Radio Hauraki – Sounds of the Sea
“I've waited for 35 years to hear from somebody from Rick's family! He was a dear friend to many people, including myself, and one of the truly great radio talents … he had real star quality,” read an email that arrived in my inbox some months ago. DAVID JOHNSON writes.
Rick Grant, a.k.a. Lloyd Jones, was my mother’s ex-husband, and father to two of my three sisters. I didn’t really know much about Rick, other than the fact he was a radio DJ for a New Zealand radio station called ‘Radio Hauraki’ (‘Hauraki’ is Maori for ‘Sounds of the Sea’). My sisters knew little more than I did, as they were quite young when he left. So thanks to the wonders of something called the ‘internet’, I decided to do some research. Within hours, I was talking to a few men who could give me the answers I was looking for.
“Rick was the Godfather of my eldest son Jason, who is now in his thirties. We spent many happy hours at various motor racing meetings around the country, which was one of his real passions. And, of course given our ages, and the pretty exciting adventure we were involved in, we partied quite hard. Rick liked to party!” another email said.
“He was also probably the most talented radio DJ I ever worked with during a radio career that spanned more than 40 years. He possessed a remarkable voice. Rick was witty, generous to his friends and he loved the whole concept that Hauraki stood for … ”
Thanks to correspondence with these men – David Gapes, Derek Lowe, and Adrian Blackburn (author of the book The Shoestring Pirates – the source of most of the quotes in this article) – I’ve managed to condense a truly inspiring tale of indignation, determination, passion, rebellion, beer, coffee, cigarettes, violence, contempt, tragic loss, and ultimately triumph in to a couple of pages. I hope I’ve done them justice.
In 1965, David Gapes, a journalist writing for the NZ Truth (a national weekly tabloid) had recently returned from Australia inspired by a more progressive society and healthy competition between private and public radio stations. He sought to change government legislation, end the monopoly of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, and, most importantly, give the youth of New Zealand a voice. In a Wellington pub one night, he and fellow journalist, Australian Bruce Baskett, agreed to quit their jobs at the end of the year and move to Auckland. And so Radio Hauraki was born.
At the same time, across the other side of the world, British and Swedish radio pirates were attempting to buck the system as well. The Swedish government acted swiftly to shut down any opposition, however, Radio Caroline flourished in the UK, even attracting several pirate radio rivals. Gapes decided to follow Radio Caroline’s lead.
Gapes knew virtually nothing about setting up a radio station, nor did he have the capital some of the British pirate radio stations managed to secure.
“Estimates ranged from $100,000 up to about $400,000. Bruce had about $1000, and Wendy (Gapes’ girlfriend) and I, by saving desperately, would have about $2000 between us by the end of the year,” said Gapes. With no money, no experience, and no foreseeable way of raising revenue without losing complete control of the project, it seemed Radio Hauraki was doomed to fail before it even began. However, Gapes was an optimist, and financial and legal matters were nothing more than trivial matters to him.
Gapes and Baskett then set about laying the foundations, first of all obtaining legal advice on how they could circumvent existing laws without leaving themselves exposed to court action.
Secondly, there was the minor detail of finding someone who knew a thing or two about the technical side of radio broadcasting. Enter Denis ‘Doc’ O’Callahan – a man who, according to Gapes, was “the sort of bloke who makes radio sets go better just by standing near them”. Luckily for the pioneering duo, O’Callahan was also an experienced amateur boatman, and knew a thing or two about the Hauraki Gulf, the area from which the pirates would broadcast.
Thirdly, they needed money. Gapes was convinced that advertisers would flock to Radio Hauraki once it was on the air – getting them to invest beforehand was another matter entirely.
After several months, Bruce Baskett – broke and despondent – pulled out of the venture to return overseas. Rumours and newspaper articles about the venture quickly circulated around Auckland much to the surprise of two 24-year-old ex-NZBC employees, Derek Lowe and Chris Parkinson, who had been working on a similar plan for months. Within 15 minutes Lowe and Parkinson were at Reihana Street, cautiously discussing their progress and ideas with Gapes and O’Callahan. Soon, it became apparent that the skill sets Lowe and Parkinson brought to the table were a perfect fit for Radio Hauraki. The next day a deal was struck. Gapes and Lowe would seek out a financier, while O’Callahan and Parkinson would work fulltime and channel their weekly wages into Radio Hauraki.
