The genesis of modern day commercial radio took the form of a group of pirates aboard the ship Tiri in international waters off the coast of Auckland in the Gulf of Hauraki in the mid 1960s. The success of Radio Hauraki as a pirate broadcaster, offering the citizens of New Zealand’s largest city with a commercial, Americanised top 40 music format, forced the Government’s hand in creating the New Zealand Broadcasting Authority in 1968. This Authority became the guardian of New Zealand’s airwaves, issuing the first private commercial broadcasting licenses to Radio Hauraki and Radio i on the 24th of March 1970.
Unfortunately for the private radio proponents, the legalistic composition of the Authority resulted in slower than anticipated allocation of further frequencies. By 1972 only five private stations were on air in New Zealand. In response to declining revenues, bickering between the Authority and the government broadcaster, and public pressure for more private commercial radio, the new Minister for Broadcasting in the 1974 Labour government, Roger Douglas, pushed through legislation that separated the state run New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation into three distinct arms, one of which was Radio New Zealand – a combination of commercial and non-commercial stations and networks. During this period more commercial stations were introduced into markets around New Zealand, but it wasn’t until legislation passed in 1981 authorising the newly formed Broadcasting Tribunal to issue FM broadcasting warrants before commercial radio started to get a life of its own. By 1984 there were 22 private and 37 government owned commercial radio stations.
It was however the passing of the Radiocommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act in 1989 that generated the framework for the current radio environment in New Zealand. With the passage of this legislation, commercial radio in New Zealand became arguably the most deregulated in the world. Available frequencies around the country went up for tender, the commercial arm of Radio New Zealand was readied for sale, new ownership groups emerged, and by April 1993 over 200 new frequencies were on air. The increase continued exponentially and by 1994 available frequencies exceeded 300, by 1999 it was over 400 and by 2004 over 700 AM and FM frequencies were available for broadcast in New Zealand – arguably the largest number per capita anywhere in the world.
As a result of the increase in competitive radio outlets and the imminent sale of Radio New Zealand commercial’s stable of stations, private operators began to form alliances to ensure future viability. In the early 1990s private radio owners Brierley Investments, Metromedia, and Soundwaves merged to form the Independent Broadcasting Company (later to become Prospect) with 12 commercial stations and an independent news and sporting service. By the mid 1990s the Radio Otago Group had formed, Radio Pacific was expanding throughout the country on the back of a deal with the TAB, the Frader Group (More FM) was in development, and smaller groups, such as Energy Enterprises in Taranaki and the Nevada Group in Hamilton were looking to improve their positions.
With the sale of the government owned RNZ commercial to a conglomerate consisting of Tony O’Reilly’s Independent News and Media and Clear Channel US in 1996 for $89 million, the private ownership groups were quick to react to the newly named The Radio Network (TRN). In early 1997 Energy Enterprises merged with Radio Pacific, Canadian-based CanWest bought the Frader Group, and in May 1999 the Radio Pacific-Energy Enterprises group completed a takeover of Radio Otago and evolved into RadioWorks Ltd. Finally in May 2000, CanWest announced the successful purchase of RadioWorks and the commercial radio battle was down to just two major competitors: TRN and CanWest Global.
Both groups continued to purchase new and existing frequencies and operations until by 2005 TRN and CanWest owned or controlled over 350 frequencies nationwide. With audience fragmentation, networking became vital for economic survival and quickly led to the launch of ‘brands’ up and down New Zealand. Currently TRN’s stable of networks includes NewstalkZB, Radio Sport, Classic Hits, ZM, Coast, Flava, Easy Mix, and Radio Hauraki. RadioWorks Ltd (formerly CanWest) boast Radio Live, BSport/Trackside, The Edge, The Rock, The Breeze, More FM, Solid Gold, and Kiwi FM. Both companies are now preparing for the renewal of licenses due in 2011.
What the future will hold is anyone’s guess as the impact of new technology, the inevitable government interference in broadcasting, and changing lifestyles is felt by all traditional media sources. But commercial radio has shown itself to be robust and adaptable in the face of extreme change and upheaval. New Zealand radio still garners one of the largest shares of radio advertising revenues anywhere in the world, a trend that appears to be stable if not growing. While there is little doubt the evolution will continue, it can certainly be argued that this is one medium that has longevity and sustainability in an ever changing world.
Adapted from A Short History of Commercial Radio in New Zealand
Morris W Shanahan BA. BSc. MA. Cert AT
 For the complete Radio Hauraki story, read Shoestring Pirates by Adrian Blackburn.
 Seventy years of radio: an overview by Brian Pauling is available in The Radio Book 1994, ISBN: 0-0908668-38-4, pages 1-38.
 Further details of the legislation and allocation of frequencies is available in Government Policy by Dr. Helen Wilson in The Radio Book 1994, ISBN: 0-0908668-38-4, pages 39-50.
 To gain a better understanding of the impact of deregulation read Shanahan & Duignan, 2005, The impact of deregulation on the evolution of New Zealand commercial radio. In Neill and Shanahan (eds) The Great New Zealand Radio Experiment, Thompson Dunmore, Victoria, Australia. 17-46. ISBN: 0-17-012480-0.