When analogue was tops

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Next year Nelson will have its analogue television network turned off but the man who helped install the system in Nelson says it was revolutionary in 1971. Sinead Ogilive reports.

It’s hard to imagine a time when people would have stopped in the street at the sight of a TV in a shop window, but Laurie Merrick, 89, remembers the awe the Nelson community had for TV in its first appearances.

Nelson will switch off its analogue TV transmitter next year, but Laurie remembers the excitement that came with the Grampians television transmitter that provided Nelsonians with their first good quality picture.

“It was the first high quality stuff for Nelson. Before it was pretty hairy,” says Laurie from his Stoke home.

Nelson in 1971 saw men in a collar and tie to work, Ford Anglias driving the streets, the community bickering over whether the Trafalgar centre should be built, and of course, the launch of clear television thanks to the analogue network.

Laurie was involved in the major advance for viewers with coverage to the Nelson district from the tower atop the Grampians, the first permanent system of its kind for Nelson he says.

As the transmission superintendent for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation Laurie headed a team responsible for the installation of the new television network for the region which he says was evolutionary for people in Nelson.

Getting the tower in place was a huge feat, with specialist riggers scaling the tower building it bit by bit, and having to dig out the road to the top of the Grampians was a big project he says.

Laurie says Landrovers were the only vehicle that could scale the hill, and the equipment was carried up bits at a time, and after the foundations for the tower had been laid, the tower itself took two to three weeks to install.

TV had only been around for the past few years in the South Island and Laurie describes the signal provided by private translators in Nelson as “very, very fuzzy and nasty at times” as they were trying to pick pictures up from a transmitter in Wellington.

In a newspaper article in 1971 Laurie was quoted as saying “there would be some people in Nelson who could get a TV picture for the first time” and most people did not own their own television.

At the time, there was an excitement in the community and Laurie says people were inclined to “rush in and get a set” in preparation for the new system

While the Murchison tower on Mt Rochford stopped receiving programmes only last month, Nelsons Grampians tower is due for the big switch off in October next year, which will be almost 42 years to the date since it changed the lives of Nelsonians.