New Zealand’s going gone digital

Minister of Broadcasting Craig Foss (left) switches off analogue television, watched by Peter Best from Kordia (right) and Seymour (behind), the Going Digital mascot

Minister of Broadcasting Craig Foss (left) switches off analogue television, watched by Peter Best from Kordia (right) and Seymour (behind), the Going Digital mascot

The day I ditched the bunny ears aerial and went digital was a happy one for the television lover that I am! After shifting to a house that didn’t have a connected roof aerial I’d had the bunny ears for longer than I care to admit. I’d started to feel like Fred Dagg in this clip, jumping off the couch to adjust the aerial each time I wanted to change channels and viewing my favourite programmes through a fog. So when I finally got a UHF aerial installed I couldn’t believe the clarity of the picture and range of channels under my newly remote control.

On Sunday the upper North Island went digital, concluding New Zealand’s migration from analogue television. It began when Hawke’s Bay and the West Coast went digital in September 2012, with the rest of New Zealand following in stages. The purpose of ending analogue TV was to free up radio spectrum for next generation mobile phone and broadband services and to keep New Zealand up with international technology trends. For viewers, digital TV offers more channels, better pictures and new services such as onscreen programme guides and audio description for the vision-impaired.

In the early hours of Sunday morning Minister of Broadcasting Craig Foss switched off analogue transmitters at Waiatarua (the site that has served the majority of Auckland analogue viewers for over 50 years), marking this major milestone in our country’s television history.

Television has been part of our lives in New Zealand for more than 50 years now. After a period of experimentation, it was introduced in 1960. It began as separate channels in the four main centres – Auckland followed by Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin. A single national channel was established in 1969. With only one channel we all watched the same programmes, and no ability to pause, record or download the programmes to watch them later meant viewing was a communal activity.

Growing up, life in Wainuiomata in the 1960s and 70s seemed far removed from the overseas programmes that dominated the schedules, but over the years we enjoyed seeing more and more of ourselves reflected on screen. Local TV created iconic characters such as Lynn of Tawa, and expressions such as ‘Jeez, Wayne!‘ became part of the lingo for a while.

Everything looked so much better in colour when it arrived in 1973. The live broadcast of Princess Anne’s wedding to Captain Mark Phillips in November that year drew a crowd to our neighbour’s place, as they were the first in the street to have a colour TV. We celebrated in a most sophisticated style – with cheese and pineapple porcupines and prawn cocktails.

The 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch motivated the move to colour transmission. I’ll never forget the excitement of seeing Dick Tayler collapse in elated exhaustion after winning gold in the 10,000 metres, though our family (like most at the time) watched the games on our old black and white set.

Buying a 26-inch colour television in 1975 cost the equivalent of about $8,000 today, so it took a while for most people to transition from black and white. ‘We’ve got a colour TV,’ was regularly touted to me as a babysitter in the late 70s. This was indeed a draw card, but didn’t make up for the lonely period waiting for the partygoers to return after television shutdown for the night.

Here at Te Ara we’re busy preparing our entry on television, for our upcoming Creative and Intellectual Life theme, which will fill you in on the story of what remains New Zealand’s most popular leisure activity.

What are your fondest memories of New Zealand television?

3 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Peter Clayworth || December 2nd, 2013

    Entertaining bit of TV history Janine! The bunny ears channel-changing adventures remind me of my flat in Dunedin, back in 1988, where we had two old black and white TVs stacked on top of each other. One had sound and no pictures, the other pictures and no sound. There was no problem as long as you had both tuned to the same channel!

  2. Comment made by Fran || December 2nd, 2013

    At the risk of sounding elderly, I remember when my parents purchased our first colour TV. Even though my parents loathed the soap operas such as ‘Days of our lives’, we sat there transfixed for the next 30 minutes or so taking in the new world of colour TV. I did enjoy the Telethons it was a chance to stay up watching TV all hours.

  3. Comment made by Denise Stephens || December 2nd, 2013

    Some great memories here! So I wasn’t the only person to live in a flat with two TVs to provide sound and picture!

    I was a babysitter in 1973, and one of my regular families got a colour TV immediately. Not much homework got done on those jobs.

    I can even remember when TV started at 5pm. We would race through our homework so we could go to the neighbours to watch the children’s hour before the news, with programmes such as Rin Tin Tin and Fireball XL5.

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