Lord Louis Mountbatten and Wartime Radio in Ceylon

Lord Louis Mountbatten moved his base to Ceylon in April 1944, here Liord Mountbatten arrives at the RAF Base in Koggala, Sri Lanka during World War II.

Lord Louis Mountbatten moved his base to Ceylon in April 1944. Here Lord Mountbatten arrives at the RAF Base in Koggala, Sri Lanka during World War II.

Lord Louis Mountbatten moved the RADIO SEAC operations from New Delhi first to Kandy and then to Colombo during World War II. This was Ceylon’s first ever wartime radio station and it played a vital role from 1944 – 1946. During this time Vernon and Ernest were teenagers, living at the Vicarage of St.Luke’s Church in Borella. Like many Ceylonese families and many listeners all over the world they tuned into on their wireless sets to the BBC. One day that young teenager in Borella, listening with his family to the BBC, would be the Corporation’s Ethnic Minorities Adviser and BBC Local Radio’s first ever Asian Programmes Officer.

Radio SEAC played a vital role during World War II broadcasting for 18-20 hours on the 19 meter band at 15.120 mhz. A poweful shortwave transmitter was set up in Ekala, the announcers operated from the studios in Colombo.

Radio programs and important announcements including the speeches of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Lord Louis Mountbatten were beamed from Ceylon right across India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore. It went a long way in boosting morale of the troops stationed in these countries. David Jacobs and Desmond Carrington (who later fronted programs on BBC Radio 2 in London) were the popular English announcers of Radio SEAC operating from Ceylon – they introduced request programs and programs for loved ones back in the United Kingdom. The songs of Bing Crosby were very popular with the forces at the time – they sent in so many requests to Radio SEAC.

Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten was the favourite Uncle of His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales who has himself visited the island of Sri Lanka. Vernon Corea met Prince Charles in the 1980s when he was the BBC’S Ethnic Minorities Adviser.

Here is a rare film of Independence Day in Ceylon in 1967 at Galle Face Green in Colombo with the Prime Minister of Ceylon Dudley Senanayake and the Governor-General of Ceylon William Gopallawa – on the side of the platform is Lord Louis Mountbatten with former Governor-General of Ceylon Sir Oliver Goonetilleke watching the proceedings:

Ceylon Independence Day 1967

Ceylon Independence Day 1967


Newspaper article from 17th April 1944 stating that Admiral Moutbatten had moved his headquarters to Ceylon:

Lord Mountbatten addresses the personnel on board the USS Saratoga in Trincomalee Ceylon in 1944:


Radio SEAC (Ceylon) Presenter Private Doreen Winter of the Royal Navy Passes Away

Pioneer Broadcaster Private Doreen Winter of the Royal Navy was a presenter with Radio SEAC in Colombo, Ceylon, during World War II.

Pioneer Broadcaster Private Doreen Winter of the Royal Navy was a presenter with Radio SEAC in Colombo, Ceylon, during World War II.

Jude Goonewardane of the Radio Ceylon Facebook Group recently announced to the group that Private Doreen Winter of the Royal Navy has passed away in the United Kingdom. Doreen Winter was one of the presenters on Radio SEAC based in Ceylon. Doreen lived in Colombo and was a colleague of David Jacobs and Desmond Carrington of Radio SEAC. After the war Radio Seac was sold to the Government of Ceylon for the princely sum of one rupee and became Radio Ceylon, ‘King of the Airwaves’ in Asia. Doreen’s picture also appears on this youtube film on Radio Seac:

Former Chief Announcer of Radio SEAC of Ceylon David Jacobs passes away in the UK

David Jacobs, the British broadcasting legend recently passed away on the 2nd of September 2013. He was 87 years old. David Jacobs was a year older than the Sri Lankan broadcasting legend, Vernon Corea. We don’t know whether their paths crossed but both David Jacobs and Vernon Corea began their radio careers in Ceylon and ended up working for and retiring from the British Broadcasting Corporation.

David Jacobs was appointed Chief Announcer of Radio Seac from 1945-1947 stationed in Ceylon. He went on to become the Assistant station director of Radio SEAC during World War II broadcasting from Ceylon. Jacobs lived in Colombo. Lord Louis Mountbatten was very interested in radio and saw the importance of radio to boost the morale of allied troops in Asia. He authorised the setting up of a radio station in Sri Lanka with a powerful 100kw Marconi transmitter. Radio SEAC began broadcasts using a smaller 7.5kW transmitter, as well as a low powered 3395kc transmitter for broadcasts into Ceylon. The British Forces Radio was heard right across the Indian sub-continent and as far as China and New Zealand. Radio SEAC was hugely popular during World War II and David Jacobs was a favourite with the British and Ceylonese armed forces during World War II.

The Radio SEAC transmitting site was in Ekala in Sri Lanka. David Jacobs went on to become a popular broadcaster with the BBC, presenting programmes such as Jukebox Jury, Housewvives Choice, Come Dancing and the Eurovision Song Contest. He was truly a legend in broadcasting with Radio SEAC and with the BBC.

Radio SEAC was sold to the Government of Ceylon for the princely sum of one rupee and was launched as Radio Ceylon.

Broadcasts from Radio SEAC in Ceylon:

David Jacobs of the BBC:

David Jacobs with the BBC’s Jukebox Jury from 1960:

David Jacobs – 1926-2013:

Radio Ceylon, King of the Airwaves in South Asia

Radio Ceylon was King of the Airwaves in South Asia

Radio Ceylon Card

The logo of Radio Ceylon, king of the airwaves in South Asia


Radio Ceylon is the oldest radio station in Asia. Broadcasting was started on an experimental basis in Ceylon by the Telegraph Department in 1923, just three years after the inauguration of broadcasting in Europe.


Edward Harper

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.

In the first ever radio experiments in Colombo, 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.[1]

The experiment was a real success and three years later, on December 16, 1925, a regular broadcasting service came to be instituted in Ceylon – the station was called Colombo Radio with the call sign ‘Colombo Calling.’

Harper also founded the Ceylon Wireless Club together with British and Ceylonese radio enthusiasts in the city of Colombo. These were exciting times where radio in South Asia was concerned. Many regard Edward Harper as the Father of Broadcasting in Ceylon. Ceylonese engineers joined the Ceylon Wireless Club and carried out radio experiments with Edward Harper.

During World War II the radio station operations were taken over by the allied forces who operated Radio SEAC from Colombo.[2] The station was handed over to the Government of Ceylon after World War II. Radio Ceylon came into force after the war and climbed broadcasting heights in South Asia, leading the way in the world of entertainment and news. The very first senior management officers of the station came from the BBC. John Lampson was appointed Director General of broadcasting and Pascoe Thornton also from the BBC was appointed Director of Programmes of the National Service at the station.[3] Distinguished civil servant M.J Perera was the first Ceylonese Director-General of the then Radio Ceylon and another civil servant, Vernon Abeysekera, was appointed Director of Programmes.

The legendary Announcers

Radio Ceylon has produced some of the finest announcers of South Asia among them: Livy Wijemanne, Vernon Corea, {Tony de Costa, whose Saturday afternoon commentaries on the Horse Races were very popular]Pearl Ondaatje, Tim Horshington, Greg Roskowski, Jimmy Bharucha, Mil Sansoni, Eardley Peiris, Shirley Perera, Bob Harvie, B.H.Abdul Hameed, Claude Selveratnam, Christopher Greet, Prosper Fernando, Ameen Sayani (of Binaca Geetmala fame), S.P.Mylvaganam (the first Tamil Announcer on the Commercial Service),[4] Thevis Guruge, H.M.Gunasekera, A.W.Dharmapala, Karunaratne Abeysekera, Chitrananda Abeysekera, Kailayar Sellanainar Sivakumaran, Mervyn Jayasuriya, Vijaya Corea, Elmo Fernando, Eric Fernando, Nihal Bhareti and Leon Belleth.

Pioneering broadcaster, Vernon Corea (left) with fellow announcers in a studio at Radio Ceylon, Colombo in 1958.

Other Sri Lankan personalities such as Owen de Abrew, the most senior Ballroom Dance professional on the island[5] and top film director Lester James Peiris[6] ( who reviewed books for ‘ Radio Bookshelf ‘ ) were involved in radio programmes on the airwaves.

This was in the heyday of Radio Ceylon, the announcers and presenters, particularly those who presented radio programmes on the All Asia beam, enjoyed iconic status. Radio Ceylon ruled the airwaves in South Asia as millions in the Indian sub-continent tuned into the radio station.[7] People picked up Radio Ceylon broadcasts as far away as the United States of America.[8] The Hindu newspaper placed Ameen Sayani and Vernon Corea[9] of Radio Ceylon in the top five great broadcasters of the world.[10]

Radio Ceylon turned young Ceylonese talent into household names – among them the Ceylonese musicians of the 1950s and 1960s – Nimal Mendis,[11] Bill Forbes,[12] Cliff Foenander, Des Kelly, Adrian Ferdinands, Tissa Seneviratne, Harold Seneviratne, Douglas Meerwald and the Manhattans,[13] to name a few.

