The finest broadcasting station in South Asia
Broadcasting on an experimental basis was started in Ceylon by the Telegraph Department in 1923, just three years after the inauguration of broadcasting in Europe. Gramophone music was broadcast from a tiny room in the Central Telegraph Office with the aid of a small transmitter built by the Telegraph Department engineers from the radio equipment of a captured German submarine.
The results proved successful and barely three years later, on December 16, 1925, a regular broadcasting service came to be instituted. Edward Harper who came to Ceylon as Chief Engineer of the Telegraph Office in 1921, was the first person to actively promote broadcasting in Ceylon. He launched the first experimental broadcast as well as founding the Ceylon Wireless Club together with British and Ceylonese radio enthusiasts. Edward Harper has been dubbed the ‘ Father of Broadcasting in Ceylon.’
The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in Colombo, to this day, is one of the finest radio stations in the world. It also happens to be the oldest radio station in South Asia. Vernon Corea was one of the pioneers of this radio station and he was deeply proud to be part of the history of Radio Ceylon. He loved the Station. Radio was King in South Asia in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and Radio Ceylon really did rule the airwaves – the station was like no other – it led the field in South Asia.
People in the Indian sub-continent tuned into Radio Ceylon. The station was known as a ‘market leader’ in the field of entertainment. People wrote to Radio Ceylon from all over the world.
On December 16, 1925 the then British Governor Sir Hugh Clifford inaugurated the broadcasting service – It was first known as Colombo Radio. The name was changed to Radio Ceylon and the radio the station shifted to Torrington Square on October 5, 1949.
Radio Ceylon broadcaster Gnanam Rathinam in her book ‘ The Green Light’ ( Memories of Broadcasting in Sri Lanka) notes: ‘ In 1943 the Broadcasting Station premises was sited in a bungalow named The Bower, in Cotta Road, Borella (in the city of Colombo). In early days the programmes in all languages were scheduled and produced by announcers who covered airtime as well. The Colombo radio station at ‘The Bower’ ceased broadcasts by midnight on 31st December 1949 and Radio Ceylon came into being on 1st January 1950. On January 5, 1967, it became a state corporation – the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
Commercial broadcasting from Radio Ceylon was inaugurated on September 30, 1950 and Clifford Dodd was seconded for service via the Colombo Plan. Dodd was charismatic and innovative and there was a real ‘buzz’ in Radio Ceylon after his arrival. South Asian leaders and ministers of the British Commonwealth, including India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Ceylon’s J.R. Jayawardene and Ghulam Mohammed, decided that Asia needed something like the Marshall Plan that had just helped rebuild Europe after the ravages of war.
The Colombo Plan, which resulted from these deliberations, was the first multilateral effort in foreign aid in Asia. The key donor countries were Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and the United States, and the organisation included Asian members of the Commonwealth like India, Ceylon and Pakistan.
Australia sent Clifford.R.Dodd to Radio Ceylon under the ‘Plan’ and it was a ‘ground breaking’ experience, as far as broadcasting in Ceylon was concerned. Clifford R.Dodd is regarded as the ‘Father of Commercial Broadcasting in Ceylon.
Clifford Dodd, the Australian radio expert and administrator who was sent to Radio Ceylon under the Colombo Plan transformed the Commercial Service of the Station.
The Hindi Service of Radio Ceylon
The Hindi Service of Radio Ceylon was instrumental in catapulting the radio station as India’s number one station. Millions tuned in to hear Hindi film music prssented by the popular Indian announcers – Vijay Kishore Dubey,Sunil Dutt, Gopal Sharma, Ameen Sayani,Hamid Sayani, Shiv Kumar Saroj,Manohar Mahajan – they helped shape the destiny of Radio Ceylon as King of the airwaves in India. People from all over the Indian sub-continent tuned in to hear the latest film music, some Radio Ceylon programs took the format of a countdown – whatever the format these announcers of the Hindi Service took India by storm. They had no equal. It was also a lucrative money spinner first for Radio Ceylon and even now for the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation – India is still a huge market.
Pivotal to the success of Radio Ceylon was advertising – someone who brought in million of rupees in terms of revenue from advertising from the various Indian states was Hari Haran the Indian advertising giant with Radio Advertising Services based in Mumbai. Hari Haran used the popularity of Radio Ceylon and subsequently the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation by tapping into the vast Indian market. He worked with Vernon Corea who was Business Manager of the SLBC in the 1970s – this was a very successful period for the Corporation.
Indians still long for the good old days of Radio Ceylon – so many blogs on the Internet share the views of die hard Radio Ceylon fans who hark back to the glory days of the finest radio station in South Asia.
What they said about Radio Ceylon…..
