The group was started by Richard Berry. In the early 1960s, the Christchurch evangelical was inspired by Ecudorian Christian short-wave radio station HCJB, and by the Biblical passages of Matthew 7:7, Matthew 19:26 and John 14:12, to develop a plan for Christian broadcasting in New Zealand. Private radio was neither a reality nor a possibility at the time, and many people were sceptical of his plan. However, with a friend from the Salvation Army Berry started a studio in the garage of his Banbury Street home. This studio was initially called Banbury Recordings Incorporated and later became Gospel Radio Fellowship. It was a small evangelical ministry which believed in the value of prayer and recorded preaching.
In the mid 1960s the group started preparing to begin broadcasting. Radio Hauraki had begun illegally broadcasting as a pirate station, and a government unable to enforce its regulations on the industry was forced to allow private broadcasting. Gospel Radio Fellowship used an old church building on Glenfield Crescent, Christchurch to set up new studios and a transmitter. The station failed to obtain a license in 1972 as Gospel Radio Fellowship, because the Broadcasting Authority believed there was not public interest in such a station, and that the station lacked professional staff and finance. The group changed their name to Radio Rhema and gained the endorsement of Pat Robertson, but still failed to obtain a license in 1974.
The station did obtain licenses for a one day broadcast in Christchurch in November 1974, Petone in October 1975 and Christchurch for 10 days over Christmas in 1976. It had funding to employ Berry and twenty other staff by 1974. At a hearing for a full license in 1978, after the three broadcasts, it had 7,235 members and 48,433 other supporters, as well as endorsement from churches and community groups. The application was successful and Radio Rhema, since relaunched as New Zealand's Rhema, was officially launched by then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon in November 1976. Muldoon described the evangelical faith that inspired Rhema was "a faith that moves mountains".
Rhema continued to develop during the 1980s. In 1980 the Christchurch station obtained an 18-hours-per-day license and had thirty five full-time and ten part-time workers. In 1982 it gained a license in Wellington and had property and six staff in Auckland.