Skip to main content

First live satellite TV link to NZBC

Film of the first satellite television link from outside New Zealand. The actual link-up occurs as ‘NHK Tokyo - NZBC Wellington’ appears on the screen. (NHK - Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai - is Japan's national public broadcaster; the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation was then New Zealand’s public broadcaster.) Sequences of Japanese dancing follow. The 8-mm silent film was not transmitted publicly in New Zealand.

It was shot at Warkworth satellite communications centre in July 1971 by New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation engineer Clyde Cunningham. He gives some context for the occasion:

In 1971 I was employed by the NZBC at their Head Office Engineering Section in Wellington. They had recently purchased an EMI 2001 colour camera - the only model of colour camera used by the BBC at the time. The camera equipment had been brought to Australia and NZ on a demonstration/sales tour by EMI UK. NZ didn't have colour TV at that tiime but, despite this, the NZBC decided to purchase the camera - presumably because it was offered at a good discount. The camera weighed 256 lb (116 kg) and the lens alone weighed 70 lb (32 kg), so the cost to EMI of flying it back to the UK would have been considerable.

EMI demonstrated the camera to a number of NZBC bigwigs in Wellington and I heard that at the end of the demonstration the NZBC Chief Engineer stood up and thanked the EMI salesmen but informed them that the NZBC had no plans to introduce colour TV in the near future. Some time later we were very surprised to hear that the NZBC had bought the camera! The Commonwealth Games in Christchurch was looming on the horizon and the embarrassing possibility of transmitting the Games in black and white concentrated the minds of the NZBC and government to introduce colour TV to NZ.

I had worked at the BBC in London before returning to NZ in 1969 and I was the only engineer in the NZBC who had first-hand experience of colour TV, so the camera was put into my care. During the following months I visited the NZBC studios in Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland and demonstrated the camera to the local and national press.

In 1971 the New Zealand Post Office commissioned the first satellite communications station near Warkworth and asked the NZBC to provide a colour camera on site to transmit a live greeting back to Japan on the occasion of the first direct link-up. This is where I came in. Head Office told me to arrange for the one and only colour camera in NZ to be transported to Warkworth.

When the link-up was established, an NZBC person (or maybe a politician - I can't remember) made a short announcement in front of our camera in the form of a greeting from the people of NZ to the people of Japan. To the best of my knowledge the greeting was never seen in NZ because we had no way of transmitting the colour pictures to the NZ public.

One other memorable job I was asked to perform was to set up a colour camera demonstration for the Prime Minister and other politicians in Broadcasting House - which was located at that time in Bowen Street, Wellington. No decision had been made regarding which colour TV system was to be adopted in NZ (NTSC or PAL). The NTSC system had been in operation in America since the mid-1950s, but an improved version of NTSC called PAL had been developed in Germany and was in use by the BBC and many state broadcasters in Europe. Clearly the NZBC wanted to influence the government's decision on which system to use – that was the reason for the demo. Shortly after the government announced the adoption of the PAL system, so I like to think I had some influence on that - but to be truthful, the choice was inevitable.

To set up the demonstration, I installed the camera in the main studio of Broadcasting House. The presenter was Relda Familton. Since the demonstration was requested at short notice, we had no time to provide much of a 'set'. We needed something very colourful, so I went down to Lambton Quay and bought some fruit (bananas, oranges, etc.) from a greengrocer and then went to a wool shop. The local radio shopping reporter on 2ZB had spoken to the owner and got her permission for me to select about half a dozen balls of wool of different colours. I went back to Broadcasting House and set up the display on a desk covered in green baize cloth. The demonstration went ahead perfectly and a number of politicians remarked how good the pictures looked - in comparison to what they had seen on American television during visits to the USA. I had the balls of wool for several years after and, as far as I know, nobody ever paid for them!


Film: Clyde Cunningham, 1971 (added to YouTube 2014).

Commentary: Clyde Cunningham, 2014.

How to cite this page

First live satellite TV link to NZBC, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated