Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Radio Scene in the Cook Islands - The Early Years

The Pacific Island nation known as the Cook Islands is made up of 15 widely separated islands or atolls in the exotic South Pacific, with a combined area of just 93 square miles.  The northernmost island is Penrhyn, and the southernmost is Mangaia, with 900 miles of almost empty ocean in between.
            This cluster of exotic islands lies in the warm tropics a little south of the equator, about halfway between Hawaii and Antarctica.  Each island/atoll is the top of an extinct volcanic mountain rising up from the ocean floor with a surrounding coral reef.  The almost circular main island is Rarotonga, no more than seven miles across, with Avarua as its capital and largest town.
            The total resident population of all islands is only 15,000, though four times that number, some 60,000 Cook Islanders, now live in New Zealand, mainly in the North Island.  The two official languages are English and Cook Island Maori, which is very similar to New Zealand Maori.  In addition, several different, though generally mutually understood dialects, are spoken in the varied islands.
            The Cook Islands flag shows the British Union Jack in the canton area, with a circle of 15 white stars on a blue background in the fly area.  The Union Jack acknowledges the country's long time association with the British Empire, the blue background recognizes that it is a maritime nation, and the circle of 15 white stars honors each of the main 15 island/atolls that make up this combined nation.
            The major income for the Cook Islands is tourism, with 100,000 visitors each year, mostly from New Zealand, though also from the United States and elsewhere; the most prolific local food sources are fishing and tropical fruits; and the accepted currencies are the Cook Island dollar and the New Zealand dollar.
            The first inhabitants in the Cook Islands were Polynesian peoples from Tahiti and they migrated into the islands about 1½ thousand years ago.  The first European to see the islands, was the Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira, and he sighted Pukapuka Island in the year 1595.  Then eleven years later, the first European ashore in the Cook Islands was the Portuguese mariner serving Spain, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós and he visited             Rakahanga Island.
            The famous English explorer Captain James Cook named this island cluster the Hervey Islands at the time of his first visit in 1773.  However, it was the Russians who gave them their permanent name.  A Russian map printed in the 1820s showed the Hervey Islands under the name Cook islands, thus honoring the English mariner, and acknowledging the English jurisdiction.
            The first Christian missionaries settled in the Cook Islands in 1821, and quite quickly the islanders accepted this religion that was so new to them.  In 1888, the Cook Islands became a British protectorate, in 1900 the territories were ceded to Great Britain; in 1901 the  islands were incorporated into the Dominion of New Zealand; and on August 5, 1965, the islands were granted independence with free association with New Zealand.
            The first wireless station in the Cook Islands was installed close to the settlement of Avarua, right on the beach front on the northernmost edge of the island of Rarotonga.  The land for this new international communication facility was acquired in 1915, though there was a delay in installing the equipment due to the war that was raging in continental Europe at the time.
            Early in the year 1918, work began on the installation of the wireless station, and on April 20, a temporary receiving station, consisting simply of an antenna and a crystal set receiver, were taken into official service.  The complete new wireless station, transmitter and receiver, was inaugurated on September 2, under the callsign VMR.
            The Cook Islands wireless station was modernized in the 1920s with the installation of electronic valve equipment; and in the process of time, the callsign was amended to ZKS, with the usage also of a subsequent callsign ZKA.  This station was developed by Cable & Wireless and it was nationalized into Cook Islands Communications in 1991.  
            It seems that the original wireless building is still in use, though these days apparently as a dwelling, and it can be seen on Google Earth at 21 12 00 S & 159 48 30 W.           
            The first radio broadcasting station in the Cook Islands was an informal and unofficial station that was orchestrated by the well known international radioman, Alan Roycroft, the son in an English migrant family that settled in New Zealand.  During the year 1944, Alan Roycroft was serving in radio communications with the Royal New Zealand Air Force on Rarotonga Island. 
            Roycroft modified a low powered longwave airways beacon for part time usage as a mediumwave program broadcasting transmitter.  This radio transmitter was located in association with the airport on the northern edge of the island and it was on the air with an irregular program schedule. We would imagine that the radio broadcasts were compiled from a few locally produced programs and relays from international shortwave stations that were audible on a local shortwave receiver.

            Some ten years later, the first officially recognized experimental broadcasts on mediumwave began at Avarua on Rarotonga; and that’s where we pick up the story again next time.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 374)