‘ For millions in this country, Radio Ceylon was not just a broadcasting station. It had a form and a personality. It was a companion who added a meaning to their lives, filled their vacant hours and has now left them with a host of memories of the melodious times which is hard to forget……’
PLAYBACK & FAST FORWARD MAGAZINE INDIA
‘ In the fifties, Radio Ceylon commenced its commercial services in Asia. Film music came back and all programming constrictions were removed. All those who joined Radio Enterprises, the production wing of the Indian agency for Radio Ceylon were allowed to do what they liked in any style that looked good. Of course, no insults or controversies were permitted; as long as we remained within the aegis of a code of conduct, we were given a free rein with the programming. Therefore, all of us developed our own style; there was full scope for creativity and adventurism……’
AMEEN SAYANI OF ‘BINACA GEET MALA’ FAME
‘ Soon after conquering Mount Everest half a century ago, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay turned on their transistor radio and the first thing they heard was an overseas broadcast of Radio Ceylon, from more than 3,000 kilometres away. They joined millions of people across the Indian subcontinent who regularly tuned in to these broadcasts. A pioneer in broadcasting in Asia, Radio Ceylon for decades informed and entertained an overseas audience many times the population of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka….’
‘ Radio Ceylon was my introduction to English music. I grew up in a traditional family and there were no English books or music available at home. ‘
Mahesh Dattani (Indian Playwright)
‘ We would listen on Radio Ceylon…….’
Shashi Deshpande (author)
‘ I have to express my deep gratitude to what was then called Radio Ceylon. (Sri Lanka now.) It had a slightly more open attitude and did play Western music, so that’s where I became familiar with all kinds of things that I could slightly regret, like the complete works of Ricky Nelson. ‘
Salman Rushdie (author)
– Rushdie mentioned Radio Ceylon in his novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ –
‘ Radio Ceylon, as it was then called — it’s Sri Lanka now — had a rather more tolerant policy, and, yes, at the weekends, it would play a few hours of a Western hit-parade kind of program. That’s where we first heard a lot of these songs….’
Salman Rushdie (author)
‘ Anyone who heard Ameen Sayani on Binaca Geet Mala will know. Radio Ceylon took his Brazilian coffee voice and that of his even more gifted brother Hamid, the host of the Ovaltine Amateur Hour, into millions of Indian homes every week. AFS `Bobby’ Taleyarkhan and Alyque Padamsee were the other two Indians who became household names in their country, thanks to Radio Ceylon. Since then, a virtual invasion of India by TV has left only misty memories of Jimmy Bharucha’s rich and friendly baritone and GregRoszkowszki, who with his signature `Wakey, Wakey’ was like an alarm clock for thousands across India…’
Nirupama Subramaniam (writer)
‘ Biddu became associated with the classic disco sound of a driving rhythm and sweeping strings. He said that he had first picked up this style listening to Radio Ceylon at home in India. I’d be glued to my wireless…’
Biddu (pop star) in a BBC interview
‘ The other morning I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (one time Radio Ceylon!) is still a charming radio station. Its ability to select and present songs of yesteryears every morning with extremely few repetitions speaks volumes for the dedication of the staff. The radio station possesses an excellent collection of songs that are catalogued and preserved to be presented on specific occasions. It is one of the few radio stations that keep track of birthdays and anniversaries of past singers, actors and all those associated with the field of entertainment. Thereby, it helps the audience to relive those lost moments – the start of the day owes a lot to these songs….’
indiamike.com (India Travel Forum)
‘When I was in class five or six, one of my uncles used to listen to Radio Ceylon. Back then it was the only commercial radio. I used to listen along with him. One voice really intrigued me. I didn’t understand Hindi so I didn’t know what he was saying. All I knew was I wanted to perform like him. And that remained in the back of my mind, Hossain, a veteran voice in radio explains. He moves on to his college days, & Later on I got to know it was Amin Sayani, the popular voice of India. In college, during lunch break, amidst the swarm of teachers and students I used to practice his performing style.’
– a pioneer of the Advertising Industry in Bangladesh –
‘The first lady of Indian television Tabassum is the prima donna of the world of entertainment.Currently the TV Queen is doing a daily show on Zee called Yaadein Radio Ceylon Ki where she reminisces for about two minutes on the songs being aired for that day. Talking of Radio Ceylon Tabassum recollects that one of her most popular shows which ran for 18 years was Tabassum Ke Chutkule on Radio Ceylon. Listeners were so tuned in to this show that slowly they began to send in jokes and jokes came in from Pakistan, Middle East and all parts of India. This raddi was sold by Radio Ceylon and bought by Tabassum.’
‘ My father being a fan of Kundanlal Saigal, these songs would be playing at home all the time. Radio Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) also immortalized Saigal by playing his songs at 2 minutes to 8.00 every morning. Whenever I was away from home, I could evoke images of home just by switching on Radio Ceylon.’
Melanie Priya Kumar
‘ In 1951 came an agreement with the US to relay Voice of America (VOA) programmes over Radio Ceylon (which was then a popular radio station in the vast Indian subcontinent), in return for getting new and modern broadcasting equipment from the US. ‘
PK Balachandran – Hindustan Times
‘Yes, we did have brands when we were growing up. They were highly popular and we came to know of them from a few hoardings, banners, radio jingles from the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon…..’
V. GANGADHAR – The Hindu Newspaper
‘ When Jimmy Bharucha joined Radio Ceylon he says, they had to use the primitive Beehive BBC type microphone and carbon microphone ” those which did not generate any kind of quality. Interestingly, open reel tapes were discovered only in 1950 but “our Commercial Service was so up to date,” he says. Most programmes at that time were “live” for working with tapes was far too expensive.’
writing in Sri Lanka Explore Magazine
‘ Around that time Lester James Peiris (Sri Lanka’s top Film Director) had got to do some freelance work for Radio Ceylon. He reviewed books for a programme called “Radio Bookshelf”. “The first book I reviewed was ‘The Curtain of Green’ by Eudora Welty, which I had also reviewed for the Kesari. Then the war (World War II) came and an English army man took charge of Radio Ceylon. He wanted to do radio plays and wanted me to write scripts.’
writing in the Sunday Island
‘ Rathnavalie Kakunawela’s voice was synonymous with Muwanpelessa, a radio play broadcast by the then Radio Ceylon for more than 41 years beginning in the 1960s. Rathnavalie who has been involved in the field of art for more than four decades was brought to the field by her brother Victor Migel. She was introduced to the Radio Ceylon in 1951 and lent her voice for the first time for a role in the short story of T.G.W. de Silva.’
writing in the Daily News
‘Sunil Dutt….Such a job came in the early fifties through the competence of Radio Ceylon, a station owned by the Sri Lankan government. That radio must choose him for his good looks is another mysterious way of the media business.
At a time when the proud and mighty All India Radio considered films and their mortals unworthy of air, Radio Ceylon unleashed its new find as a celebrity interviewer. That was how he met the crucial people of his film destiny…’
Nostalgia : Radio Ceylon
‘ Half a century ago, the programmes in English over the then Radio Ceylon was a delight to listen to. Then it was broadcast on the Home Service. Veteran broadcasters like Livy Wijemanne, Vernon Abeysekera, Myrle Swan, Hector Jayasinghe, Alfreda de Silva, Priya Samaraweera (Kodipily), Mark Anthony Fernando, Karl Goonasena, Dudley Weeraratne, Joseph Mather and a few others, whose names I cannot recollect, spoke English as it should be (then) over the National Service.
In the 1950s, the Australian, Clifford Dodd pioneered the Commercial Service. Livy and Karl worked for the Commercial Service later. Ace broadcasters, each with individual personality entertained the listeners with a variety of programmes. Some of the forgotten names are: Greg Rozkowzki, Mil Sansoni, Jimmy Bharucha, Karl Goonasena, Norton Pereira, Eardley Pieris, Percy Bartholomeuz, Ronald Campbell, Dan Durairaj, Geoff Fruightneit, Prosper Fernando, Guy Bibile et al.
From the 1960s to the present day, a number of talented broadcasters had been coming over the airwaves with their own styles of presentation.
writing in the Daily News, Colombo
‘ Young, dynamic and vibrant, the voice of the inimitable Vijaya Corea was heard to adorn the airwaves through the only electronic medium in this country at that time – the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon. Little did he know then that he would climax his career as Director General of the same radio station which later became the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation….’
writing in the Sunday Observer, Colombo
‘ When we were young and callow, we had only a quartet of radio stations to choose from: BBC, VOA, AIR and Radio Ceylon. The last two especially AIR’s “Saturday Date” played the music of singers like Engelbert Humperdinck, Jim Reeves, The Seekers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Carpenters and Tom Jones; all of whom were enormously popular with the “Macks” and the “Bawa” crowd. Engelbert was worshipped to the extent that the Konkani singers non-pareil, Alfred and Rita Rose, named an offspring after him.’
Writing in The Hindu (India)
‘Lama Pitiya’, the favourite Radio Ceylon programme presented by Siri Aiya was the training ground for young talent in the 40’s. Karunararne Abeysekara was one of the discoveries of the time who blossomed into a major poet in his later years. ‘Karu’ as he was affectionately called, whose seventy-second birth anniversary was celebrated by his fans and by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation recently. He wrote over 2000 lyrics during his lifetime which was considered a record for any artiste associated with radio, film and television.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Colombo
‘ I have spent my teenage listening to Radio Ceylon and the most exciting part of the radio programmes was Cibaca Geet Mala hosted by Ameen Sayani. Yesterday at night i.e.,Radio Ceylon’s last night broadcast of 2hrs from 7.00 p.m to 9.00p.m. was the end of its night broadcast.
From today,much to my unhappiness,there is no night broadcast.Only we are left with 3hrs 30 ms airing time in the morning from 6.00 to 9.30 a.m.Enquiries made with the earlier announcers on Radio Ceylon and its Golden Listeners placed at Mumbai,Kanpur and Ahmedabad revealed that the position is hopelessly beyond restoration as there was no revenue from any source to sustain it.I am keeping in touch with these accredited well wishers with a view to some how keep it kicking.
One Mr.Prabhakar Vyas was so obsessed with Radio Ceylon that today he told me over phone from Mumbai that he didn’t want to live any longer in the absence of Radio Ceylon.So great is the charm and fascination it left on its veteran listeners,me,no doubt included.Thus today is a very black day for the lovers of Radio Ceylon….’
Satish Karry’s Blog
‘TV has put an end to Radio Ceylon, the ubiquitous Ameen Sayani and Binaca Geetmala, Sanforised ke Mehman, Cadbury Something … all these programmes had been mesmerising. Getting clear sound on the highly crowded 25-metre bad was a challenge and when it did come through, it was a victory. And that was itself more than half the fun. ‘
writing in The Hindu Magazine
‘ The mention of Radio Australia and Radio Ceylon brought back memories of the 1970s. During those days, radio was the ruler of communication all across the globe. In the 13-metre band, live cricket coverage by Radio Australia was very nice with the golden voices of Allan McGilvray, Jim Maxwell and Brian Johnston. I have with me still a few hours of their commentaries taped in cassette form. Whenever England visited Australia, Radio Ceylon relayed the live commentaries of Radio Australia. In case the reception became poor, the commentary was interrupted with music and the announcer used to give the scores at the end of each over.
I have enjoyed a radio commentary with poor reception much more than the live TV coverage of today. Taking the pocket transistor to offices was very common and we could see cricket fans walking along the road glued to it much like today’s mobile phone conversations. On Radio Ceylon, the morning music programme called “Bright and Early”, the late afternoon music of “Lunch Time Music” and the late night programme before going to bed “Music for a Mellow Mood” were really superb. It is sad that TV has made tremendous inroads into radio territory and that it may soon become a thing of the past just like gramophone records….’
V.Pandy (The Hindu Magazine)
‘I recall meeting Vernon Corea in 1987 at the BBC World Service, Bush House, London for a conference of Asian programme providers. I was new to broadcasting and was ever eager to learn from veterans like Mr.Corea.I remember he asked us if we knew what a ‘Cubie Point’ was?
None of us knew the answer (there must have been around 70 of us). He revealed that a ‘Cubie Point’ was a British Telecom direct link from each Town or City Council Hall direct to our respective radio stations so that we could report on elections and other important occasions as if ‘live’ from a studio.He inspired a lot of people to take up broadcasting.
Here are some important chapters in the story of broadcasting in Sri Lanka.
1926 – The opening of a Concert Studio at the Ceylon University College.
1927 – The installation of acoustically treated studios and an Engineering Control Room at Torrington Square, Colombo.
1934 – The constitution of a Wireless Broadcasting Advisory Board.
Also, first experiments with a short wave transmission to achieve better reception in areas outside a 40-mile radius of Colombo. Construction of a Receiving Station for the reception of Empire Programmes.
1937 – The installation of a 3.5-5 Kw medium wave transmitter by a Ceylonese engineer.
1939 – The issue of a fortnightly Programme Supplement to subscriber licence holders.
1940 – The appointment of a Special Commission with Sir Kandiah Vaithianathan, as chairman, to report on all aspects of broadcasting.
The number of licences in Ceylon reached 10,000.
1942 – Owing to war conditions, the premises at Torrington Square were vacated for occupation by the R.A.F ., and the broadcasting organisation was accommodated in a residential bungalow in Cotta Road, Borella.
1947 – Work commenced on a building in Torrington Square, designed to suit the needs of a modern broadcasting station. This work was completed in September, 1949.
1949 – Radio SEAC (South East Asia Command) was taken over for Radio Ceylon.
The number of licence holders reached 27,000.
1950 – Inauguration of the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon in September.
1953 – Appointment of a Commission on Broadcasting under the Chairmanship of Mr.N.E.Weerasuriya QC.
1954 – Completion of work on a separate two storeyed building for the Commercial Service work commenced in 1953.
1958 – Installation of a Medium Wave Station at Diyagama commenced.
1960 – Experimental Project in establishing a Regional Station in Kandy commenced.
1967 – Radio Ceylon became a public corporation on January 5th 1967. The Prime Minister of Ceylon Dudley Senanayake ceremonially opened the newly established Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
1972 – The country became a republic under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.