The History of Radio Rhema

Richard Berry, the man God chose to establish Christian radio in New Zealand, had all the necessary qualities. As a young man he threw himself into everything he did with determination, especially if it had to do with old radios. When he was sixteen, he and two friends gave their lives to Christ at a Christian meeting. One of them recalled later how they sat on some old steps until well past midnight, talking excitedly about the novel idea of a Christian radio station. Richard’s encounter with Jesus had an immediate impact on his life, and from then on he had a fierce passion for winning souls. Later this would drive him on and provide the main thrust of the fledgling Christian radio ministry.


Founder, Richard Berry
1961 – 1988

Soon after Richard became a Christian, a neighbour invited him to a meeting in Nelson to hear Frank Cook, a broadcaster from a large Christian radio station in South America. When Richard heard that the signal could be picked up in New Zealand, he rushed home to try it out, and soon had it loud and clear. He told lots of other people about it, and pre-tuned old radios, taking them to various retirement homes.
In 1961, whilst erecting an aerial at his home in order to receive HCJB better, Richard slipped a disc and faced weeks of immobilisation. Someone lent him a cassette tape on healing after which he prayed, and was consequently up walking about later that day. For the first time, he began to grasp hold of the wonderful truth that God is really able to intervene and perform practical miracles in people’s lives. In gratitude he asked God what he could do in return, offering to serve in whatever way he could.
The Lord gave him clear direction to establish Christian radio in New Zealand. God gave him three scriptures which served to encourage Richard through the next eighteen years of struggling to get Christian radio on air. Firstly, Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Richard knew that this was going to have to be wholly a work of God, and that he was only to be a vessel. Secondly, Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” What often seemed an impossible task for just one man, God was going to accomplish. Finally, John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Richard was reminded of the time when Jesus stood on the shore and spoke to five thousand people with no amplification system – a miracle in itself. But now the way was opening to speak to hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously.
Richard admitted that as a young enthusiastic twenty-year-old, he was perhaps naive about the sheer size of the project he was tackling. In those days, there was no such thing as private radio. On the contrary, there was strict government restriction on any form of private broadcasting, with no real possibility of private groups gaining licenses. He planned to set up in his back yard and broadcast to New Zealand from there.

Sharing the Vision

The initial reaction of people when he shared the vision God had given him was one of astonishment, and perhaps some thought that he would grow out of it. Very few were able to share either the vision or his enthusiasm and excitement for it. God led him to a Salvation Army friend who had been wanting to build Christian studios, and they agreed to build them in Richard’s garage in Banbury Street, Christchurch. They appropriately called the studio Banbury Recordings Incorporated.
The Equipment at Banbury Studios

The studios became central to the tiny developing ministry, and Richard and others often retreated there to pray and seek God. Their commitment to prayer established a firm foundation of dependence on God which would carry them through many lean years.
In 1968, a property was purchased at Glenfield Crescent in Christchurch. Three years later, Richard felt God challenging him to live on faith and to devote all of his time to establishing Christian radio. Initially hesitant, Richard wrote: “I began to lose my joy as I failed to put my trust in the Lord, and I was left defenceless as He began to show me my ‘reasons’ were in fact excuses… The following three weeks proved the Lord a greater provider than I could ever have been within the limits of my income.” With a wife, three small children and a mortgage, Richard resigned from his job and stepped out in faith. It was a major turning point, and by 1974 the ministry had twenty-one full-time staff living on faith.

Successes and Setbacks

Staff discovered time and time again that God answered their prayers in amazing, very specific ways. Anita Wilkinson, first breakfast announcer for Radio Rhema, tells of how as a typist for Radio Rhema in 1972, she asked God for an electric typewriter. That very afternoon a caller rang to say they had an electric typewriter to donate to Radio Rhema.

However there were discouraging times as well. Perhaps one of the greatest disappointments at this early stage was in 1971, when the Broadcasting Authority of New Zealand declined the Gospel Radio Fellowship (as Radio Rhema was then known) a broadcasting licence. They felt the Gospel Radio Fellowship had failed to prove that such a station was either necessary or desirable in the public’s interest; that it had failed to prove that it could finance such a venture; and failed to prove that they could provide professional people to operate such a station.
In 1972 the Gospel Radio Fellowship changed its name to Radio Rhema. Around this time God had given Richard a “rhema”, an inspired spoken word of God. He told Richard that the ministry would become so big that it would be impossible to contain. This wonderful promise was miraculously reinforced when Richard was invited to USA and introduced to Pat Robertson, President of CBM, one of the largest Christian TV/Radio networks in the world. Pat Robertson, prompted by God, repeated the same message to Richard.
Radio Rhema received another setback in 1974, when a mobile studio was built in the hope that a temporary licence would be granted to enable them to broadcast during the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. Once again, the application was rejected.
The first breakthrough in Christian broadcasting came in November 1974. Although Radio Rhema was only granted a one day licence, Richard saw that day as one of the most significant and memorable in his life. When the staff heard the news, they gathered in Richard’s office and praised God.
Given very little notice, the staff scrambled to be ready in time. Equipment was scarce, and everyone had to pull together. Frank Salisbury, now Vice-President of Radio Rhema, designed and built a transmitter especially for the day’s broadcast. The night before the on-air date during a test run, it blew up! He and two other technicians spent the night repairing it, finishing minutes before the on-air time of 6am. A crane was brought in to hold up a piece of wire for an aerial. However despite the few tense moments the day went smoothly, even though the volunteers involved had never worked together as a team before. Amidst music and teaching, phone calls poured in, encouraging Radio Rhema. Then, after just eleven hours, the announcer had to say good-night, and the air waves were silent once again.