Hauraki now needed to acquire a ship. The Radio Hauraki crew had temporarily used a ship called the Tiri when a film crew from Sydney’s TCN9 arrived to cover the story. “What a wreck,” Lowe said, “thank Christ this isn’t the boat we’re taking out.” He’d spoken too soon. Due to another ship falling through at the last minute, local Jim Frankham sold the Tiri to the Hauraki crew for $6000, to be paid over five years.
O’Callahan, Gapes, Lowe, Parkinson and many new crew members set about restoring the Tiri so she could pass inspection. For those used to the typical eight-hour-a-day public servant lifestyle, it was a shock to the system – weeks of hard physical labour for up to 18 hours a day. Much of the pressure fell squarely on O’Callahan’s shoulders. He not only designed the 150-foot steel lattice transmission mast, but designed and built the three anchors needed to moor in international waters. The original quote was $4000. He built them for the princely sum of $100.
Soon, the government impeded progress again, with the Post Office delaying an application for a two-way radio-telephone channel link the Tiri crew would use to communicate with HQ in Auckland. So, Hauraki approached Auckland pigeon breeders to supply a dozen birds which would send messages to and from the Tiri. The Post Office soon capitulated (due to bad press) and granted them use of a marine-band radio.
Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!
On 23 October 1966, the crew – despite repeated threats of arrest, and promises of an impending licence to broadcast on land – decided to set sail. It was meant to be a quiet affair; however, over 200 onlookers and supporters arrived to witness the historic event.
Soon, police and marine inspectors arrived on the scene to stop the pirates. Regardless, Colin Broadley and Chris Parkinson set the Tiri loose and Doc O’Callahan signaled full-steam ahead – the roaring engines drawing a rapturous response from the crowd. The elation, however, was short lived, as the Tiri ground to a halt stuck in the muddy floor of the Western Viaduct courtesy of a receding tide.
The pirates’ only means of escape was a drawbridge at the edge of the viaduct basin, which was now under the control of the marine authorities. To the disgust of the crowd and the Hauraki crew, the drawbridge inched slowly downwards. Gapes, and fellow crew members Peter Telling, Ian Magan and Brian Strong, sped to the other side of the dock, straight into a line of policemen – who curiously let them pass. Telling, Gapes and Strong jumped into the jaws of the closing bridge. Strong, still wearing his motorcycle helmet from the desperate dash on his motorbike minutes earlier, could soon feel the weight of the bridge pressing on his back. Despite attempts from the crowd below to alert marine staff in the control booth, the bridge crept lower. Gapes rushed to the control booth and started beating furiously on the windows. “I think I broke one of the windows. There were a couple of blokes in there, one Marine Department guy and the Harbour Board bridge operator. I could see their faces. They were petrified, really scared. They probably thought I was some sort of lunatic. I hadn’t shaved for a couple of days, I had a greasy boilersuit on, and I was furious! I was yelling at them through the hole in the window to stop the machinery, there were people in it. The Marine Department man kept telling the other bloke to take no notice. But the operator got really scared and cut the power.”
The crowd now became active participants by helping free the Tiri from the bottom of the basin, while the police, still unsure of themselves, watched on. The hysterical crowd cheered as the Tiri sailed towards the Hauraki Gulf. If all the hurdles they had faced up until this point were any indication, it wasn’t going to be that easy – and it wasn’t. Soon, the Tiri’s mast collided with the half-open drawbridge, amidst a shower of sparks.
Colin Broadley, followed closely by Ian Magan, climbed the bridge in an attempt to free her. The police cruiser, Deodar, now pulled alongside the Tiri, and police attempted to board her. They were stopped by Chris Parkinson who punched the leading officer, then proceeded to send two more policemen into the drink.
