The Listener was first published in June 1939 as a weekly broadcasting guide for radio listeners, and the first issue was distributed free to 380,000 households. First edited by Oliver Duff then from June 1949 M. H. Holcroft, it originally had a monopoly on the publication of upcoming television and radio programmes. In the 1980s it lost that monopoly, but despite the increase in competition since that time, it was still one of the top selling magazines in the country. It was privatised in 1990 and was published by Bauer Media Group until the magazine's closure in early 2020.
Pamela Stirling was the editor since 2004, and by 2018 readership was 197,000 with a circulation of 45,262.
From 2004 to 2009, the Listener produced an annual New Zealand Listener Power List of the 50 most powerful people in New Zealand. It also published the Best 100 Books, Best 50 Kids Books, and Best Cookbooks, every November/December.
On 2 April 2020, the Bauer Media Group announced the closing of many of its New Zealand and Australian publications including The Listener due to the continued loss of advertising revenue, hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that, the weekly current affairs printed magazine was billed as 'New Zealand's best-selling current affairs magazine with a per capita circulation higher than Time, the New Yorker and Spectator'.
On 17 June 2020, Australian investment company Mercury Capital purchased The Listener as part of its acquisition of Bauer Media's Australia and New Zealand assets. On 17 July, Mercury Capital announced that it would resume publishing The Listener and other former Bauer publications, but as of mid-August none had eventuated.
In late September 2020, Mercury Capital rebranded Bauer Media as Are Media, which took over publication of The Listener.
^"O'Connor, Rev. Canon (Brian) Michael (Mcdougal), (born 20 June 1942), Dean of Auckland, New Zealand, 1997-2000", Who's Who, Oxford University Press, 1 December 2007, doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.28719