Sometime around the year 1926, a curious crowd gathered outside the shop front of ‘H. H. Lublow, Ladies & Gents High Class Tailor’, at what is today the Civil and Naval Bar and Eatery on London Street in Ōhinehou Lyttelton. Ms Rosa Moir’s vehicle was apparently parked out front, with her leaning on its bonnet, and Mr Dick Pascoe striding towards the crowd from the right. The object of the townspeople’s curiosity was apparently the strange and wondrous sound of the first public radiotelephonic broadcast in Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour.
Just over 30 years prior, in 1895, Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of wireless telegraphic communication had marked a pivotal moment in the history of telecommunications. Marconi's groundbreaking innovation allowed Morse code signals to be transmitted over electromagnetic waves, revolutionising long distance communication. Just six years later, in 1901, Marconi achieved another historic milestone by successfully demonstrating the first transatlantic broadcast, showcasing the immense potential of his wireless telegraphy system. On 23 December 1900, Reginald A. Fessenden, a Canadian inventor, also made a significant breakthrough, becoming the first person to transmit audio, known as wireless telephony, using electromagnetic waves. His historic achievement spanned a distance of approximately 1.6 kilometres. Six years later, on Christmas Eve 1906, Fessenden conducted the world's first public wireless telephony broadcast.
The year 1904 saw the invention of the first diode vacuum tube, often referred to as the 'Fleming valve' after John Ambrose Fleming, who developed the technology while working for the Marconi Company. Subsequently, in 1907, Lee de Forest introduced the ‘audion’ tube, a rudimentary version of which would later become known as the triode valve amplifier. These inventions turbocharged the development of electronic technologies and engineering in the early 20th century, and most especially the development of wireless communications. By 1910, the term ‘radio’ had been adopted to describe these various wireless systems, and radiotelegraphy spanned the entire planet. Then the catastrophe that was WWI drove the rapid technological development of wireless telegraphy and telephony for military communications, which became key to dominance of the modern battlefields across Europe and Mesopotamia, and around the world’s oceans.
Post war, radio wave transmission and reception initially remained largely within the domain of secure government communications. However, the technology had matured, setting the stage for broader public applications. In New Zealand, only a select few enthusiasts possessed the resources to construct their own radio receivers, and even fewer could build transmitters. Government oversight was established over this nascent amateur radio field through radio licensing under the authority of the 1908 Post and Telegraph Act.
The dawn of public radio broadcasting in New Zealand began on 17 November 1921 when physics professor Robert Jack, Head of the Physics Department at the University of Otago, transmitted the first public radio broadcast to a handful of listeners as far afield as Auckland. Collaborating with his students, he had assembled a small transmitter using parts imported from Britain, achieving the first successful non-governmental radiotelephonic transmission in the country. The broadcast included music, featuring the popular song 'Hello my dearie'. Professor Jack was a visionary radio pioneer who realised that through this new telecommunications technology “the whole life of the community will be broadened and educated by being brought into more effective touch with the life of the whole world”.
His work led to the establishment of the Otago Radio Association and Aotearoa New Zealand's first public radio broadcasting station, known today as Radio Dunedin, which began regular broadcasts on 15 November 1922. The station holds the distinction of being the world's fifth public radio station to commence broadcasting, predating the BBC by five weeks and still operating as the oldest station outside the United States. Following this initial breakthrough, by the end of 1923, Dunedin along with Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington, Whanganui, Gisborne, and Auckland had active broadcasting stations. In 1925, the Radio Broadcasting Company (RBC) commenced broadcasts across New Zealand, further expanding the reach of radio communication. The growth of radio licensing in New Zealand was likewise remarkable. In 1922, approximately 750 individuals held radio licences, a number that soared to over 100,000 by 1930. This transformation reflected the rapid and widespread adoption of radio technology across the nation.
Aside from being a high class tailor, Henry Herman Lublow was also a long-time member of the Lyttelton Fire Brigade and the Marine Brass Band as well as an early radio enthusiast. On 6 August 1926 he paid the sum of £1 (approximately $150 in 2023) for a radio licence to establish and operate a radio receiving station using his battery operated Radiola 20. A five valve radio receiver manufactured by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), this was reportedly the first radio receiver in Whakaraupō. By 1930, the entrepreneurial Mr Lublow was riding the crest of the retail commercialisation of radio and gramophone technology as an agent for various luxuriously appointed, wood panelled radio-gramophones, including the Majestic “Mighty Monarch of the Air” radio receiver priced at just £29 10s, or around $5000 in today’s currency. Such extravagances were becoming the middle class norm as Aotearoa New Zealand embraced the modern age of global telecommunications, and never looked back.
In years gone by, Whakaraupō’s well regarded and eclectic Volcano Radio 88.5 FM transmitted out of the former Harbour Board offices at Shadbolt House until the building was demolished after the devastating 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. Today, the harbour’s fine radio broadcasting tradition is carried on by Ōhinehou Lyttelton’s very own Rotten Radio 107.7 FM.