A rope was secured around the top of the mast, and with an almighty effort, the crowd pulled her free. O’Callahan, no doubt furious with all the interruptions, fired full-throttle towards North Head and the Rangitoto Channel – with bewildered members of Auckland’s thin blue line still on board. When asked by one of the lawmen, “What are you going to do if you get out there and I’m still on board?” Lowe quipped, “You’ll either work or you’ll walk.”
Eventually, the police gained access to the engine room and pulled the fuel line. The Deodar had by now caught up with the Tiri. The Hauraki crew was offloaded and were soon guests of the four-star Auckland Central Police Station. The 11 men faced a variety of charges, from obstructing Marine Department inspectors and defying the detention order placed on the Tiri, to disorderly behaviour and obscene language.
The crew faced an impromptu hearing at 2am in front of Mr LGH Sinclair, SM. Flanked by a handful of reporters and supporters, the 11 exhausted men – covered in dirt and grease – shuffled in to the courtroom. One man, Paddy O’Donnell, was ordered to show respect to the court and take his hands out of his pockets. He obliged, and his pants – minus one confiscated belt – dropped around his ankles.
The pirates were bailed at around 3.30am that morning, and made their way to their local eatery – the White Lady pie cart in Shortland Street. The cook took one look at them and told them anything they wanted was on the house.
Publicity for the pirates was now gathering momentum, and Gapes knew they had to capitalise on the groundswell of public support. A public meeting was organised at the Auckland Town Hall for 26 October. On the day of the meeting, the Tiri was towed back to the city side of the harbour for repairs.
The Hauraki Directors received a rapturous reception from well over 2000 supporters (who had packed the Town Hall and the pavement outside), and a less than warm reception from all but a handful of opponents who would sleep better if the Hauraki crew would simply give up, or be locked up. If the crowd reaction was anything to go by, there were a few more restless nights ahead.
After a stiff drink (four double Scotches, in fact), Lowe launched into an impassioned speech. “If we had our way, at 6 o’clock this morning you would have heard Radio Hauraki on the air. I know I can make you a promise to you from all of us on this stage that you will hear Radio Hauraki on the air.” The crowd stamped their feet so hard, the whole building shook. “Today they gave us back the Tiri. If we are forced again to go to sea, we will go to sea. But we would rather stay on land, so we will continue to apply both to the Government and the Broadcasting Corporation to give us a radio station on land. The little yellow Tiri is moored down at the wharf. She would obviously love to see some of you at the end of the meeting.”
After the meeting ended, the crowd soon took to the streets, turning their anger on the NZBC headquarters, and then to the Western Viaduct where the Tiri was under detention. Gapes and Lowe headed off the increasingly violent mob, telling them that if they wanted to help, they should go home – the crowd obeyed, dropped their placards and dispersed as quickly as they had arrived.
In November, thanks to an expert defense, Hauraki won their court case – the judge finding that the Tiri had been detained to stop her from being used as a pirate station, not because she was un-seaworthy. All charges were dropped.
On 10 November 1966, the Tiri set sail again, and in late November began test transmissions. On 1 December 1966, Radio Hauraki was on the air. The NZ Government, noting public support, was quickly changing its attitude towards issuing private licences, and it looked certain that soon Hauraki would be the first station to receive one.
Before advertising revenue could roll in, Hauraki survived on generous donations from avid fans and local businessmen. Air stewards brought back the latest music releases from the UK and US, giving Hauraki a three-month jump on the government-run radio stations. Audio tapes from bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (I’ve never heard of them, personally) arrived in the post congratulating them on their effort, and pledging their moral support.
Things were on the up and up for Radio Hauraki. However, on 28 January 1968 the Tiri struck trouble, with shocked listeners hearing the drama unfold live. Announcer Paul Lineham interrupted the normally pre-recorded transmission saying, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is the Tiri. We are drifting on to rocks at the entrance to Whangaparapara Harbour. Would anyone listening to this broadcast get in touch with Musick Point radio station. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday.” As the skipper, Lloyd Griffiths, attempted to maneuver away from the rocks, the rest of the crew grabbed their lifejackets and hoped for the best. Assistant radio technician, Derek King, now grabbed the microphone. “I’ve a good mind to change this damn weather forecast now, actually,” he said, laughing.
