I have had a fascination with radio for as long as I can remember. I would sit behind my sisters radio and bask in the glow of the valves like others sit in front of an open fire. I remember holding a microphone’s plug against the long wire clothesline and pretending I was running a radio station. My mother bought me a crystal set in a plastic rocket for my 7th birthday. That was 1967 and Radio Hauraki was in it’s second year of broadcasting from the Tiri .The earpiece was glued to my ear every night. Someone else gave me a car whip aerial to help reception, it was nailed to the window sill of my bedroom when not used to chase my sister around the house to keep her safely locked in her room. Well safe from us as it was locked from the inside. I am not exactly sure how long the crystal set lasted before curiosity got the better of me and it unceremoniously opened with a hacksaw.
The following years saw numerous electronic related projects, CB radio, amateur radio and an endless number of stereos and things that went beep or ping. We were fortunate growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, My parents separated when I was eight and my mother was kept busy trying to keep a roof over our heads with six kids, a cat, a dog and an avery full of birds. We were left to our own devices a lot of the time but Auckland was safe and we were forever travelling the around on our bicycles. Weekends were spent in search of bigger and better jumbo bins to scavenge through for electronic components or for that matter anything interesting. Back in those days electronic goods were actually manufactured in New Zealand with real things like transistors, resistors, capacitors , nuts, bolts and metal chassis. Places like Bell, Pye, Consolidated Electronics, Plessey and Claude Neon kept a busy shed dweller satisfied with all the materials needed to make just about anything. One learnt quickly that electronics components were really just small packages of smoke. When the smoke got out it was all over.
It was an era before mobile phones, ipods, ABS and digital watches. Telephones had big dials that pulsed out the numbers in reverse order. We were pretty good at tapping the phone boxes to make free calls but radio was where tha magic was. Many an hour was spent hacking CB radios to produce more power, saving up for crystals to get more channels, discovering hausing modulation on CB channel 4 to the disgust of many a CB’er. I sat my radio amateur license in the 6th form and the whole cycle started again on the 2 metre band with a modified Pye Galaxy and a Wellington Walkie.
It should come as no surprise then, that I would build a pirate radio station. Sometime late in 1980 I was in the training room of the New Zealand Post Office Telegraph and Data Repair Depot (TRD) studying for exams, when one of they guys ( I think his name was Mark Nicol) said ” I wish we had FM radio like Australia” My response, before engaging brain, was, I will build one. After receiving liberal doses of poo pooing I set about the task of actually doing it.
There was a company called SD Mandeno Granville that manufactured stereo test generators for shops. I located one belonging to chap called Paul Burton who worked for Paul Money Stereo in View Rd, and managed to extract it from him. I then contacted Chris Smith, an old school friend, who was now working for Plessey. I had first met Chris in 1974 when, at the beginning of the second term of the 3rd form of Auckland Grammar, I was unceremoniously dumped from 3B to 3D. I remember being quite surprised to find myself sitting next to someone that was also interested in electronics. At the end of the 6th form Chris and I both left Grammar and started an NZCE at ATI as it was then known. The following year Chris ended up at Plessey and I, at the Post Office. This is a job for life I was told by Wally Palmer at the job interview. At the Post Office I learned to fix mechanical teleprinters with names like Creed and Olivetti.
In 1980 the FM band was known as B band and was full of land mobile radio telephones. This was a double edge sword, not only was there no free FM band but it did give us a large amount of on band radio telephone gear to cannibalise. This is exactly what Chris did, rip the transmitter stage out of a Plessey 615 and knock together a power amp on a huge aluminium heat-sink with a couple of 2N5643’s. Plessey donated us a mid band 5/8th whip antenna. We ran the whole thing off car batteries in the back of my 1964 XM Falcon Stationwagon.
XM Falcon Station Wagon
Somewhere out of the blue I was contacted by an Alan, who had a mate called Roger that owned a record shop, we now mysteriously had cash and tapes. Along with cash and tapes came a new and previously ignored political agenda. I was little interested in politics and the fact that there were people lobbying for the introduction of FM radio in New Zealand had completely escaped me. It seemed that now we were a political football in an even bigger game. The next election was in 1981 and Alan and his mate Roger really wanted FM as an election issue. Hence Radio Templeton station call-sign H.U.G.H.was born. (For those of you who were not around in the 80’s or were still in rehab from the 60’s Hugh Templeton was then the minister of broadcasting.)
As you can imagine we didn’t have a recording studio at our disposal and limited resources. My stereo was a Fountain 3 in 1 that I had purchased off Reigers Home Appliances in Dominion Rd. We managed to borrow a cassette recorder from Sanyo and with our measly record collection and a whole host of tapes from Rogers record shop we were able to produce some cassette programme. Technically the transmission was an ongoing nightmare. I had purchased a cassette deck mechanism from David Reid Electronics in Anzac Ave, cobbled a preamp together and with that we fed the Mandeno Granville exciter. Careful placement of the parts was needed as it had a habit of taking off. Chris had managed to squeeze nearly 100watts out of the power amp which had the effect of livening up the whole body of the car. So much so, there was a lively crack over air every time we opened one of the car doors.
Auckland Star 28-12-80
Testing over it was time to hit the airwaves in the 1964 Ford Radio Station Wagon. The Falcon, or the “Coon” as it was known, was bought earlier in the year with help from my mother for $1600. To keep that in perspective, my starting salary at the Post Office was a mammoth $144.70 a fortnight. I had just had a disastrous experience with a Mini de Joux. Being a station-wagon it was perfect for broadcasting from. It’s large luggage area made it easy to set out the gear and all the car batteries needed. It looked pretty good on tele too.
So with the press duly alerted away we went with our first broadcast. The following day, the 23rd of December 1980, the headline read “Pirates in stereo on the airwaves.