Some of Radio Ceylon’s programs enjoyed by millions of listeners – the ‘Maliban Show’ presented by Vernon Corea,[14] ‘Ponds Hit Parade’ presented by Tim Horshington,’Lama Pitiya’ with Karunaratne Abeysekera[15] and Binaca Geetmala presented by Ameen Sayani[16] on the Overseas Service among them.

There was also a religious and cultural dimension to radio programming and Radio Ceylon broadcast Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian programmes. The station had ‘ three broadcasting arms ‘ – the Commercial Service, the National Service and the All Asia Service. Radio programmes were broadcast in English, Sinhala and Tamil – the All Asia beam had many programmes broadcast in Hindi. Pandit W. D. Amaradeva and other distinguished Sri Lankan musicians have all given concert recitals in the studios of the station.

The Hindi Service

Radio Ceylon had a very lucrative arm – the Hindi Service of the station launched in the early 1950s. Millions of rupees in terms of advertising revenue came from India. The station employed some of the most popular Indian announcers who played a vital role in establishing Radio Ceylon as the ‘King of the Airwaves’ in South Asia, among them, Gopal Sharma, Vijay Kishore Dubey, Shiv Kumar Saroj, and Manohar Mahajan. Sunil Dutt (who went on to become a film star in Bollywood), Ameen Sayani and elder brother Hamid Sayani though not hired by Radio Ceylon became popular by using Radio Ceylon for broadcasting programs like “Binaca Geetmala” (first broadcast in 1952) and “Lipton Ke Sitaare.”

What captured the Indian listener were the film songs, the golden age of Hindi film music was in the 1950s and 1960s – Radio Ceylon was at the right place at the right time to reach out to the target market of millions of listeners – the station popularised the movie songs, including the talents of playback singers Asha Bhosle,[17] Lata Mangeshkar, K.L. Saigal, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi, S Janaki and others. This was a brilliant move by Radio Ceylon as Bollywood filmi music was banned by All India Radio and other Indian radio stations at the time.[18] This led to increased listenership for radio programmes such as Binaca Geetmala. Radio Ceylon had a captive audience. The Binaca Hit Parade was presented by ‘happy go lucky’ Greg Roskowski, it was a countdown of English pop music beamed on the Commercial Service and the All Asia Service. Having heard the programme, Indian listeners flooded the station with letters requesting a count down of Hindi filmi songs and the idea of Binaca Geetmala was born.[19]

Radio Ceylon also popularised the English songs of Indian popular musicians – they went on to score huge hits, among them Uma Pocha( Bombay Meri Hai ), Usha Uthup who has the rare distinction of singing Sri Lankan baila songs with ease and the Anglo-Indian star, Ernest Ignatius ( who went on to be a success in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s ‘Bombay Dreams‘ in London ) had a massive hit, I Married a Female Wrestler, on Radio Ceylon.[20]

The station was an advertiser’s dream – thousands of jingles were recorded and beamed on the All Asia Service – from Lux soap to Coca Cola. Major brands queued up for their jingles to be broadcast over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon, such was the station’s advertising power.[21] Masterminding the revenue from India was Radio Ceylon’s advertising agent, Hari Haran, from Radio Advertising Services.

Clifford R. Dodd

Clifford R.Dodd, Director of the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon,who came to the island under the Colombo Plan pictured here in 1958

Australian Clifford Dodd was sent to Radio Ceylon under the Colombo Plan. Dodd turned the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon into a huge success. Dodd was a charismatic figure and he used his powers of persuasion to rise above politics to make Radio Ceylon into a successful brand name in South Asia. The radio station had no real competition in the region. Clifford Dodd and Livy Wijemanne hand picked some of the brightest talents in Sri Lanka, turning them into popular professional broadcasters.

Clifford R. Dodd’s leadership, enthusiasm and drive helped motivate the young Ceylonese broadcasters – they were the brightest and the best in terms of creative talent. Dodd helped shape the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon. The station spiralled upwards in terms of popularity and revenue for the country.

Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation

Radio Ceylon became a public corporation on 30 September 1967 and the station’s name was changed to the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation. Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake appointed a distinguished Ceylonese civil servant, Neville Jayaweera to head the CBC.

Chairman and Director General Neville Jayaweera in the boardroom of Radio Ceylon.

When Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972 the station underwent yet another name change as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).

In December 2005 Sri Lanka celebrated eighty years in broadcasting, a historic landmark in the world of broadcasting.[22] On January 5, 2007 the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation celebrated forty years as a public broadcasting corporation.

Quotes on Radio Ceylon

  • ‘ 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)
  • ‘ 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)
  • ‘ 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….’ (Panos)


Radio Ceylon, the oldest radio station in South Asia