal towns that used to be serviced by the coastal shipping, so Jim Frankham had these old wooden coasters on his hands, rotting at moorings all around the country and he proposed to sell us the Tiri on some kind of promise of payment in the future. So, we had a ship.
In the meantime we had been applying to the government for a broadcasting licence and it so happened that the body that was authorised to issue broadcasting licences at that time was the New Zealand Broadcasting Service, so they were unlikely to issue a licence to competition. They turned down our application and around about the same time we got a warning letter from the Post Office radio inspectors that we mustn’t have any transmitting equipment or make any illegal transmissions.
Nevertheless we pressed ahead, prepared the ship and got hold of a whole lot of equipment, including an old naval transmitter – Westinghouse TBL13 it was called, which we purchased from a guy out Ellerslie way somewhere. It had a lot of useful components in it – large high voltage mica capacitors, tuning capacitors, inductors and a big strong aluminium chassis and we used that as the basis of the transmitter.
We also had an antenna constructed by a company called Harman Garages. They made tin sheds and garages and glasshouses. They fabricated a mast for us. It came in 12 foot sections and totalled about 144 feet. These 12 12-foot sections could be bolted together. There was a lattice tower 12 inches … each side – the bottom 100 feet (or 8 sections) were constant in dimensions and then it tapered slightly towards the top. We had rigging made with insulators and on the ship we built a steel frame to take the weight of the antenna frame and to distribute it onto the bottom of the wooden structure of the ship and we also had a couple of booms sticking out the side to provide a wider base for the stays and guys holding the mast up.
Anyway, all these preparations, including 3 different diesel generators and the equipment on the boat and in the studio where the programmes would be recorded and the recordings on magnetic tapes were going to be run out to the ship on a weekly basis. We had to build the recording studio plus get the ship all ready. A pretty amazing enterprise and some of the names that I would like to acknowledge: a guy called Gavin Coxhead from Tauranga, he was a friend of Brian Strong. Some of you will be familiar with Brian Strong, a DX listener. Gavin Coxhead was universally known as Nobby.
There was a guy called Matt Matthews came on board. He was an electrician and refrigeration engineer. He had been a refrigeration engineer on ships, so he had a good maritime knowledge as well. Matt was a tower of strength. A technician called Curtis Dobby – he was very resourceful and energetic. A couple of DJs Peter Telling and Ian Magan who had quite good engineering skills as well, who while they weren’t involved in recording stuff they were working away on the boat.
You probably heard the story about how the boat was inside the Viaduct Harbour and of the night we were going to take the boat to sea. It was well known they were going to take it out and the authorities had the drawbridge that closed off the Viaduct lowered down to stop us going out. Well, they tried and Peter Telling and a couple of other guys threw themselves into the mechanism of the bridge so they couldn’t close it and there was a slightly embarrassing moment when I was turning the boat around in the Lighter Basin and it ran aground – that’s how shallow it was. Finally we got the boat lined up with the gap through the Viaduct and gave it full steam ahead and bang the mast jammed under the lip of the drawbridge.
There were hundreds of people who had come down to see us go out, so they got some ropes and swung them out from the mast into the crowd and the crowd pulled on the ropes and heeled the boat over enough that the mast cleared the end of the bridge and we steamed out into the harbour.
Question: You didn’t have the mast hinged at the base.
Answer: No, this wasn’t the broadcasting mast. This was the derricks and stanchions on the boat. The broadcasting mast was stacked on the deck in 12-foot sections.
In the meantime, while the boat was stuck on the drawbridge, a whole lot of cops came aboard and eventually they got into the engine room and shut down the main engine and we all got arrested and spent the night in the cells at the old Auckland Police Station.
Question: What did they charge you with?
Answer: Breaking the arrest order on the ship. The Marine Department had issued an arrest order on the ship, so we were not supposed to be taking the ship out.
Question: Was that around worthiness?
Answer: It was on the grounds of sea worthiness, yes.
Question: What happened to the boat?
Answer: the boat was tied up over at the Devonport Navy base.
Big news of course in the papers. Some guy from down the Waikato came and went bail for us, we got bailed out early in the morning and the case came to court. There was a big meeting at the Town Hall where Derek Lowe spoke eloquently about freedom and all that stuff. 2000 people and a parade down Queen Street and then it came to court. Our defence was that, while the ship was arrested on safety grounds, the reality was that there was a conspiracy between the New Zealand Broadcasting Service and the Post Office and the Marine Department to stop the ship going to sea and it so happened that Jack Scott was the Minister of Broadcasting, Minister of the Post Office and Minister of Marine. He had all the hats, so he was in an ideal position.
In fact we had had meetings previously with Jack Scott and he was quite sympathetic to our cause, but the government policy was to shut us down so that’s how it happened. Anyway, we actually won the court case. The magistrate decided it wasn’t about safety at all – it was conspiracy in Wellington and he cited the precedent of some case in India. We got off, we got the ship back and eventually we sailed in the middle of the night out into the middle of the Hauraki Gulf and proceeded to finish off the testing of the transmitter.
Question: So Denis, you worked out that there was a little area in the middle of the Hauraki Gulf which was more than 3 miles …..
Answer: Yes, in those days there was a 3 mile limit, so we a drew a line around the coast 3 miles out and where there was a gulf, like the Hauraki Gulf, if it was less than 24 miles we could draw a line across. So they drew a line across from Cape Colville to Takatu and drew a line around Little Barrier Island and a line around Great Barrier Island and ended up with a little triangle of international waters out there in the middle of nowhere.
You can read about this in Adrian Blackburn’s book. We came to the first attempt of putting up an antenna and starting to transmit. This is the experimental wire antenna. (showing photo on screen) You can see there is a bit of a flat top antenna. This is a loading coil, these are several vertical members here and bit of a flat top capacity hat on top of the loading coil and a very good earth – wires hanging over the side.
Unfortunately due to shortcomings of the transmitter and the antenna these early transmissions were pretty feeble. That was around 21st November 1966. We realised we were going to have to attempt to get the lattice mast erected. And our first effort in getting the mast erected didn’t work out. The sections of steel lattice were very heavy. The first 50 feet was relatively easy because we could use the ship’s derrick to lift it up from the mid-point and then slot it onto the base mounting. Incidentally the base mounting consisted of 4 high tension post insulators with a square steel plate on top and it had a pin for the base of the antenna to rest on.
We could get the first 50 feet up all right, but getting the next sections up proved to be beyond us. We had a brainwave and one of our team called Colin Broadley, who was a salesman superb, contacted a helicopter company and the next thing we had a helicopter came over and lifted the next section up – myself and another guy were on the top of the 50 foot section trying to guide the thing and get some bolts in to bolt it on. That was too dangerous and we flagged that away. The helicopter couldn’t hold it steady enough and we weren’t strong enough.
The next attempt was a guy with a rigging company came out with two Polynesian guys, I think they were Samoans, and what they did was they had what they call a gin pole – a length of pipe with a pulley at the top and these guys scaled up the mast, lashed the gin pole to the existing 50 foot section and put a rope through the pulley at the top and hoisted up a 12 foot section, bolted it on and then they moved the gin pole up another 12 feet and so on until we had a 100 foot mast. This looked awesome, I can tell you.
(showing photo on screen)
I don’t know who took this photograph, it was obviously from an aeroplane, but this is the ship alongside the Shoal Bay Wharf at Tryphena on the Barrier and this is the hundred foot lattice mast. I think we had a bit of a whip aerial attached to it to try and make it as long as possible. As you know the ideal is a quarter wave vertical on the ground plane. On our chosen frequency of 1480 kilohertz, the full wave is 202.7 metres or 665.03 feet and a quarter wave is 166.62 feet and knock off 5% for the end effect, the capacitance effect. Ideally we wanted 157.94 feet of antenna mast.
This is the mast that we used for our first successful transmission.
Question: Can I ask you why 1480 was chosen and not something higher.
Answer: Well, we needed a frequency that people could tune in on their radios, which wasn’t currently used either in New Zealand or the eastern coast of Australia…. We had the slogan top of the dial.