King turned up the microphone so the audience could hear everything that was going on. There was a loud crash. “We’ve hit now. I repeat, now. We’re receiving on 2182. We have gone aground near the entrance to Whangaparapara Harbour. I don’t know how long I can stay with you.” There was another loud crash. “There, we’ve gone again. That was rather bad, actually.” The ship’s siren then rang out, indicating to the crew to abandon ship. “There, abandon ship. Abandon ship. I am turning the microphone up now. Abandon ship. Abandon ship. The siren has gone. We are abandoning ship. The rocks are within swimming distance. We’ve got to go now.” Another loud crash. The hull of the Tiri creaked loudly as she bashed against the rocks. A hurried whisper rang out over the airwaves – “I love you Mum and Dad!” – leaving listeners horrified, many in tears. The ship’s cook, John Moafua, tied a rope to his waist and the other end to the Tiri and bravely swam ashore, allowing the rest of the crew to make their way to dry land relatively safely. However, the Tiri was a wreck. A cash-strapped Hauraki could ill afford such a loss. Regardless, the search for a replacement vessel was launched. Thanks to sympathetic advertising executives and local businessmen, a ship was found four days later. Renamed the Tiri II, she set sail on February 27.
Luck didn’t seem to go their way for the rest of 1968. During April, one of the worst storms seen in New Zealand caused Tiri II to run aground again – thankfully on a beach this time. The mast had also snapped and crushed the safety railing which, for some reason, was never fixed. It was to be a costly oversight.
All their hard work over the next 12 months paid off. Hauraki, along with another station, were awarded private broadcasting licences. The feeling amongst the entire team was one of jubilation, and most of all, relief.
1 June 1970 – after 1111 days at sea – was to be Hauraki’s final offshore broadcast. Several DJs, who usually recorded their shows in Auckland, were on board. At 10pm transmission ended with the Matt Munro song ‘Born Free’, which had been featured in the station’s debut program in 1966. The crew then set about celebrating into the wee hours of the morning. After things had settled down a bit, four announcers sat around a table playing cards and drinking tea. During a game, tea was spilt over the cards. Rick Grant said he would get another deck from his bag.
Unfamiliar with the ship’s layout, Rick was passing the safety-rail gap in bulwarks as the ship lurched and he was thrown overboard. Chris Prouse, a Radio Hauraki technician, saw him fall and alerted Lloyd Griffiths. Rick was heard calling for a few minutes, however, despite being an excellent swimmer, not even he could have survived in the freezing water for more than a few minutes. As the ship turned around, the surrounding sea went quiet, and there was no sight of Rick or his torch. It was a tragic end to what was supposed to be the happiest day in the station’s short but turbulent history. David Gapes was alerted to the tragedy by phone early that morning. “I still get instant feelings of fright when the phone rings at night,” he would later say. Despite hiring a plane the next day, the crew would never see Rick again. He was 28 years old. Lloyd Griffiths later said, “Everybody who was normally on board was aware of the gap in the rail and was cautious passing it. But I know even so that it should have been fenced-off with a rope or stanchions at all times. And it should have been more so when we had on board all these guys who were strange to the ways of the Tiri. I take the blame solely for this. Nobody else could be blamed for it.”
The tragedy deeply affected the entire crew, in particular, David Gapes and Derek Lowe. Lowe reflects, “He was one of life's characters who really loved life and lived it to the full. But I guess your mum can tell you a lot more about his personality, his strengths and weaknesses, and, like all of us, he certainly wasn't a saint – but I still miss his presence in my life after all these years. It happened almost 35 years ago, but of course he remains forever young in my mind and memory.”
“It is a great pity that you never got to know him.”
It certainly is.
“I hope these recollections answer some of your questions.”
They certainly did – and much more.