The one day licence granted for November 23rd 1974, caused a lot of excitement, and the response was extremely encouraging. A survey revealed that in the Christchurch area alone there were over 10,700 listeners, 72% of whom rated Radio Rhema positively.

Airwaves in Wellington

Nearly one year later, on October 10th 1975, Radio Rhema again had cause for celebration when they were granted another one day licence, this time in Petone, Wellington. The broadcast was fraught with problems, but God worked miracle upon miracle to make the whole venture possible.
To make the broadcast, Radio Rhema had to shift its mobile studio and transmitter from Christchurch to Wellington – the move making broadcasting history in New Zealand.
Driving north to Wellington, just past Cheviot, the gearbox of the mobile studio ground to a halt. In answer to prayer a replacement was quickly found, and technicians spent two hours on their backs in wind and rain changing it on the roadside. As a result, the bus crested the last hills above Picton only to see the Cook Strait ferry chugging out of the harbour. But God was looking after them. Despite it being a busy time of year with school holidays, the bus was allowed on the next ferry. Then the boat’s loading door jammed, and it was delayed in harbour for some time whilst ferry workers tried to force it into place with heavy weights. Radio Rhema workers prayed, then one of them went and simply stood on the door, and immediately it fell into place with a ‘click’.
The entourage finally made it to Wellington, and still the miracles kept happening. Radio Rhema had to import from the U.S. a special very high frequency (VHF) link to run between the broadcast site and the transmitter. It did not arrive until two days before the broadcasting date, and was cleared through customs in two and a half hours. An importer later said it could have taken up to a month!
Accommodation over the road from the broadcast site was offered free of charge for staff use, for which they were most grateful.
Telescopic sections of the aerial jammed when it was being erected the day before the broadcasting date, and two riggers had to spend several hours in difficult conditions a hundred feet up freeing guy wires. But the hand of God was upon them, protecting them.
It rained solidly for three weeks before the broadcast, giving the aerial good contact with the ground in an area normally poor for radio transmission.
Regardless of all that had happened, Radio Rhema came on air in Wellington at 6am, and all difficulties ceased. Transmission was loud and clear in most parts of Wellington until close-down at 11pm. Despite the fact that Radio Rhema was unable to advertise widely beforehand, several thousand people turned out to visit the broadcasting site, and the telephone staff logged over 400 calls during the day.

Support continued to grow for the Ministry, with increasing numbers of members and full and part-time staff.

A Cracker of a Christmas

For Christmas 1976, Radio Rhema workers could not have wished for a better surprise. They were granted a licence to broadcast from 6am to midnight in Christchurch – this time for ten days. Transmitting over the Canterbury area from 24 December to 2 January 1977, the programme largely targeted non-Christians of all age groups.
Staff commitment to the Christmas broadcast was astonishing. One man was sent to hospital as a result of injuries sustained when a transmission aerial toppled over, but insisted on hurrying back the same day in case he was needed. Another worked for the last week before broadcasting with a metal splinter in his eye, refusing to have surgery as he knew that would mean the tower would not be finished in time. Still another member was admitted to hospital with severe influenza, but doggedly returned to his position at the control desk two days later.
At this time Richard Berry wrote, “Eighteen years ago there was little hope of Rhema broadcasting for more than 18 hours per year. All Glory and Honour must go to God, for He alone is able to change the unchangeable, and to bring to pass His seemingly impossible promises.”2

