Kōkiri 26 – Happy birthday Te Ūpoko

Published in Kōkiri 26, Ngahuru - Autumn 2012

A radio station, one of whose early studios was made from timber salvaged from the Todd Motors rubbish tip at Porirua, has become the country’s oldest and longest running Māori radio station. It was named Māori radio station of the year for 2012, and celebrated its 25th birthday at the beginning of May.

Te Reo Irirangi o Te Ūpoko O Te Ika began broadcasting on 4 May 1987, out of an old two storeyed brick building in Cuba Street. The broadcast lasted two months and then the station shut down for eight months to allow the staff to consolidate, do some training and build up their strength to tackle the job fulltime.

The station trustees and stalwarts don’t use the term and don’t like hearing their station described as the ‘teihana matua’ of the iwi/Māori radio stations, but actually it is.

Starting up on 4 May 1987 wasn’t accidental or the result of a whim or a sudden rush of blood to the head, there had been a steady and methodical build up.

The first broadcasts from the people who went on to establish the station we now call ‘Te Ūpoko’ began with a short term broadcast using the student radio studio and transmitter at Victoria University in 1983 under the auspices of the Wellington Māori Language Board or Ngā Kaiwhakapumau i te Reo Māori. Backing the move were Hirini Moko Mead – now Sir Hirini, and Whatarangi Winiata – both men were Professors at Victoria at the time. Taranaki kaumātua Huirangi Waikerepuru was also staunchly supportive.

There were further short-term broadcasts in 1984, ‘85 and ‘86 but in 1987 the station’s organisers saw an opportunity to start broadcasting fulltime and zeroed in on it.

They needed a transmitter and a frequency; the ZM station in Wellington was transferring to an FM frequency vacating the 1161 AM frequency it had been on, and no longer needing the Mt Victoria situated transmitter it had been using. The answer seemed simple to the promoters of the Māori station, but not so to the then managers of state-owned radio. A standoff followed, some supporters of the station took direct action in the form of an occupation and eventually an arrangement was reached and the broadcasting began.

While Te Ūpoko is a smooth running operation today with government funding and commercial revenue in place, there were no government grants back in 1987, volunteers and koha were the order of the day.

People like Piripi Walker, Ngāhiwi Apanui, Piripi Whaanga and the late Tūngia Baker were part of a backbone of helpers who kept the station on-air. Kaumātua who came in to support suddenly found themselves broadcasting, like Henare Kingi who was still on-air until March 2012.

Over the years about 200 people have worked at the station, many of them are expected to come back for the birthday celebrations which will be held between 29 April and 5 May. The celebrations will begin with a pōhiri and church service at Pipitea Marae on the morning of 29 April. Over the week there will be a Radio Symposium, and Gala dinner along with special broadcasts featuring archival and contemporary material.

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