5ZB – Radio on the Rails

After publishing the January 2005 DX Times with the front cover photo of the North Otago Branch members visiting the Pleasant Point Railway Museum (see copy below) it was pointed out to me by Steven Greenyer and other members
that the callsign of the station that broadcast from a Railway Carriage around NZ was 5ZB and not 5ZR as printed. Thank you to Steven Greenyer for providing the information below.

The following is attributed to Robin Bromby from his book “Rails That Built A Nation”, published in 2003 by Grantham House. Robin was a League member in 1957-1960. Please note: The following may not be reproduced in part of in full unless by permission of the author. 

In 1939 the National Commercial Broadcasting Service, as the commercial state-owned radio stations were then known, was looking to expand commercial radio beyond the four main centres. It was therefore decided to convert a railway carriage into a broadcasting studio, complete with a three-man crew, a retractable antenna and 250 watt transmitter. The station was given the call sign of 5ZB, and the intention was to gauge the audience and advertising potential in various provincial towns of the North Island. The station went on the air in Rotorua in April 1939, and in 79 days covered 2,650 km of the NZR system.
Station 5ZB entertained radio audiences in Hamilton, Whangarei, Te Kuiti, Taumarunui, New Plymouth, Hawera, Wanganui, Palmers ton North, Dannevirke, Napier, Hastings and Masterton. More than 15,000 curious listeners inspected the mobile station during its travels. The 5ZB manager wanted to keep the station going, his plan being to have the carriage do three month-long stints in various locations. His masters, however, decided instead to gradually open permanent stations in various towns. Both plans were shelved due to the war.

In 1982 the Pleasant Point Railway and Historical Society refitted guard’s van F423 with vintage radio equipment, and some broadcasts were made from this rail studio via the local Timaru station, 3ZC.

3 responses to “5ZB – Radio on the Rails

  1. A correction to the above statement. I was confusing another “plate salvage” in the Auckland car yard.
    I was given plate Aa1710 by a fitter at the Otahuhu shops who said the plate “fell-off” as he was walking by the carriage. I had the plate until 2010 when I sold it in an auction.

  2. Hi Tony.
    You may be interested in the signed original photo of the carriage on trademe.

    I used to own Aa1710’s cast iron oval number plate (it had two, each riveted to either side of the carriage underframe. I got it from the Auckland car yard about 1983 or so.

    Kind regards

  3. This is a very short history of the 5ZB carriage.

    Its carriage number was AA1710

    AA . 1710 built 15/08/1931 at Otahuhu Shops (50’0″, Steel Main Line Day Car, 1st class, seats:30, bod:BP X.25120)
    AA . 1710 altered 1934 (GM NI Car)
    AA . 1710 altered 04/04/1939 (Radio Studio 5ZB (for 1940 Centennial Exhibition Rongotai) )
    AA . 1710 altered 1940 (GM NI Car)
    AA . 1710 reclassified 01/1972 to AL.1710
    AL . 1710 (2nd class Suburban, seat type:MU (Multiple Unit), seats:52, luggage compartment fitted)
    AL . 1710 renumbered c1978 to AL50049
    AL 50049 w/off 02/1982 at Auckland.3. The Strand

    If you do a google search there is another article about 5ZB and also a photo of the station in operation with the antenna raised


    Tony Magon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *