Key Points:

Two men are yarning about the old days, now and then dissolving into laughter. One wears his reading glasses low on his nose. This is "Mr Hauraki", but he doesn't like being called that.

"It was a hell of a lot more than one person, that's for sure," says David Gapes, still lean but with less hair.

It was the 1960s and these men are now in their 60s.

"Jeez, it wasn't even the both of us, it was a lot of people who put their heart and soul into it. Most of them haven't got much recognition for it, but that's the truth of it."

Gapes and Denis "Doc" O'Callahan, sitting beside him, are original Radio Hauraki pirates. The men and the other two original directors, Derek Lowe and Chris Parkinson, and a team of rebellious youngsters, waged war against the stuffiness of state-controlled radio in the '60s. They set to sea in a boat and changed the airwaves forever.

If you push them, these two will admit to more than a little astonishment at what they achieved. From state-controlled radio with a few stations, now there are commercial networks and small stations broadcasting out of suburbs.

Generations of New Zealanders were introduced to some of the best music because of the pirates - the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin; it's a long list. New Zealanders are still growing up to the music as Hauraki remains strong.

Tune in any time and catch a Metallica track or Alice Cooper singing Poison, or the Doors, or Pink Floyd, or some Bowie, or maybe the Exponents. Radio Hauraki, as the slogan goes, is still "classic rock that rocks".

The station is turning 40 this year. On December 4, officially.

On that day in 1966 the first transmission went out from the Tiri in the Colville Channel, between Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula, in a little pocket of international water.

The party is already underway. It is October after all, known at Radio Hauraki as Rocktober. Hello Sailor, Th'Dudes and Hammond Gamble are already on the road for a series of concerts in the pirates' honour.

Gapes and O'Callahan are thinking back to how it all began. Yep, Gapes remembers the moment; he's just not sure which pub it was. Just loose conversation in a pub in Wellington. Maybe the public bar of the St George, he thinks. No, the Britannia. Anyway, the one next to where the Evening Post used to be.

Gapes was a journalist back then. He is again now. It's print media which flows through his veins, not radio, he says.

But back then you couldn't switch on the radio and listen to your favourite music. Gapes had already been a reporter in Sydney where he'd been exposed to music stations and he'd got a taste for them.

Not here though. Maybe his enterprising character helped pull the feat off.

What was that story about you when you worked for Truth and hid in the ceiling at a trade union meeting because you weren't allowed in?

No, no, it was the Exclusive Brethren, he says. The ceiling of one of their buildings. Truth was fixated on the Exclusive Brethren, he says, "because of reports of mysterious ceremonies and hints of lashings and pain and suffering, all taking place behind closed doors in so-called churches ...

"The same sort of fascination people have about them now applied back then and it was fed only by Truth; nobody else covered that stuff, so yeah, I went one day and hid in the roof of their church."

They did nothing. "It was just like a typical church service you know, but people in funny clothes, but I wrote this big expose ... "

Gapes is laughing, but what the story shows is that he and the others were up for a challenge. People of that age are, aren't they? he muses.

O'Callahan's not so sure. "A lot of modern youth have lost that," he reckons.

They had no real idea what they were getting into in the '60s, then aged in their early to mid 20s. Storms at sea, bureaucracy, politicians, police, court.

Gapes says he knew nothing about broadcasting, just that he liked to listen. But he had the drive.

O'Callahan, the skipper of the Tiri, knew the "technical stuff and the marine stuff", so he had two key portfolios.

As they were dreaming their vision, two other young men, Derek Lowe and Chris Parkinson, were thinking the same thing. Lowe was a brilliant producer of commercials, Parkinson was a studio technician and had a fantastic radio voice.

The men met, nutted out details, shook hands, and got to work.

Radio Caroline was obviously the trigger for Hauraki, Gapes and O'Callahan say. This was a pirate radio ship in the North Sea. In those days the BBC was the only broadcaster in Britain. Young Britons were having the same struggle as New Zealanders with state-controlled broadcasting.

Even Elvis was considered rebellious and risque back then, says O'Callahan. A lot of songs were banned by the NZBC (the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation).

Roger Miller's My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died was banned. The Rolling Stones' Let's Spend the Night Together was banned and anything with a four-letter word in it, which, even then, quite a few songs had.

Says Gapes: "I remember the Small Faces had a line in their song. It goes ' [Expletive] the neighbours'. It got banned. So, of course, that was just what we were looking for."

The government stations would play the hit parade for half an hour a week, a bit of classical music and a lot of Parliament - pretty dire for the nation's youth.

O'Callahan says there was private radio in this country in the 1920s and 1930s, but this changed because of a man known as Uncle Scrim.

The Reverend Colin Scrimgeour was a man of the people, a Methodist minister and broadcaster. The Government did not like some of his political comments on air and he was eventually closed down. By the time the likes of O'Callahan and Gapes were growing up, the state was the only broadcaster.

With Lowe and Parkinson on board, other key people came too, many of them from the NZBC - quality people frustrated by government bureaucracy and red tape.

Support for the venture took on a momentum of its own, says Gapes. But first they had to get out of the harbour.

It wasn't easy. They were beset by rules and regulations, lack of money, and the boat they acquired, the Tiri, wasn't in great shape either. There were also rumours of other pirate stations putting to sea.

There were potential pirates everywhere. The Government feared a fleet out beyond the three-mile limit, the men say. In the end, Hauraki was the only pirate station.

One of the banes of their life was Jack Scott, who was not only broadcasting minister for the National Government but also the Minister of Marine and Postmaster General. It was a strange relationship. His role was to stop them, but he was also for them.

He was almost their "deep throat", says O'Callahan.

"He worked for both sides, them and us," says Gapes. "We never trusted him totally. We liked him. But he was a silver-tongued devil. We knew that, fortunately. We might have been naive but we weren't green.

"He was always trying to accommodate us, talk us out of it, sweet talk us. But he always kept the lines of communication open which was valuable. I think deep down he probably quite liked us."

But, says O'Callahan, Scott's role was to protect the government monopoly and then the Post Office was the only authority which could license broadcasters.

His postal workers were like customs officers of today; figures of real authority.

"And the marine inspectors, which Jack Scott also controlled; they're a tough bunch of buggers too, grizzled old bloody seafaring types who go around your deck poking screwdrivers into things," says Gapes.

When the Tiri was due to leave in September 1966, marine inspectors stopped them.

When the pirates tried to leave again, in the dead of night the next month, Scott himself boarded and threatened to have them arrested.

Defiant, they still tried to leave the harbour. A crowd had gathered but police lowered the Viaduct drawbridge to stop them. They were eventually stopped leaving the harbour, arrested and taken to court, a case they won. In November, they finally snuck out of the harbour.

Given the age of those on board, the rock'n'roll music and the excitement, you might think there would have been one big party. The men say no. It was serious stuff. They would work, sleep, eat, cook, fish, read and swim. And, the news had to be read.

They would unashamedly collect the news by listening to other stations.

Once, Merv Smith on 1ZB was reading the news and stopped, saying, "Am I going too fast for you, Lloyd?"

As well as battling bureaucracy, there were storms at sea. In 1968 the Tiri ran aground on rocks at Great Barrier Island and the Tiri II was caught up in the storm which sank the Wahine. It ran aground again later that year.

Finally, in 1970, Radio Hauraki received a legal licence to broadcast and headed for dry land.

Yes, it does seem like a long time ago, they say. They have had lives and other careers since.

O'Callahan says he never listens to Hauraki these days. Gapes still listens but says it's a bit head-banging for him.

He likes Radio Sport and Concert FM. He was listening to National Radio on the way to the interview. Otis Redding was singing Satisfaction by the Stones. Times have changed.

Gapes wouldn't mind getting back into radio. He likes country music and the blues but despite all the changes there is no station playing this music. He might be 64 now but he's still adventurous.

If anyone out there wants to set up a country and blues station and has a bit of dosh, he says he wouldn't mind giving it a go: "Bloody oath," he says.

* An exhibition opens at the Maritime Museum on Saturday, November 11 and the official 40th anniversary party for ex-Hauraki staff and associates will be held at Swashbucklers Restaurant, appropriately situated in Westhaven Drive, on that day.

Radio Hauraki is running a Rocktober promotion this month featuring some of the big bands of the era including Hello Sailor, Hammond Gamble and Th'Dudes.