Question: What sort of coax did you use?
Answer: Without going into the technicalities of the transmitter, although we can do that, the class C output stage was pi-coupled to the base of the antenna, so there really wasn’t any transmission line at all.
Comment: It was quite physically close to it then?
Answer: Yeah, the transmitter was directly underneath the base of the antenna. So the output capacitance of the pi network went up through a feed through insulator directly onto the base of the antenna. Now a hundred feet is quite a bit short of a quarter wave, so we had some copper tubing wound into a loading coil to put some base loading on the antenna.
Question: Did you have a capacity hat on top?
Answer: No, this one did not.
Unfortunately this mast only lasted a couple of days. The first rough weather that we got into, the rigging proved have inadequate tensile strength. The wires started to stretch and the porcelain insulators started to crack and the whole thing began to whip around most alarmingly. So, we pulled up the anchor and tried to head back into the Great Barrier for shelter, but it was too late and the rigging gave way and the mast fell over the port side and it was hanging down in the water on the end of the stay wires and one of the crew got to work with an oxy-acetylene torch and cut the wires and goodbye to a hundred feet of beautiful lattice mast. So that was a bit tough. But, we didn’t give up, we still had 50 feet and we went back into Tryphena and put up the remaining 50 feet. And, that’s what it looked like with 50 feet of mast. (Shows picture on screen)
Question: It was half of 5/8s was it? You could still transmit off it.?
Answer: We just put a few more turns on it.
But this was a huge lesson in terms of antenna efficiency because the radiation resistance of a short antenna is much inferior to a proper quarter wave. We continued to broadcast with this antenna and we got quite a few reception reports.
Reply: We had some ballast, some slabs of concrete.
Comment: But there was no lead down there you could run copper straps to, to form part of a capacitive connection to the seawater?
Reply: No, we ran out some wires with bits of scrap iron on the end dangling in the water. We didn’t do anything special about the ground plane or anything – never did.
The next milestone, Boxing Day 26th December 1966, Judy arrives in New Zealand carrying two 833A tubes, spare tubes for us. We had it teed up with a contact we had at the airport to get these things passed through Customs, but unfortunately they were intercepted and confiscated. This is where Colin Broadley, the super salesman, came into it again and we went to Customs and I don’t know how he did it. But we managed to get the tubes back from them.
Question: Do you think they had had some inside information that they were coming into the country, or was it just coincidence.
Answer: No, I don’t think so. It was just something they didn’t recognise.
Comment (Judy): No, what happened was I was supposed to come on a Qantas flight, but Qantas was on strike and the people had been lined up for me when I came through from that flight but I was put onto a different Air New Zealand flight instead and they did page me, but by the time they did page me my bags were already being searched. It probably would have been okay had I been on the Qantas flight.
But that was especially exciting because Judy had come to New Zealand and we were in love and she came out to the Great Barrier and spent some time on the boat.
We are into 1967 and one of the first things we did was to enhance the antenna and this is where Nobby Coxhead came into his own. Nobby devised an enhancement of the mast. (Referring to picture) This is alongside the Shoal Bay Wharf at Tryphena and there’s a little tower thing here that is attached the top of the lattice mast and it had these cross trees or spreaders here, which could be hauled up individually and bolted on to the base of this extension tower. It was all light enough that a couple of guys could haul it up on a rope and put it in place. Inside of this tower there was a telescopic tubular antenna, so a couple of guys could stand on here and hoist the tubular sections of tube up with stays attached to them, so that as it went up the stays kept it upright and the stays came down and attached to the end of the spreaders and then ran down to be bolted onto the mast further down.
With this we were able to get close to about 120 feet and because this structure here it acted like a big capacity hat or a thick element you might say. This proved to be very effective and it wasn’t too heavy for the ship. The part up here was fairly lightweight and that classic antenna was used throughout the lifetime on the operation.
Another thing that we did was lay a permanent mooring, so that instead of laying anchors in the middle of the Gulf, bearing in mind that it is about 150 feet deep out there, it takes a long while to haul the anchor up, and also the anchors could drag in rough weather. We had anticipated laying a mooring and we had obtained from the Hobsonville airbase, two big conical buoys, which had been used for mooring the seaplanes at Hobsonville Air Base and Matt Matthews and I welded the two cones together base to base to make one big di-conical buoy. We also obtained some chain – I can’t remember where the chain came from, and we fabricated some anchors out of rolled steel sections – I-beams and we fabricated these anchors.
I wasn’t actually involved in laying the mooring but once again Gavin Coxhead and Matt Matthews were the heroes and they gradually lowered the anchors and chains and buoys over the side of the boat. Unfortunately the boat drifted off station while they were laying the mooring and they got a little bit too close to the Pirogue rocks, which are some rocks out there between Little Barrier and Great Barrier. Strictly speaking the boat was only about 2 ½ nautical miles south of the Pirogue Rocks which is in national waters, but to intents and purposes, they were 3 miles from land and no-one ever raised that as an issue.
Question: Is it still there? Or were they recovered?
Answer: The moorings? At the end of the episode when the ship came back to Auckland the moorings were lifted and I remember seeing them in Whangaparapara, one of the old anchors rusting away and the I believe the mooring buoy is now outside the museum. They have got a museum on Great Barrier, which opened fairly recently and the mooring buoy is a sort of icon in front of the museum.
This is an image of Bob Leahy, who was a studio technician and announcer. Bob made the first experimental broadcast from the ship. There he is wielding a spanner, tightening up the bolts on the lattice mast.
This is our first QSL card – a nice picture of the ship with the antenna and a bit of information about the location of the ship, the transmitter power and so on.
Then oh no, this was disaster. This was 28th January 1968. This was the coast of the Great Barrier just south of Whangaparapara. The ship had actually been out on a search and rescue mission. Some guy had fallen off a fishing boat and the professional skipper that they had on board at the time, (I had pretty much given up commanding the ship – too busy in town), said we will go and help them search for this guy – and they were chugging around out in the middle there and they had an engine problem and the ship drifted ashore and was pretty badly holed.
So, as it happened I was in Australia at one of Judy’s family weddings. I read about in on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald – a bit of a shock to the system. But, we didn’t give up. Jim Frankham found us a second boat called the Kapuni, which we re-christened as the Tiri 2 and we had to strip out all the generators, the transmitter and all the equipment and get it all cleaned down and dried out and the guys had the forethought to dismantle the antenna and store it away. An engineering company came to the party and they designed for us a 160 foot tubular mast. This is the design – here’s the ship. Here’s the mast. This was spiral welded steel tube. It had two mighty booms coming out here, to once again extend the base to reduce the stress on the stays and the compression force on the mast. This was professionally designed this time and it was going to be good.
This is what the mast looked like. It is being hoisted up by a dockside crane for installation on the ship.
Question: Tiri 2 is half as big as Tiri?
Answer: Just a little bigger, but they were pretty complementary really.
As I said the crew had the forethought to take the components of the old antenna and put them down in the hold of the Tiri 2 in case this one didn’t work out.
Exactly a month later, on the 28th February, we had overhauled all the equipment, installed it on the Kapuni, set it all up with the generators and the whopping new mast and I tell you that was a month I wouldn’t want to revisit. We did some improvements to the transmitter – we put it on crystal control. We had Rakon cut us a 1480 kHz crystal. Previously we had a variable frequency oscillator because we thought that the authorities might try and jam us, some listeners who had more accurate equipment than what we had often reported that we weren’t exactly on 1480 kHz – we were one or two kilohertz up either, which was true, it didn’t make any difference, but you could still find us on the dial. This time we were confident they weren’t going to jam us and we went to crystal control.
Question: When you were doing this refit and when you ran aground on the Barrier, were you hassled by the authorities or was it plain sailing?
Answer: By this time it was a kind of hands-off policy and the government was moving towards reforming the broadcasting service and it became the broadcasting corporation and they were more or less told to issue licences, but the wheels of the gods in Wellington moved pretty slowly and we felt it was necessary to keep broadcasting.
Question: …. Did they send the post office people out to check on you?
Answer: Periodically the Post Office Radio Inspectors would come out to Great Barrier but the policeman out on Great Barrier was a good friend of ours. He let us know when they were going to be out there and he organised interesting activities for them. He took them fishing, he took them hunting, diving …. They didn’t have a lot of time …. When George retired from being the constable out there, he set up a marine VHF station on Great Barrier on Channel 1. Don’t know whether you ever remember that?
So there we were – we had this great new mast and new ship and we had the mooring buoy and everything there. But the ship was pretty hard to handle with the windage and the weight of this huge mast. The skipper had quite a bit of difficulty handling it. The Kapuni had an unusual propulsion system. It had four 6 cylinder Fordson tractor engines geared together onto one shaft and so we had a certain amount of redundancy in the engine room – we could run on 2 engines or 3 engines or 4 engines but it still was rather underpowered and difficult to manage. At one stage they broke free from the mooring with all this extra windage and everything. I must say the mast really loaded up the transmitter wonderfully, excellent antenna, we could crank up over 2 kilowatts no problem at all. It really loaded it up beautifully. So that they were having difficulty controlling the ship and it almost ran aground at Tiri, but they weathered the storm and it got towed back into Auckland and eventually they discovered that the rudder had fallen off. They had to put an emergency, fabricated wooden rudder blade.
The next excitement was on the 9th April 1968.
Comment: You left out the other excitement on 3 April.
Reply: The other excitement was that I felt that things were getting a bit dangerous out there, I didn’t want to be responsible for loss of life.
Question: What had changed that suddenly made you worry about the safety?
Answer: ‘Cause, I couldn’t be out there all the time.
Comment from Judy: Not if he wanted to stay married anyway.
I felt that I operated the ship more conservatively than the professional skipper.
Comment: And your challenges had somewhat passed?
Yeah, basically all the technology business was running pretty smoothly. The transmitter was going good, we’d set up a second studio and built a new solid state mixer panel instead of the old vacuum tube job and having two recording studios was a big benefit – we could catch up if there were any hiccups and the disk jockeys had more flexibility and they didn’t have to be in the studio 24/7.
Anyway, that’s by the by. The Tiri breaks free from the landing station wharf. Coincidentally that’s a good picture of the ship with the tubular mast fully deployed.
Question: How much ballast was there?
Answer: We probably didn’t have enough ballast in the Tiri 2.
Comment: 4 tractor motors would help.
Answer: The generators were also Ford tractor engines. We had a 20 kilowatt alternator with a 4 cylinder Ford diesel and a 50 kw with 6 cylinder engine.
Comment: You would have to store quite a lot of fuel wouldn’t you?
Reply: We had a deal with the people who had taken over the old whaling station at Whangaparapara and they owned the wharf there. We had a deal with them that we could use that wharf and a scow called the Rahiri used to bring 44 gallon drums, 200 litre drums of fuel out, leave them on the wharf and we used to sneak in at night with the transmitter going and drop off the empty drums and load the full drums on board. Then it was the crew’s job to pump the fuel into the day tanks. We used the ship’s derricks for loading the drums and you can imagine that the winch wire going up like this here, with the transmission induced quite a strong voltage in the winch wire so you had to be careful when you were handling the hoisting chains and drums that if you were going to grab them, grab them quickly and held on to them because if you were going to let your hand rub over the chains and drums you’d get a burn. We didn’t stop transmitting when we were doing the fuel change over.
(Referring to pictures) That is the tubular mast and this is the end of the tubular mast because the ship broke free from the whaling station wharf and ran aground on a nearby reef and the mast went over the side. You can see the buckled piece of the mast sticking up here. Fortunately the hull wasn’t damaged and the crew got the old mast out of the hold and put it up again and so we were back on the air. Here’s the guys re-erecting the old mast. You can see this is the Tiri 2, the Kapuni, by the wheelhouse arrangement. There they are on this little tower thing on the top, hoisting the tubular extension up.
That’s quite a dramatic picture of the Tiri 2 with its full mast erected. That’s Channel Island in the background.
That storm where she was driven aground at Whangaparapara and lost the tubular mast was the same storm that sank the Wahine in Wellington, which is 50 years ago, about now.
I wasn’t there to participate anymore, but the guys kept the transmissions going. The next drama happened on the 13th of June 1968 when they broke free from the mooring buoy again and they were driven up on the beach at Uretiti, just up the coast from Mangawhai. There she is on the beach. The hull wasn’t damaged.
Question: How did you get it off?
Answer: I believe they bulldozed a channel and when the tide came in they brought a tug in, a big powerful tug, and dragged it off the beach.
Question: How was all this financed?
Answer: They were selling advertising. The whole thing was predicated on selling advertising. As I mentioned before, Harman Garages who made the mast were paid in advertising. We got paid, I think it was £10,000 from Europa Oil, which was at that stage was owned by the Todd family in Wellington and that was negotiated through their advertising agency and the Todd family didn’t know anything about it. The Todd family imported cars as well as selling Europa oil. They sold cars to the government. The ministerial cars were all big Humber cars and so a cabinet minister said to a member of the Todd family one day, ‘Ah, I hear you guys are financing these radio pirates up in Auckland.’ They didn’t know anything about it.
In the first year of broadcasting, Europa Oil increased their market share by 20%. So, radio advertising really worked. And we had campaigns for cigarettes.
Comment: But this was the only radio advertising available?
Reply: No, no 1ZB – the ZB network was commercial. If you listen to their style they were very conservative.
Question: Who paid for this before the advertising?
Reply: We promised them. Like I was saying with Europa Oil, the advertising agency agreed to advance us £10,000 and that went a long way.
Comment: Still a gamble isn’t it?
Reply: Oh yes, it was a huge risk. One of the skills that I learned was evading creditors. Creditors came in the front door and we went out the fire escape. We weren’t getting paid. Fortunately Judy had a teaching job and she supported me.
Things went reasonably smoothly after that. We brought out a new QSL card which showed the Tiri 2 – tied up to the mooring buoy. You can see the mooring buoy here and the old faithful mast from the first Tiri standing up strong.
Question: Have you extended the top part more or is that the original?
Reply: I think that’s pretty much original. It didn’t require much base loading and they really loaded it up – it was amazing to see how you can control the loading with your pi coupler.
Comment: That word on the QSL card “approximately” 3 miles due west ……
Reply: We didn’t mention the 2 ½ mile south of the Pirogue rocks.
Communications with the ship was all through the ZLD coastal station at Musick Point. We had to send telegrams – we’d get on the radio at 2182 kHz, talk to Musick Point, so a lot telegrams were going back and forth. The news was pirated off other stations, rewritten by the guys on the boat.
The programmes were recorded in the studios approximately a week ahead, so if a guy was doing a Friday night programme he’d be recording it on a Friday night. The programmes were recorded in half hour segments on quarter inch audio tape, 7 ½ inch per second reels, 1200 foot tapes that ran for about 35 minutes. They had to change the tapes over every half hour – half hour segments. Because the generated frequency on the boat was a bit unstable, we had to allow a couple of minutes of music every half hour so the engineer on the boat could crossfade from one tape drive to another. So, you can imagine we had a whole lot of tape and we had some water-proof canisters made to move them around and there was a mid week shipment flown out to the Great Barrier and one of the heroes of the episode was a cray fisherman on the Barrier called Bill Gibbs who would take them out to the ship in his cray fishing boat and they would send the tapes that had been broadcast back to Auckland and the fresh tapes would be played.
The crew on the ship – there were about 8 crew on the boat and half the crew was changed each week. We had 12 crew members, technicians, cooks, deck hands, engineers and they changed over every week. Half the crew would go ashore and the other half would come out. Sometimes a new crew member would not be able to cope with the conditions, maybe chronically seasick or the like and they would have to be sent back.
Question: Did sea legs repeat a lot or did you get over it?
Answer: You could take Dramamine pills but most people got used to it after a couple of days.
Question: You’d have a lot of people keen to do that sort of thing would you? Was it a sought after opportunity?
Answer: I don’t know that it was sought after. We never had any problem getting crew, but getting good crew … reliable. We had some characters on board the boat.
