Radio Cook Islands: Guy’s 1993 recordings

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Guy Atkins, for the following guest post:

Radio Cook Islands

by Guy Atkins

(Photo: Guy Atkins)

A view from the driveway entrance to the Radio Cook Islands studio in 1993. Insulators on an antenna (T2FD or multiband dipole) can be seen as dark spots against the cloudy sky. A feedline is also seen rising above the left side of the building. (Photo: Guy Atkins)

(Photo: Universal Radio)

(Photo: Universal Radio)

In 1993 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Rarotonga with my wife, courtesy of a nice award through my company which afforded me an all-expenses-paid trip anywhere we’d like to go.

I chose the South Pacific island of Rarotonga, partly because I wanted to visit Radio Cook Islands after listening to their “island music” on 11760 and 15170 kHz through my teenage years.

During our visit to the island I recorded 90+ minutes of RCI on 630 kHz with a local quality signal using a Grundig Satellit 500 and a Marantz PMD-221 recorder.


The programming of Radio Cook Islands is bilingual, and announcers are fluent in both English and Cook Islands Maori. Music selections on RCI encompass all styles, to appeal to many age groups. These recordings was scheduled to include as much local music as possible.

RCI programming includes all the hallmarks of a small, non-professional station: stuck records & tape carts, dead air, poor modulation, and other miscues.

However, that’s part of the flavor of local radio, and these errors are heard throughout this recording. Particularly noticeable is the bassy, over-modulation of the studio announcer during sign-on announcements.

Recording 1

Notes: National anthem & hymn; sign-on announcements & music.
Music; weather; sign-off announcements & national anthem.
Local & regional news; weather; ads; music.

Recording 2

Notes: “Party Time” music request show; weather; local ads; more music.

Two engineers from Radio Cook Islands, photographed during my visit in April, 1993. (Photo: Guy Atkins)

Two engineers from Radio Cook Islands, photographed during my visit in April, 1993. (Photo: Guy Atkins)

Sadly, RCI will likely never be on shortwave again; a fire in the local tele-comm building a few months before my 1993 visit destroyed RCI’s transmitter. I had an amusing exchange with the secretary when I visited; she insisted that their station was still on shortwave. Of COURSE we’re on the air she said, because “the frequencies are published right here in the newspaper!” The engineer and announcer confirmed, though, that the silence on their former frequencies was for real. They indicated they were covering the outer islands just fine with FM translators and had no intention of restarting shortwave.

Radio Cook Islands 630 kHz antenna on the school ground of Takitumu Primary School.

Radio Cook Islands 630 kHz antenna on the school ground of Takitumu Primary School.

RCI’s headquarters is in downtown Avarua, and their 5 kw transmitter (reported at half power, 2.5 kw in Dec. 2012) and modern quarter-wavelength vertical antenna is located in the town of Matavera (northeast side of Rarotonga). maps view of Radio Cook Islands antenna, 630 kHz at Takitumu Primary School, Matavera. maps view of Radio Cook Islands antenna, 630 kHz at Takitumu Primary School, Matavera.

The antenna is in the yard of Takitumu primary school; see photos from Bing Maps and Panaromio [above].

It sure brings back a flood of good memories when I listen to these MP3s! I’d love to visit the Cooks again sometime.

Many thanks for this wonderful stroll down memory lane, Guy–radio nostalgia at its best!

I, too, would love to visit the Cook Islands someday–it is on my bucket list. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy your recordings. Again, many thanks for your guest post!

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5 thoughts on “Radio Cook Islands: Guy’s 1993 recordings

  1. David Pick

    Have just read this post while searching for information on the mast. It is badly corroded and probably in need of demolishing. As our daughter spends her day in the classroom directly below it we are rather concerned at what appears to be the inability of C.I. authorities to make any rational decision to ensure the safety of pupils in their care. We will keep her at home if needs be.

  2. Roger - KH8DX

    Thanks for bringing back nice memories. I have been there in 1988 for some Amateur Radio activity as ZK1XD. When circling the Island by motorbike I spotted this tall medium wave tower and pulled over to that sideroad passing by the tower. Bolted onto the tower base there was a brass plate with some details engraved into it. Unfortunately I didn´t take a picture and so the last few years I was desperately looking for more details with only “Rarotonga & mediumwave” as a reference. A local Amateur Radio Operator on Rarotonga whom I talk to regularly on amateur radio pointed me to the place where the tower still stands today however with your pictures and the wonderful sound files in particular it fills the memories with “life”. Thanks for that!

    Roger from Bavaria – DL5RBW & KH8DX

  3. Harald DL1ABJ

    Many thanks for this fascinating story! I never managed to catch their signal on 11760 kHz here in Germany. During the 1980´s I often heard Pacific music on mentioned 15170 kHz, but this was coming from Radio Tahiti. I didn´t complain 🙂

    Both stations are gone from shortwave, but every now and then I listen to their programs online.


  4. Rob Wagner VK3BVW

    My wife and I visited the Cook Islands in 2006 (if I remember correctly…) for our wedding anniversary. It’s a wonderful country! Very relaxed and a laid-back way of life, friendly people, and a beautiful environment. I took a small radio with me and heard US MW stations without any external antenna (just on the internal ferrite rod)! Reception characteristics os shortwave were somewhat different to Australia, hearing different stations at different times of the day compared to Melbourne. Manmade noise levels were pretty low, too. It would have been good to do an extended DXpedition there, but that was not possible…….I guess for obvious reasons! 😉

    If readers go to the Cooks, don’t expect high level tourism and commercialism. There’s a few nice hotels and smaller accommodation places, but everything else is pretty basic. For me, this was one of the major attractions of the place!! If you want luxury and commercialism, head to Tahiti (a short flight north of the Cooks)…..and expect to pay for it, too! But if you want a taste of island life, you’ll love the Cooks!

    I don’t know what it’s like these days, but when we were there the local TV station only operated for a few hours each afternoon and evening. Old American sitcoms and dramas were a feature! News was mainly local and New Zealand items. There was the local MW station and another FM broadcaster, and that was about it!

    The country’s population has been dropping for years as many residents have moved to New Zealand (and to a lesser extent, Australia) for employment. It’s a tiny population now, spread out across 9 main islands. We visited Rarotonga and Aitutaki (the two larger islands). Bicycles and scooters are a great way to see the islands. I hope to get back there one day.

    Thanks to Guy for this great post. It brought back great memories!

    Rob VK3BVW


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