Since I often use Radio New Zealand to share news about the Pacific Islands, I was delighted to hear that last week on January 24 marked the 30-year anniversary of RNZ Pacific, formerly called RNZ International.
On 24 January 1990, Radio New Zealand International beamed into the Pacific, on a new 100 kilowatt transmitter. New Zealand has had a short-wave service to the Pacific since 1948. The station broadcast on two 7.5kw transmitters from Titahi Bay, which had been left behind by the US military after the Second World War.
In the late 1980s, following growing political pressure to take a more active role in the Pacific area, the New Zealand government upgraded the service. A new 100kw transmitter was installed and, on the same day the Commonwealth Games opened in Auckland, the service was re-launched as Radio New Zealand International.
“What we were able to understand was how important radio was and still is in the Pacific, where as here radio had become a second cousin to television… different thing in most of the countries we worked with,” said RNZ International’s first manager Ian Johnstone, from 1990 to ’93. Mr Johnstone said news of a dedicated Pacific service into the region was welcomed by Pacific communities. He also said it was important for New Zealanders to remember that New Zealand was part of the Pacific. “One of the nice things is we say we are part of the Pacific, we are the southern corner of Polynesia, and let’s remember that.”
Linden Clark was manager from 1994 to 2016. She said the strength of the service had been its connection with Pacific people in New Zealand and the region. “The history of of RNZI – RNZ Pacific – is absolutely marked by fantastic contributions from a whole range of people – not only employed people – but those who have given their time in all sorts of ways – both of the Pacific region and the Pacific communities here in New Zealand. “That is the history of the station and I think that’s partly why it means so much to everybody who has had something to do with it.”
She said RNZ Pacific had built strong relationships over the years. “We have always been about trying to support and partner with those Pacific media, radio stations, individuals and journalists, rather than broadcast and talk to them. We want to talk with them and use their expertise and develop that and that’s been really satisfying.”
Adrian Sainsbury, who’s RNZ Pacific’s frequency manager, said in the early days, it was difficult to get Pacific stations to take bulletins as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio Australia was the dominant broadcaster in the Pacific. “And we built up, over time an extensive network. And as I say, from a handful, of possibly two or three, we are now right up to 20 now, across the Pacific, stretching right up to Micronesia,” he said.
Sainsbury said RNZ Pacific was now the only dedicated Pacific broadcast service on short-wave across the region.
The signal can sometimes be heard as far away as Japan, North America, the Middle East and Europe.
Thirty years later the service has developed and established itself as the region’s most comprehensive and reliable source of regional news and is relayed daily by over twenty Pacific radio stations. It broadcasts on a range of platforms including analogue and digital short-wave, satellite, and online and has an estimated audience of 1.8 million people in the Pacific. The RNZ Pacific website attracted nearly eight million pageviews in 2019.