Radio Church now longest running

Rev Donald Phillipps says the 90-year-old Radio Church programme, on OAR FM, has a place in the...
Rev Donald Phillipps says the 90-year-old Radio Church programme, on OAR FM, has a place in the hearts and minds of many people. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
On April 9, 1934, Rev Leslie Bourneman Neale made his first broadcast of Radio Church of the Helping Hand, from Station 4ZM in Dunedin.

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

There is no doubting the one-time superintendent at Dunedin Central Methodist Mission would be proud to know that the programme, which attracted thousands of dedicated listener "members" (over 3000 of whom crowded into the Dunedin Town Hall for a special birthday service on the first anniversary of the show), 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 February 3, 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 30-minute ecumenical service on Access Media station OAR FM.

Today, a cross-denominational group from Dunedin ministries hosts a weekly broadcast, Sundays at 8.30am.

Podcasts are carried on the station’s website and Apple Podcasts.

Rev Donald Phillipps, himself a one-time superintendent of the Methodist parish, enjoyed a long association with the show during the 1980s and early 1990s, and is still a regular contributor.

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 said Radio Church was an important tradition, and remained of great value.

"I think there needs to be space for the person who is able to describe to others what is needed to do good in the year 2024.

"It’s not the same as what it was in 1934, and it is changing rapidly around the world," Rev Phillipps said.

"The ethical word, the word of justice and compassion, is needed even more than then.

"Radio Church has a place in the hearts and minds of a significant number of people, particularly those who are house-ridden, for whom it is an opportunity to join with others in an act of worship."