The Vision Is Realised

The final build-up to Radio Rhema’s achievement in gaining a permanent broadcasting licence was a tense period. The hearing of Radio Rhema’s application before the Broadcasting Tribunal lasted a marathon four weeks. Radio Rhema presented eight witnesses, who spoke of; the need for Radio Rhema, the sound financial prospects of a station based on trust in God, the ability to maintain high technical and programme standards, and the growing support of churches and community. Bruce Bornholdt, Rhema’s counsel, told the tribunal, “Today, Rhema is competing with big business. It is competing not only with that virtual monopoly, the Broadcasting Corporation, but also with private enterprise, whose catchwords are ‘profit’, ‘audience ratings’, and ‘advertising rates’.
Radio Rhema presented evidence that it had a membership of 7,235, signatures of a further 48,433 people, letters of support from most churches, and letters from many individuals and community organisations.
Finally, after eighteen long years of prayer and hard work, New Zealand’s first Christian radio station was given a permanent licence to broadcast the good news of Christ. The warrant was granted provided that certain constitutional changes were made, and this meant that a special AGM had to be held the day before broadcasting was to commence. Members packed the Christchurch Town Hall, and as the peace of the Holy Spirit fell on the crowd, the vote for the proposed changes was unanimous. The broadcasting licence was presented to Radio Rhema by legal counsellor Bruce Bornholdt.
A ceremony was held on the front lawn of Radio Rhema’s studios in Glenfield Crescent, Christchurch, on November 11th 1978, at 11:11am.
Left to Right: Loretta and Richard Berry, Rt. Hon. Mr. Muldoon, and Dudley Scantelbury.

The station was ‘switched on’ by the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Robert Muldoon. Mr. Muldoon told listeners, “I have seldom opened something which has given me more joy.” He traced the history of Radio Rhema, and paid tribute to the faith sustained by Radio Rhema members who had withstood many setbacks and disappointments over the years. He ended saying, “This is a faith that moves mountains.”
Richard Berry gave all the credit to God. “All glory for this day must go to God who has blessed His people from Kaitaia to the Bluff with sufficient faith to pray, finance and give moral support to a vision which until recently was considered very unlikely to ever get off the ground.”2

Radio Rhema was the first Christian radio station not only in New Zealand, but in the whole of the British Commonwealth. Although proud of this, and thankful to God, it meant that Radio Rhema was very much at the frontier of Christian broadcasting as we now know it.
Establishing the style of the programme format under these circumstances was extremely difficult. John McNeil, Radio Rhema’s first Station Manager, spent a lot of time looking for appropriate broadcasting models to emulate. He wrote to people all over the world, listened to demonstration tapes, and read magazines, only to draw a blank. In retrospect John said, “We had some very clear ideas of what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to be Bible-bashing, and making appeals every fifteen seconds for money. Many tapes that we heard turned us off completely. We wanted something that was going to fit the New Zealand way of life, the New Zealand approach to broadcasting, and trying to get this across to people was very hard. We wanted to sound good, to sound professional; but we wanted to sound ‘homely’ at the same time.”3

The Ministry Expands

Initially, Radio Rhema was only allowed on air from 6am to noon on weekdays, and from 6am to midnight in the weekend. However in November 1980, Radio Rhema was allowed to extend its broadcasts to eighteen hours a day as a result of changing its frequency. The ministry had now grown to thirty five full-time and ten part-time workers.

As plans to expand were laid, Auckland was initially perceived as being too large to tackle, and Hamilton seemed a better choice, but God directed His workers very definitely towards Auckland. When representatives arrived in Auckland to assess the situation, they found to their surprise and delight that Radio Rhema was wanted and expected. In October 1980, a three and a half month temporary broadcast commenced. It was exciting to have the gospel being broadcast to 1.5 million potential listeners, but unfortunately it was not to last (a permanent licence was not granted until ten years later.) By February 1981, Auckland had six full-time workers, and a building was purchased on Upper Queen Street in 1982.

During the 1980’s the Ministry blossomed slowly but surely. Nelson was granted a temporary licence for one month in 1981, and a permanent one two years later. In 1982, Radio Rhema’s first permanent relay began in Wellington. Mr. Templeton MP (then Minister of Trade, former Minister of Broadcasting) officially opened the station. In his address he said, “Can we listen, and sense what they [Radio Rhema] have done, because we have a very clear demonstration of the power of God, and His work in our community. Radio Rhema has very great responsibilities… and represents in the community a Radio life guard.”4
Temporary licences valid for one month were granted to Auckland and Palmerston North in December 1985.

