For most people, the acceptance of privately owned commercial
radio and television stations is not a matter of contention.
But just over four decades ago that was not the reality. Government control of broadcasting started in the
1930s, and in the mid-1960s the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation held a monopoly of both media, whether for commercial or public interest purposes.
Agitation for private broadcasting had failed to gain the backing of either National or Labour governments.
If the narrative of 3-Mile Limit (No 8 Films) is to be believed,
that changed when the major pop groups of the time — the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who and their local imitators — could not be heard on the radio (although I recall “hit parades” were allowed).
It sparked an incipient youth revolt that demanded the freedom to hear that music on the air and end paternalistic cultural controls.
Writer-director Craig Newland (with co-writer Andrew
Gunn) have a readymade tale of struggle against officialdom
as a young Auckland journalist (Matt Whelan, of Go Girls
fame) takes up the challenge. He recruits disc jockeys, technicians, salespeople and business backing for a pirate radio station, moored at a point in the Hauraki Gulf that is beyond the
reach of law.
Of course, attempts were made to stop this happening, but the law also conspired to work in the pirates’ favour.
Thus begins the real-life history of Radio Hauraki, and a major chapter in the history of broadcasting.
The Tiri, essentially a ship with a transmitter mast, eventually
began broadcasting on December 4, 1966, with music then not heard on New Zealand airwaves. For five years, Radio Hauraki fought off legal threats, advertising boycotts and stormy weather.
Hauraki was no normal broadcaster. Its programmes were pre-recorded at studios in Auckland and the tapes taken by boat to the Tiri.
The cost of royalties on using the famous music of the period
exceeded Newland’s budget, but instead he employed Suzanne Lynch (The Chicks) to arrange the music and create a fictitious pop
Financial problems in keeping the venture afloat also present
troubles on the home front for the young entrepreneur and his
The first Tiri was lost after running aground in 1968. Harassment
by the authorities, arrests when caught inside the limit and a tragic death all add to the drama.
Among the best parts are scenes showing the political background
as the hassled minister of marine and broadcasting (David
Aston) upholds an unpopular policy that threatens the government
with the loss of an election over the “youth” vote.
(The Labour opposition’s continued hostility to private
broadcasting is not canvassed.)
The Hauraki “good guys” spent a total of 1111 days at sea and retained its frequency — top of the dial at 1476 on the AM band — until switching to FM.
Many will recognise the fictionalised characters and viewers who lived through the era won’t be disappointed by what Newland has achieved on a small budget.
Rating: TBC; 105 minutes.