RADIO (1936) LTD

Radio (1936) Ltd was formed in 1922 and closed in 1967.

Radio brands manufactured by Radio (1936) Ltd

Origins - Radio Ltd

Early Radio Ltd advertising for their crystal sets
Otago Daily Times, 7 Aug 1922

In 1922 an Auckland-based importer formed a new company to sell parts and equipment in what was an emerging, but still very limited industry.  That company, somewhat unimaginatively named Radio Ltd, would eventually grow to become one of New Zealand's largest electronics companies.

CITCo 'Everyman' Crystal Receiver

Their first 'radio' was an 'Everyman' crystal set manufactured by the Canadian Independent Telephone Company in Toronto.  300 were ordered, however shortly after the order was placed they realised that there were no radio stations in Auckland to listen to (there were stations elsewhere, however crystal sets have a very limited range) and an urgent cable was sent to order a 500 watt DeForest transmitter, which was fortunately also dispatched on the same ship.  This meant that not only was Radio Ltd one of the first companies in the radio industry in NZ, but it was also the first transmitting station (1YA) in Auckland.

The radios sold by Radio Ltd appear to have been exclusively Gilfillan sets, both complete radios and kitsets (which they assembled locally) as can be seen here

Growth meant that in 1926 Radio Ltd became registered wholesalers, trading in radio spares while Superadio Ltd was formed as the retail branch of the organisation.  Superadio appears to have closed down at the end of 1929 / start of 1930 however by this stage a large number of nationwide sellers appeared to be advertising the Ultimate SG4.

R. J. Orbell ZL1AX, BE & AMIRE


Reginald "Jack" Orbell originally hailed from Waimate and attended Waitaki Boys High before joining the waves of young New Zealand men heading overseas to fight in World War 1, where he was in signals.  On his return, Orbell received a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) from Canterbury College in the early 1920s (he was also an Associate Member of the Institute of Radio Engineers).  One claim was that he was the first licensed transmitting station for purposes other than broadcasting in New Zealand, and his call sign was 3AA.  In 1923 he moved to Auckland, and was issued the new sign 1AX which he held until the following year, when taking up a position with an English company, he left New Zealand but kept in regular radio contact from the ship using callsign F3AA.  This can not have been a successful endeavour as reports of his contacts on 1AX began appearing in the papers again within 6 months or so.  He did a brief stint as the engineer for 1YA, one of the countries most prominent broadcast stations, before taking up his final role at Radio Ltd in 1927.

The Ultimate SG4 from 1927When Orbell joined the company he brought with him a unique 4-valve all-wave radio that changed bands with plug-in coils, which was to become the first real Ultimate radio.  Manufacturing of this set (the first real manufacturing activity of any scale for the company) was immediately commenced with around 200 being produced in the first year.  Coverage of this first Ultimate all-wave receiver ran from the broadcast band through to approximately 16MHz (short wave). 

Orbell also famously joined the 1929 Byrd expedition to the Antarctic as the radio officer, taking an Ultimate radio with him.  He was the Chief Radio Engineer at Radio Ltd until his death in 1956 at the age of 59.

Radio (1936) Ltd

In 1936 the company was reorganised to become Radio (1936) Ltd and they went from strength to strength, producing some 12000 sets in that year.  They produced a wide range of receivers, typically of high quality, for their Ultimate brand as well as their private brands - such as Golden Knight for Farmers, Rolls, Skyscraper, Courier, Luxor and others. 


The Ultimate brand was also used on a well-known range of electrical appliances, including stoves, heaters, jugs, toasters and irons.  Many of these are still around and working today.  These lines of product began when Radio Ltd was looking to keep their staff busy over summer as radio manufacturing was quite seasonal at that time.  They began with the standard toaster, but soon had a full range of products.  In an ironic twist, it eventuated that appliances also tended to have a heavy winter demand.

From 1938, Radio Ltd began exporting large numbers of sets around the world - most to Australia.  Unfortunately, this activity was severely curtailed by the outbreak of World War II, and all exports ceased by 1941.  The export market was never tried again.

World War II

(from 25 Years of Progress, by Radio (1936) Ltd)

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Radio (1936) Limited offered its services to Government Departments and as a consequence, the company was asked to assist in the assembly of sections of Radar equipment.