A New President

With the coming on air of Wellington and Nelson, it seemed as if the trials and tribulations of the past were now behind Richard Berry. He had worked hard to see so much accomplished, but he had yet another obstacle to face. In January 1985, at the age of 44, he was diagnosed as having terminal cancer. The courage, determination, and faith, which had played such a vital role in the establishment of Radio Rhema, was now turned to confront this new challenge. Despite gradually deteriorating health, Richard continued as energetically as ever in his post as President of Radio Rhema, and maintained a vital interest in the Ministry right up to the time of his passing in 1988. As with Moses, God graciously allowed Richard a glimpse of the future before calling him home. In his last months he got a lot of joy from seeing Waikato come on air permanently, and broadcasting licences granted for Bay of Plenty, Taupo, Invercargill and Timaru.
Hal Short, Vice President, was made President of Radio Rhema after Richard died. Hal was converted as a teenager at a crusade meeting. In 1974, Hal had just returned to New Zealand from overseas and was listening to a new Wellington radio station. Without having thought about it before, he prayed, “Lord, if only there were a Christian radio station in New Zealand.” Within 48 hours he was invited to, and attended, a Radio Rhema meeting. Unknown to Hal, the local Radio Rhema committee had been praying for God to send someone to head the Wellington operations, and they saw Hal as their answer to prayer. Hal shared, “I felt an extremely clear call of God to make Radio Rhema known throughout the country.” He went on to pioneer the work in Wellington for six years, becoming full-time in 1978. Having prepared the way for a licence to be granted, Hal then moved up to Auckland and began the process all over again. In 1990, He and his family moved to Christchurch.

“God Gave the Increase”

During Easter 1987, Radio Rhema moved it’s headquarters in Christchurch from the small Glenfield Crescent studios, to the more spacious Birmingham Drive property. Radio Rhema received thousands of letters, with an astonishing 95% fully supporting the move. Having paid the deposit, a further $2 million was needed to pay the balance. Richard Berry wrote, “This challenge is beyond us, humanly speaking, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s impossible. Jesus fed the five thousand when all the disciples had to offer was five loaves and two fish. In the same way, as we all contribute in the way he directs, let us believe that God will bring the increase and meet this seemingly insurmountable need.”6 Again God was faithful, and the final payment was paid just five months later.
At this time, the music on Radio Rhema became 100% Christian. It was previously a blend of Christian and carefully selected secular music.
In 1989 a major breakthrough took place in the Pacific. United Christian Broadcasting Pacific Ltd., an organisation established by Radio Rhema, was awarded a licence to broadcast Christian programming to Tonga. UCB Pacific is financed and managed separately from Radio Rhema, although a close relationship is maintained between them. Broadcasting commenced in 1991. Other autonomous UCB’s were established in Australia and England in the 80’s. Even after twenty years, the “rhema” that God gave to Richard Berry, that the ministry would become too big to contain, was still being fulfilled.
February 1991 brought with it an exciting opportunity when Radio Rhema was able to buy 30 radio frequencies scattered throughout New Zealand, all in one day! Many paved the way for Radio Rhema to come on air in those areas. Others have yet to be utilised.

1991 also saw both Gisborne and Taranaki coming on air, and Palmerston North the following year.
Obtaining a permanent licence for Radio Rhema in Auckland was a major breakthrough, as workers could now perceive the long dreamed-of nation-wide network as becoming a reality. The Auckland station came on air on January 8th, 1990. By September it was on air 24 hours a day, and the rest of New Zealand followed suit in December.
In January 1994, the decision was made to move head office to Auckland, and the huge undertaking began. 30 staff relocated from Christchurch to Auckland. By May, Radio Rhema was broadcasting from the Auckland studios to all sixteen stations around New Zealand.
Radio Rhema now broadcasts on seventeen frequencies: Whangarei 98.7FM (which came on air in 1994), Auckland 1251AM (1990), Waikato 855AM (1988), Taupo 95.1fm (1988), Bay of Plenty 540AM (1988), Taumarunui 97.5FM (1990), Taranaki 774AM (1991), Eastland 648AM (1991), Hawkes Bay 99.1FM (1993), Palmerston North 96.3FM (1992), Masterton 90.1FM (1994), Wellington 972AM (1982), Nelson 801AM (1983), Christchurch 612AM (1978), Timaru 594AM (1988), Dunedin 621AM (1988), and Invercargill 1404AM (1988).
Plans have been laid to get Wanganui (594AM) and Greymouth (94.7FM and 97.8FM) on air this year. Seven more frequencies were successfully tendered for in March 1995, paving the way for areas such as Wanaka and Kapiti to come on air.

Keeping Abreast of Technology

During 1994, Radio Rhema made some significant technological improvements. In May 1994, Radio Rhema became New Zealand’s first radio network to link it’s stations by satellite. This move was a major breakthrough in two ways. Firstly, it reduced overhead costs significantly. Not only was linking by satellite less costly than by land links, but maintenance costs were also reduced. Secondly, it made future extension of the network considerably easier, especially to the more remote areas of New Zealand.
Radio Rhema also installed a computer system which allows local break-outs for items such as local weather and community notices.
Over Christmas 1994, major changes were made in the structure of Radio Rhema. God strongly told management to get back to the basics of spreading His good news. Consequently, management decided to redirect resources

Richard Berry, the man God chose to establish Christian radio in New Zealand, had all the necessary qualities. As a young man he threw himself into everything he did with determination, especially if it had to do with old radios. When he was sixteen, he and two friends gave their lives to Christ at a Christian meeting. One of them recalled later how they sat on some old steps until well past midnight, talking excitedly about the novel idea of a Christian radio station. Richard’s encounter with Jesus had an immediate impact on his life, and from then on he had a fierce passion for winning souls. Later this would drive him on and provide the main thrust of the fledgling Christian radio ministry.


