Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

50 years of 'the box' in NZ homes

A family watching television in the lounge of their home. 1962 file photo / New Zealand Herald
A family watching television in the lounge of their home. 1962 file photo / New Zealand Herald

This month marks 50 years since the New Zealand public were able to rent their very own television set - a luxury item back in the 1960s.

Owning a television set may be the norm these days, but half a century ago it was a rare delight to have one sitting in the lounge.

In April 1962 Stan Pemberton, owner of Dominion Television Services, began renting sets for a fraction of the price it would cost to buy one.

Buying a 23-inch black and white television would set you back £130 back then - approximately $4500 today.

Mr Pemberton has since passed on, but his son, Len Pemberton, said the move to rent televisions was a significant one.

"It was a must-have...people came from everywhere to see them and get them. Having a television arrive at someone's house in your street was a major event. All the neighbours would come around to see this amazing new device.

"This was the age before iPods and was a huge deal."

As a teenager, Mr Pemberton was heavily involved in the business, helping out in the store and going out to install the sets in people's homes.

"It wasn't like televisions now - you couldn't just plug it in. We had to go out to install them and you needed rabbit-ears and ribbons of wire."

The business - now referred to as DTR or Dominion Television Rentals - has grown to 22 stores nationwide.

Staff from around the country will gather in Auckland this month to celebrate the milestone and also meet those who were among the first families to rent a TV from the original store, in Howick, in 1962.

Among those is 54-year-old writer Ken Grace, who met Mr Pemberton in Auckland last week.

Leaning on an old television the size of a small microwave, the pair laughed as they swapped stories.

Mr Grace said: "There was only one channel and it started around dinner time and finished about 11pm.

"Because there was only one channel, when you went to school the next day everybody had seen it and so everybody was talking about it."

Mr Pemberton said: "Sometimes we'd just be sitting there watching static. There was nothing on, but we'd all be staring at it."

By 1973 about 13,000 black and white television sets had been rented, and then colour TVs were introduced.

Mr Grace said: "That was a big deal. It was like walking on the moon - which we also saw on TV."

- NZ Herald

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