From this, the value of the radio industry became apparent and Radio (1936) Limited was destined to play a big and important part in this phase of war work. 
In this Company, Cathode Ray Oscilloscopes were constructed and special testing equipment was made under very great difficulties, where three weeks work had to be carried out in five days! 

Other outstanding contributions to the war effort were the designing of non-radiating receivers for merchant ships (of which hundreds were made and fitted), the manufacture of non-radiating beacons for lighthouses, transceivers for the Post and Telegraph Department. Many other types of highly scientific instruments and radio equipment received attention, and this company was always able to contribute personnel and brains to overcome some of these difficult and complex problems. 

In the General Engineering Section, Radio (1936) Limited was engaged in many projects including the assembly of trench mortars and instrument stands. Sight Clinometers for 25 pounder guns were manufactured and gave outstanding service overseas. 

Among the less spectacular, but nevertheless important jobs carried out were the manufacture of ships control cable chain, engine-room telegraph chain, machined striking pins for bomb fuses, soldering irons for the Air Force, Air Force plating to specified limits, sterilizers for dental and medical sections, tubular heaters for Air Force and Army quarters and the development of light engineering manufacturing. 

Many projects, which are still secret, required special technique, but they were always carried out successfully and we are proud to have contributed to these schemes in both men and material. 

During World War II 156 members of the staff of Radio (1936) Limited served in the armed forces, six of whom made the supreme sacrifice. 

Ultimate-Ekco (N.Z.) Co. Ltd

They would reorganise one more time in 1955 as Ultimate-Ekco (N.Z.) Co. Ltd, the relationship with E. K. Cole (Ekco) in England having been struck to provide access to TV expertise - something many major radio manufacturers in NZ did (Akrad and Pye UK for example).  Shortly afterwards NZ models of Ekco radios were added to the lineup.  The company would last another 12 years before Pye Uk took over Ekco UK, and the flow-on effect was that Pye NZ gained ownership of Ultimate Ekco.  In 1967 the Quay St buildings that had been the home of Radio Ltd for 31 years were vacated.  Pye NZ continued to manufacture radios and stereograms under the Ultimate brand name for some years, but they, too, would eventually become a casualty of a corporate takeover - coming under the control of Philips.

From a promotional booklet issued in around 1953


Radio Ltd building in Quay St, AucklandRadio (1936) Limited commenced in a small upstairs room in the City in 1922. For six months the Company retailed small Radio parts, and then bought from the U.S.A. some 500 crystal sets already made up. In order to sell these, it was necessary to order at the same time a 500 watt transmitting station. The crystal sets and the transmitter arrived as arranged on the same boat and the Company was fortunate in obtaining the services of one of the few New Zealand Engineers who had studied the then-new science of Radio, or Wireless as it was then called.

The business expanded, and in 1928, larger premises were acquired. Wholesale trading was undertaken just prior to this and the first all wave battery-operated receivers were produced in our small manufacturing section in 1927. The demand for our manufactured sets increased, and we were by 1933 well and favourably known as large manufacturers of radio sets.

There were some twenty-five people employed by the Company at that time, but by 1935 the factory staff numbered 280, and two plants were necessary to handle the steadily growing business.

The year 1936 saw yet another move, and the company purchased a five floor building on the waterfront in Auckland, and still houses all its activities in this plant of 42,000 sq. ft.

At present, besides the manufacture of Household Radio Sets, the Company makes a comprehensive range of Electrical appliances such as Radiators, Toasters, Jugs, Kettles, Rangettes, Soldering Irons, Cupboard Heaters, etc., and also builds to order, office and school educational receiving and intercommunication systems, amplifiers and all kinds of industrial Electronic equipment.

To give us the service we desire in such a large manufacturing organisation, we have our own electroplating section, for the plating of household appliances, and an expanding plastic moulding department, to supply assembly departments with moulded handles, knobs and bases for jugs, toasters, and other items, also a special engineering section devoted to the design and construction of the many intricate tools and dies necessary for modern manufacturing.

Besides these specialised sections, there are numerous other departments which feed, so to speak, the main Radio and Electrical benches. These include Transformer, Coil, Machine, Paint and Spray Departments. Each in itself a little plant building the component parts of the complete radio receiver or Electrical appliance.