Founder, Richard Berry
1961 – 1988

Soon after Richard became a Christian, a neighbour invited him to a meeting in Nelson to hear Frank Cook, a broadcaster from a large Christian radio station in South America. When Richard heard that the signal could be picked up in New Zealand, he rushed home to try it out, and soon had it loud and clear. He told lots of other people about it, and pre-tuned old radios, taking them to various retirement homes.
In 1961, whilst erecting an aerial at his home in order to receive HCJB better, Richard slipped a disc and faced weeks of immobilisation. Someone lent him a cassette tape on healing after which he prayed, and was consequently up walking about later that day. For the first time, he began to grasp hold of the wonderful truth that God is really able to intervene and perform practical miracles in people’s lives. In gratitude he asked God what he could do in return, offering to serve in whatever way he could.
The Lord gave him clear direction to establish Christian radio in New Zealand. God gave him three scriptures which served to encourage Richard through the next eighteen years of struggling to get Christian radio on air. Firstly, Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Richard knew that this was going to have to be wholly a work of God, and that he was only to be a vessel. Secondly, Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” What often seemed an impossible task for just one man, God was going to accomplish. Finally, John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Richard was reminded of the time when Jesus stood on the shore and spoke to five thousand people with no amplification system – a miracle in itself. But now the way was opening to speak to hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously.
Richard admitted that as a young enthusiastic twenty-year-old, he was perhaps naive about the sheer size of the project he was tackling. In those days, there was no such thing as private radio. On the contrary, there was strict government restriction on any form of private broadcasting, with no real possibility of private groups gaining licenses. He planned to set up in his back yard and broadcast to New Zealand from there.

Sharing the Vision

The initial reaction of people when he shared the vision God had given him was one of astonishment, and perhaps some thought that he would grow out of it. Very few were able to share either the vision or his enthusiasm and excitement for it. God led him to a Salvation Army friend who had been wanting to build Christian studios, and they agreed to build them in Richard’s garage in Banbury Street, Christchurch. They appropriately called the studio Banbury Recordings Incorporated.
The Equipment at Banbury Studios

The studios became central to the tiny developing ministry, and Richard and others often retreated there to pray and seek God. Their commitment to prayer established a firm foundation of dependence on God which would carry them through many lean years.
In 1968, a property was purchased at Glenfield Crescent in Christchurch. Three years later, Richard felt God challenging him to live on faith and to devote all of his time to establishing Christian radio. Initially hesitant, Richard wrote: “I began to lose my joy as I failed to put my trust in the Lord, and I was left defenceless as He began to show me my ‘reasons’ were in fact excuses… The following three weeks proved the Lord a greater provider than I could ever have been within the limits of my income.” With a wife, three small children and a mortgage, Richard resigned from his job and stepped out in faith. It was a major turning point, and by 1974 the ministry had twenty-one full-time staff living on faith.

Successes and Setbacks

Staff discovered time and time again that God answered their prayers in amazing, very specific ways. Anita Wilkinson, first breakfast announcer for Radio Rhema, tells of how as a typist for Radio Rhema in 1972, she asked God for an electric typewriter. That very afternoon a caller rang to say they had an electric typewriter to donate to Radio Rhema.

However there were discouraging times as well. Perhaps one of the greatest disappointments at this early stage was in 1971, when the Broadcasting Authority of New Zealand declined the Gospel Radio Fellowship (as Radio Rhema was then known) a broadcasting licence. They felt the Gospel Radio Fellowship had failed to prove that such a station was either necessary or desirable in the public’s interest; that it had failed to prove that it could finance such a venture; and failed to prove that they could provide professional people to operate such a station.
In 1972 the Gospel Radio Fellowship changed its name to Radio Rhema. Around this time God had given Richard a “rhema”, an inspired spoken word of God. He told Richard that the ministry would become so big that it would be impossible to contain. This wonderful promise was miraculously reinforced when Richard was invited to USA and introduced to Pat Robertson, President of CBM, one of the largest Christian TV/Radio networks in the world. Pat Robertson, prompted by God, repeated the same message to Richard.
Radio Rhema received another setback in 1974, when a mobile studio was built in the hope that a temporary licence would be granted to enable them to broadcast during the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. Once again, the application was rejected.
The first breakthrough in Christian broadcasting came in November 1974. Although Radio Rhema was only granted a one day licence, Richard saw that day as one of the most significant and memorable in his life. When the staff heard the news, they gathered in Richard’s office and praised God.
Given very little notice, the staff scrambled to be ready in time. Equipment was scarce, and everyone had to pull together. Frank Salisbury, now Vice-President of Radio Rhema, designed and built a transmitter especially for the day’s broadcast. The night before the on-air date during a test run, it blew up! He and two other technicians spent the night repairing it, finishing minutes before the on-air time of 6am. A crane was brought in to hold up a piece of wire for an aerial. However despite the few tense moments the day went smoothly, even though the volunteers involved had never worked together as a team before. Amidst music and teaching, phone calls poured in, encouraging Radio Rhema. Then, after just eleven hours, the announcer had to say good-night, and the air waves were silent once again.

