It’s 50 years since John Hawkesby and friends broadcast their first CBA programme from the Hauraki pirate radio ship, the ‘Tiri’. From innovative and audacious beginnings, CBA has gone on to produce thousands of programmes reaching hundreds of thousands of listeners.
In the late 1960s, a pirate radio station began broadcasting without a license from a boat in international waters. They called themselves Radio Hauraki.
Christian radio in the 1960s
At the time, on the state-owned radio stations, Christian programmes were essentially just recordings of church services. This meant that not too many people outside the faith found the Christian programmes all that compelling.
The boat that the Hauraki pirates broadcast their pirate radio signal from was named the Tiri. It belonged to a Christian family-run business who forged a terrific working relationship with the Hauraki pirates as they helped them set to sea.
The Drift Inn
A church was running a new kind of Christian youth outreach at the time called The Drift Inn. Their café-style setup featured popular folk music played live with an informal sharing of personal testimonies of faith.
The first Christian pirate
The Drift Inn was run by young banker named John Hawkesby. John helped form a new organisation named Christian Broadcasting Association and became their first employee!
The Hauraki pirates agreed to train up John Hawkesby aboard the Tiri in the art of radio broadcasting. Soon CBA was able to offer their first programme for broadcast on the pirate signal.
A lasting legacy
After years of broadcasting from international waters, the government caved to popular demand and changed broadcasting legislation allowing Hauraki to come ashore and freeing up the state monopoly of the airwaves.
CBA has continued to provide programming to mainstream stations throughout New Zealand and decades on we’re still doing that today. This allows CBA to reach incredibly large and secular audiences, sharing the heart of the Christian faith with those who have never understood.
Meet John Hawkesby
John Hawkesby was the very first employee of CBA back in the late 1960s.
John Hawkesby, circa 1970
John, tell us again how CBA began…
It grew out of a youth group coffee bar outreach in the 60’s called the ‘Drift Inn’… subdued lighting, candles and a rock band. And instead of singing hymns we were singing folk songs of the time, like Bob Dylan… and someone sitting on a barstool giving a conversational presentation of the Gospel. And then we thought “Why couldn’t we translate this onto the radio and reach a wider audience?” …because everything about it was contemporary in a desperate effort to be relevant. So it came out of that glorious, youthful idealism coupled with a desire to spread the message.
What were some of the defining moments?
We started out on Radio Hauraki when it was broadcasting illegally from a boat, the ‘Tiri’, so we used to say we were doing the first Christian illegal pirate programme. This was the ‘60’s, and so… the times were indeed a-changing, except the church was dragging its feet and we were (we used to say cheekily) ‘trying to drag it into the 20th Century’. So it was an attempt to present a timeless message in a new way… and whatever the culture was doing, we put Jesus into it.
What impact do you think you had?
Oh, I still meet people – even now – who say, “I remember Sunday night was ‘appointment listening’ for me. I’m not religious but I really liked what was being said.” And the great thing for me is that CBA continues to demonstrate that authenticity and relevance – or it wouldn’t be with us today.
Did you imagine back then that CBA would still be gaining momentum after 50 years?
Yes, I think I probably did. In fact, there’s probably more reason for CBA to be here now than there was in the ‘60’s. I mean, society is more fragmented now than it was then. We have more turbulence. There is still too much dysfunction everywhere. So a message of "peace, goodwill and love your neighbours" has become even more relevant.