Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Past and present Radio 531pi staff remember 30 years of Pacific Broadcasting

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Avatar photo
Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

‘Bringing Pacific People Together Radio 531pi.”

That’s the familiar station ID that’s been broadcast over the airways in Auckland for the past 30 years.

The station first opened at its humble studios at 5 Ramsgate St in Ellerslie in 1993. In 2002 it moved to 13 Princess St in Otahuhu and then, in 2007, it relocated to Ponsonby after the merger of 531pi and the National Pacific Radio Trust that operated Niu FM. In 2011, the whole operation moved to its current location in Manukau.

The origins of the pan-Pacific station began back in 1990 when the then Labour government Minister for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Prebble allocated a free community radio frequency for the Pacific community.

Former station and general manager Sefita Hao’uli. Photo: 531 Facebook.

Past and present staff took time to reflect on their journey in Pacific Radio, people like former station and general manager Sefita Hao’uli who recalls those early days.

“Without any funds to set it up, MPIA staffer Hunukitama Hunuki organised a community leaders meeting in Auckland so we could decide what we were going to do,” Hao’uli says.

“It took over a year to finally set up a community trust, Auckland Pacific Island Community Radio Trust (APICART), and get initial funds from NZ On Air, $200,000, and engage with local broadcast companies such as Broadtech to set up in Ellerslie.”

Hao’uli says with very little experience on how to set up a radio station and no money, they had to, ‘beg, steal and borrow’ their way through. On top of this, the veteran journalist says there were other logistics to factor in before they could operate.

Staffing was the next big item on the agenda, one that presented its own unique challenges.

“We had a lack of trained and experienced broadcasters and journalists to meet the demand of our listeners and our competitors and it wasn’t always successful for every community,” Hao’uli says.

Despite all the challenges, after months of preparation and voluntary work, they were ready to hit the airwaves in 1993. Radio 531pi had found its footing and it was not long before the station became an influential voice for the Pacific community.

“We developed a close working relationship with key government agencies in the health, education and employment sectors who offered us support to co-design and produce programmes in English and specifically for our listeners,” says Hao’uli.

Tuaratini. Photo: Creative New Zealand FB.

Meanwhile the call continued to go out for those interested in working in radio. Cook Islands broadcaster Tuaratini answered that call. Tu was a well known voice for 531pi in the early years fronting the breakfast and mid-morning show as well as lending her voice to the Cook Island language show. As Tu remembers, it all started in the sales department.

“I started working for 531 in 1995 straight out of Uni. I was hired as a sales rep…I finally found myself making a sale late on a random Thursday afternoon,” she recalls.

“By then there were no announcers around to voice the ad so I voiced it myself and the next day I received a call from Sefita asking if that was my voice on the ad… I answered a bit nervously thinking I’d get in trouble, instead he told me to turn up at 6am the next week to shadow Neal Topia, the host of the Breakfast Show, so I could learn the ropes of working on air.”

Photo: 531 FB.

For the next seven years Tu became a staple of the daytime on-air team. Fast forward to 2015 another well known media personality would join the team, current host of Pacific Days Ma’a Brian Sagala.

“I was overwhelmed, not having much experience in the way of broadcasting,” Ma’a says.

“But thanks to the likes of Ulalemamae Te’eva Matafai, Matt Ineleo and Patrick Lino, they helped lay a strong foundation for my time at 531pi.”

Ma’a, who also hosted the breakfast show, says he continues to develop his craft and is humbled with the opportunities he has had conducting thousands of interviews over the years as well as working with fellow public broadcasters across the ditch at ABC and SBS.

Ma’a says he is proud to carry on the rich history of the station.

“531 is unique in that it was created solely to serve the Pasifika Diaspora, telling our stories from our perspective, through our cultural lens.”

Don Mann at the Pacific Music Awards 2023.

Don Mann is CEO for PMN which owns and operates 531pi, Niu FM, PMN News and the 10 Pacific language programmes. He reflected on the station’s history.

“It’s just an enormous sense of pride to feel like you’re part of something. Significant, because of the contribution 531 has made to the community for so long… for me, it’s just validation that even from its beginnings in the early 90s it is still just as relevant, just as important and just as critical now,” Mann says.

“Everything has to revolve around what’s best for the community… we have to keep changing, not for change sake, but we’ve got to keep changing to respond to what’s the best thing for the people we serve.”

Tuaratini says it provides an opportunity for Pacific people to hear their voice.

“It’s the opportunity to hear our own language.” Ma’a says the chance to talk and listen to the stories from the Pacific community is a true blessing.

So what does the next 30 years look like for the Pacific station? Hao’uli says like all traditional broadcasters we face the challenge of the era of social media.

“We have a responsibility to help survive and rejuvenate our Pacific languages in NZ and in the diaspora. Our language programmes will need to address this in the efforts to address the declining use of our languages,” he says.

“We need to ‘beg, steal, and borrow’ from successful global broadcasters, who can show the way in the new environment. We should be collaborating more rather than competing with media interests of our type,”

PMN CEO Don Mann says it is important that the country has a sound public media policy that is crucial for the future. He says 531pi has earned its place as a staple mainstream Pacific media entity.

“We are very much part of the media landscape in Aotearoa and we should wear that proudly as we journey towards the next 30 years.”

Stay Connected

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive daily updates direct to your inbox!

*we hate spam as much as you do