John Hawkesby

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.

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.

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