Judy: Tell them about the races.
Oh, OK. It was pretty boring most of the time. We had a cook and he had this amazing talent that he could call a completely imaginary horse race out of his imagination. They’d make a list of horse names, half a dozen horse names. The crew would put money on and back the horse and this guy would go away to his cabin with a tape recorder and he would record a commentary on this imaginary horse race, and he would come out and play the tape and of course money would change hands.
Question: What about the accommodation – how did that work with that size – quite small wasn’t it?
Answer: I think on the Kapuni all the accommodation was aft. The Tiri had officer’s accommodation aft and the crew in the fo’c’sle. There may have been accommodation in the fo’c’sle because I remember the last broadcast, which happened on the 1st June 1970 they got a broadcasting license granted on the 24th March 1970, so they ceased broadcasting on the 1st June and they had the last broadcast live with DJs from Auckland out on the ship, and the ship finished the last broadcast and was heading back into Auckland and a DJ called Rick Grant – they were playing cards in the mess room and the card were getting a bit sticky. So he said he had another pack of cards up in the fo’c’sle and he went to get the cards and he fell over the side. They had part of the bulwarks on the starboard side cut away for loading tapes and people and things on and off. He fell through the gap in the railing and was lost and the body was never found. It was a pretty sad end to the drama.
Somebody calculated that was 1,111 days at sea, or at least broadcasting. I don’t know how they got to that number, but it’s easy to remember.
Okay, we’re talking about the half hour segments of tape. This was the system we had. Each tape had a piece of carbon paper and the programme arranger would schedule the advertising and the disc jockey would sign it off, each time an advertisement was broadcast and the carbon copy went with the tape out to the ship and that was the id for that tape. It said when it was going to be broadcast, what time it was going to be broadcast, what time and so on.
That was proof and it went back with the tape that it had been broadcast and if the advertisers queried that my advertising wasn’t broadcast and we said well….
But accidents happened. One thing that happened was that canisters got mixed up. The new tapes would arrive at the ship and then get sent back to Auckland again and the old tapes would be retained on the ship. If this happened the crew members would have to madly reschedule advertising and catch up with any commercials that weren’t broadcast at the right time.
Question: When you came ashore, were you always hassled by Customs?
Comment: Yeah, because technically you were overseas.
Reply: … it was just like a yachtsman going overseas. No, not to my knowledge.
Question: Presumably the tapes would have had time checks on them?
Question: So you would start the tapes on the minute.
Answer: At the top of the hour or on the half hour the tape would be started and if the run time was in error due to the frequency of the generators it would be corrected every half hour. The other thing that could happen would by the technician would fall asleep and forget to load the new tape and things like that. But at least we had a system and most of the time it worked. We did outside broadcasts. We had a caravan, beauty contests, the boat show was another one we used to do. And the awake-a-thon, where we set up a window in the Queen Street window of John Courts. The idea was to find out which DJ could broadcast non-stop. They were allowed to have a toilet break of course … and that created quite a bit of interest.
Comment: I remember your iced tea stickers you used to have too.
Reply: The Tea Council of New Zealand ran a big campaign which tried to make tea cool, but I don’t know that it really succeeded.
This is one that Judy didn’t want to see. This is the transmitter
Comment: … focusing on the transmitter!
This is the variable frequency oscillator here, the VFO unit. On this table here we had the modulation monitor. The modulation monitor was an old oscilloscope with a trapezium pattern. Are you all familiar with the trapezium pattern for measuring modulation depth?
This is the corner of my office – a RCA ….., this is a Yaesu FRG 8800, this is a Techtronics oscilloscope and this is a telequipment oscilloscope D54, and this is a digital signal generator, which Wes Willis gave me, an LSG 216 and the old vacuum tube signal generator and Advance E2.
QSL tapes were then played – Denis retains ownership of 9 tapes. There was a discussion about the tapes originally used for the broadcasts and the problems of keeping the recorders playing head’s cleaned.
Arthur Cushen’s tape was the first played.
Next played was a recording by Eddie McAskill.