History-Making Radio Show Keeping The Faith For 80 Years

Added on April 1st, 2014

On 9 April 1934, Reverend Leslie Bourneman Neale made his first broadcast of Radio Church of the Helping Hand, from Station 4ZM in Dunedin.

Eighty years on, Otago Access Radio programme Radio Church, as it is now known, continues to spread the Christian message through the medium that so fascinated "Uncle Leslie" he became a pioneer in this innovative ministry.

There's no doubting the one-time superintendent at Dunedin Central Methodist Mission would be proud to know that the programme, which attracted thousands of dedicated listeners in his day, can now lay claim to the title of New Zealand's Longest-Running Radio Programme.

Proud, and vindicated . . . Rev Neale fought determinedly to keep the programme on air when trade-owned station 4ZM was bought, then closed by the government. He continued with a programme broadcast from the Otago Radio Association's station 4ZD - later station 4XD - until his final broadcast on 3 February 1952, all the while strongly advocating for Christian broadcasting throughout New Zealand.
The Methodist parish continued the broadcasts until the late 1990s when Dunedin Inner City Ministers' Association assumed the role, presenting Radio Church as a weekly 30-minute ecumenical service to the present day.

On Sunday March 30 at 8.30am, Radio Church will broadcast an 80th Anniversary edition on OAR 105.4FM, 1575AM, and live and podcast from www.oar.org.nz. The programme will be hosted by Reverend Donald Phillipps, himself a one-time superintendent of the Methodist parish who enjoyed a long association with the show during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Rev Phillipps, a keen historian, invited Leah Taylor to write the biography of Rev Neale that was published by the Dunedin Methodist Mission in 2000 (Leslie Bourneman Neale: A Man of Faith and Vision - Otago University Press).

He says Radio Church is an important tradition.

"Back in Uncle Leslie's day, particularly in Depressiontime New Zealand, people needed comfort and some hope for the future.

"He was a man with a good social conscience, and the show certainly maintained a strong social justice dimension, consistent with the Methodist Mission's vision.

University of Otago Chaplain Reverend Greg Hughson, who coordinates the modern-day Radio Church broadcasts, says today's programme is a "diverse smorgasbord" of worship. "We have buy-in from a wide range of churches, so whether our programme's listeners are shut-in folk, travellers, people in rest homes and hospital, or anyone else who cannot attend a church service, there is something for everyone.

"For the future, I would hope that this tradition will continue and that the community would see this as a valuable service, just as it did back in 1934."