The one day licence granted for November 23rd 1974, caused a lot of excitement, and the response was extremely encouraging. A survey revealed that in the Christchurch area alone there were over 10,700 listeners, 72% of whom rated Radio Rhema positively.

Airwaves in Wellington

Nearly one year later, on October 10th 1975, Radio Rhema again had cause for celebration when they were granted another one day licence, this time in Petone, Wellington. The broadcast was fraught with problems, but God worked miracle upon miracle to make the whole venture possible.
To make the broadcast, Radio Rhema had to shift its mobile studio and transmitter from Christchurch to Wellington – the move making broadcasting history in New Zealand.
Driving north to Wellington, just past Cheviot, the gearbox of the mobile studio ground to a halt. In answer to prayer a replacement was quickly found, and technicians spent two hours on their backs in wind and rain changing it on the roadside. As a result, the bus crested the last hills above Picton only to see the Cook Strait ferry chugging out of the harbour. But God was looking after them. Despite it being a busy time of year with school holidays, the bus was allowed on the next ferry. Then the boat’s loading door jammed, and it was delayed in harbour for some time whilst ferry workers tried to force it into place with heavy weights. Radio Rhema workers prayed, then one of them went and simply stood on the door, and immediately it fell into place with a ‘click’.
The entourage finally made it to Wellington, and still the miracles kept happening. Radio Rhema had to import from the U.S. a special very high frequency (VHF) link to run between the broadcast site and the transmitter. It did not arrive until two days before the broadcasting date, and was cleared through customs in two and a half hours. An importer later said it could have taken up to a month!
Accommodation over the road from the broadcast site was offered free of charge for staff use, for which they were most grateful.
Telescopic sections of the aerial jammed when it was being erected the day before the broadcasting date, and two riggers had to spend several hours in difficult conditions a hundred feet up freeing guy wires. But the hand of God was upon them, protecting them.
It rained solidly for three weeks before the broadcast, giving the aerial good contact with the ground in an area normally poor for radio transmission.
Regardless of all that had happened, Radio Rhema came on air in Wellington at 6am, and all difficulties ceased. Transmission was loud and clear in most parts of Wellington until close-down at 11pm. Despite the fact that Radio Rhema was unable to advertise widely beforehand, several thousand people turned out to visit the broadcasting site, and the telephone staff logged over 400 calls during the day.

Support continued to grow for the Ministry, with increasing numbers of members and full and part-time staff.

A Cracker of a Christmas

For Christmas 1976, Radio Rhema workers could not have wished for a better surprise. They were granted a licence to broadcast from 6am to midnight in Christchurch – this time for ten days. Transmitting over the Canterbury area from 24 December to 2 January 1977, the programme largely targeted non-Christians of all age groups.
Staff commitment to the Christmas broadcast was astonishing. One man was sent to hospital as a result of injuries sustained when a transmission aerial toppled over, but insisted on hurrying back the same day in case he was needed. Another worked for the last week before broadcasting with a metal splinter in his eye, refusing to have surgery as he knew that would mean the tower would not be finished in time. Still another member was admitted to hospital with severe influenza, but doggedly returned to his position at the control desk two days later.
At this time Richard Berry wrote, “Eighteen years ago there was little hope of Rhema broadcasting for more than 18 hours per year. All Glory and Honour must go to God, for He alone is able to change the unchangeable, and to bring to pass His seemingly impossible promises.”2

The Vision Is Realised

The final build-up to Radio Rhema’s achievement in gaining a permanent broadcasting licence was a tense period. The hearing of Radio Rhema’s application before the Broadcasting Tribunal lasted a marathon four weeks. Radio Rhema presented eight witnesses, who spoke of; the need for Radio Rhema, the sound financial prospects of a station based on trust in God, the ability to maintain high technical and programme standards, and the growing support of churches and community. Bruce Bornholdt, Rhema’s counsel, told the tribunal, “Today, Rhema is competing with big business. It is competing not only with that virtual monopoly, the Broadcasting Corporation, but also with private enterprise, whose catchwords are ‘profit’, ‘audience ratings’, and ‘advertising rates’.
Radio Rhema presented evidence that it had a membership of 7,235, signatures of a further 48,433 people, letters of support from most churches, and letters from many individuals and community organisations.
Finally, after eighteen long years of prayer and hard work, New Zealand’s first Christian radio station was given a permanent licence to broadcast the good news of Christ. The warrant was granted provided that certain constitutional changes were made, and this meant that a special AGM had to be held the day before broadcasting was to commence. Members packed the Christchurch Town Hall, and as the peace of the Holy Spirit fell on the crowd, the vote for the proposed changes was unanimous. The broadcasting licence was presented to Radio Rhema by legal counsellor Bruce Bornholdt.
A ceremony was held on the front lawn of Radio Rhema’s studios in Glenfield Crescent, Christchurch, on November 11th 1978, at 11:11am.
Left to Right: Loretta and Richard Berry, Rt. Hon. Mr. Muldoon, and Dudley Scantelbury.

The station was ‘switched on’ by the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Robert Muldoon. Mr. Muldoon told listeners, “I have seldom opened something which has given me more joy.” He traced the history of Radio Rhema, and paid tribute to the faith sustained by Radio Rhema members who had withstood many setbacks and disappointments over the years. He ended saying, “This is a faith that moves mountains.”
Richard Berry gave all the credit to God. “All glory for this day must go to God who has blessed His people from Kaitaia to the Bluff with sufficient faith to pray, finance and give moral support to a vision which until recently was considered very unlikely to ever get off the ground.”2

Radio Rhema was the first Christian radio station not only in New Zealand, but in the whole of the British Commonwealth. Although proud of this, and thankful to God, it meant that Radio Rhema was very much at the frontier of Christian broadcasting as we now know it.
Establishing the style of the programme format under these circumstances was extremely difficult. John McNeil, Radio Rhema’s first Station Manager, spent a lot of time looking for appropriate broadcasting models to emulate. He wrote to people all over the world, listened to demonstration tapes, and read magazines, only to draw a blank. In retrospect John said, “We had some very clear ideas of what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to be Bible-bashing, and making appeals every fifteen seconds for money. Many tapes that we heard turned us off completely. We wanted something that was going to fit the New Zealand way of life, the New Zealand approach to broadcasting, and trying to get this across to people was very hard. We wanted to sound good, to sound professional; but we wanted to sound ‘homely’ at the same time.”3

The Ministry Expands

Initially, Radio Rhema was only allowed on air from 6am to noon on weekdays, and from 6am to midnight in the weekend. However in November 1980, Radio Rhema was allowed to extend its broadcasts to eighteen hours a day as a result of changing its frequency. The ministry had now grown to thirty five full-time and ten part-time workers.

As plans to expand were laid, Auckland was initially perceived as being too large to tackle, and Hamilton seemed a better choice, but God directed His workers very definitely towards Auckland. When representatives arrived in Auckland to assess the situation, they found to their surprise and delight that Radio Rhema was wanted and expected. In October 1980, a three and a half month temporary broadcast commenced. It was exciting to have the gospel being broadcast to 1.5 million potential listeners, but unfortunately it was not to last (a permanent licence was not granted until ten years later.) By February 1981, Auckland had six full-time workers, and a building was purchased on Upper Queen Street in 1982.

During the 1980’s the Ministry blossomed slowly but surely. Nelson was granted a temporary licence for one month in 1981, and a permanent one two years later. In 1982, Radio Rhema’s first permanent relay began in Wellington. Mr. Templeton MP (then Minister of Trade, former Minister of Broadcasting) officially opened the station. In his address he said, “Can we listen, and sense what they [Radio Rhema] have done, because we have a very clear demonstration of the power of God, and His work in our community. Radio Rhema has very great responsibilities… and represents in the community a Radio life guard.”4
Temporary licences valid for one month were granted to Auckland and Palmerston North in December 1985.

A New President

With the coming on air of Wellington and Nelson, it seemed as if the trials and tribulations of the past were now behind Richard Berry. He had worked hard to see so much accomplished, but he had yet another obstacle to face. In January 1985, at the age of 44, he was diagnosed as having terminal cancer. The courage, determination, and faith, which had played such a vital role in the establishment of Radio Rhema, was now turned to confront this new challenge. Despite gradually deteriorating health, Richard continued as energetically as ever in his post as President of Radio Rhema, and maintained a vital interest in the Ministry right up to the time of his passing in 1988. As with Moses, God graciously allowed Richard a glimpse of the future before calling him home. In his last months he got a lot of joy from seeing Waikato come on air permanently, and broadcasting licences granted for Bay of Plenty, Taupo, Invercargill and Timaru.
Hal Short, Vice President, was made President of Radio Rhema after Richard died. Hal was converted as a teenager at a crusade meeting. In 1974, Hal had just returned to New Zealand from overseas and was listening to a new Wellington radio station. Without having thought about it before, he prayed, “Lord, if only there were a Christian radio station in New Zealand.” Within 48 hours he was invited to, and attended, a Radio Rhema meeting. Unknown to Hal, the local Radio Rhema committee had been praying for God to send someone to head the Wellington operations, and they saw Hal as their answer to prayer. Hal shared, “I felt an extremely clear call of God to make Radio Rhema known throughout the country.” He went on to pioneer the work in Wellington for six years, becoming full-time in 1978. Having prepared the way for a licence to be granted, Hal then moved up to Auckland and began the process all over again. In 1990, He and his family moved to Christchurch.

“God Gave the Increase”

During Easter 1987, Radio Rhema moved it’s headquarters in Christchurch from the small Glenfield Crescent studios, to the more spacious Birmingham Drive property. Radio Rhema received thousands of letters, with an astonishing 95% fully supporting the move. Having paid the deposit, a further $2 million was needed to pay the balance. Richard Berry wrote, “This challenge is beyond us, humanly speaking, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s impossible. Jesus fed the five thousand when all the disciples had to offer was five loaves and two fish. In the same way, as we all contribute in the way he directs, let us believe that God will bring the increase and meet this seemingly insurmountable need.”6 Again God was faithful, and the final payment was paid just five months later.
At this time, the music on Radio Rhema became 100% Christian. It was previously a blend of Christian and carefully selected secular music.
In 1989 a major breakthrough took place in the Pacific. United Christian Broadcasting Pacific Ltd., an organisation established by Radio Rhema, was awarded a licence to broadcast Christian programming to Tonga. UCB Pacific is financed and managed separately from Radio Rhema, although a close relationship is maintained between them. Broadcasting commenced in 1991. Other autonomous UCB’s were established in Australia and England in the 80’s. Even after twenty years, the “rhema” that God gave to Richard Berry, that the ministry would become too big to contain, was still being fulfilled.
February 1991 brought with it an exciting opportunity when Radio Rhema was able to buy 30 radio frequencies scattered throughout New Zealand, all in one day! Many paved the way for Radio Rhema to come on air in those areas. Others have yet to be utilised.

1991 also saw both Gisborne and Taranaki coming on air, and Palmerston North the following year.
Obtaining a permanent licence for Radio Rhema in Auckland was a major breakthrough, as workers could now perceive the long dreamed-of nation-wide network as becoming a reality. The Auckland station came on air on January 8th, 1990. By September it was on air 24 hours a day, and the rest of New Zealand followed suit in December.
In January 1994, the decision was made to move head office to Auckland, and the huge undertaking began. 30 staff relocated from Christchurch to Auckland. By May, Radio Rhema was broadcasting from the Auckland studios to all sixteen stations around New Zealand.
Radio Rhema now broadcasts on seventeen frequencies: Whangarei 98.7FM (which came on air in 1994), Auckland 1251AM (1990), Waikato 855AM (1988), Taupo 95.1fm (1988), Bay of Plenty 540AM (1988), Taumarunui 97.5FM (1990), Taranaki 774AM (1991), Eastland 648AM (1991), Hawkes Bay 99.1FM (1993), Palmerston North 96.3FM (1992), Masterton 90.1FM (1994), Wellington 972AM (1982), Nelson 801AM (1983), Christchurch 612AM (1978), Timaru 594AM (1988), Dunedin 621AM (1988), and Invercargill 1404AM (1988).
Plans have been laid to get Wanganui (594AM) and Greymouth (94.7FM and 97.8FM) on air this year. Seven more frequencies were successfully tendered for in March 1995, paving the way for areas such as Wanaka and Kapiti to come on air.

Keeping Abreast of Technology

During 1994, Radio Rhema made some significant technological improvements. In May 1994, Radio Rhema became New Zealand’s first radio network to link it’s stations by satellite. This move was a major breakthrough in two ways. Firstly, it reduced overhead costs significantly. Not only was linking by satellite less costly than by land links, but maintenance costs were also reduced. Secondly, it made future extension of the network considerably easier, especially to the more remote areas of New Zealand.
Radio Rhema also installed a computer system which allows local break-outs for items such as local weather and community notices.
Over Christmas 1994, major changes were made in the structure of Radio Rhema. God strongly told management to get back to the basics of spreading His good news. Consequently, management decided to redirect resources

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