Eighty Years of Broadcasting in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation celebrates 80 years in 2005 -
a historic landmark in the world of broadcasting. To this day the SLBC
is the oldest and finest radio station in South Asia.
Vernon Corea on the front cover of the Radio
Times of 1963
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
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
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. Radio Ceylon grew in popularity and stature. The
'Playback & Fast Forward Magazine in India noted: ' 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......' According to Panos ' 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....' I have such fond childhood memories of Radio
Ceylon - my late father Vernon Corea joined the station in 1956 as a
relief announcer. His appoint was recommended by the late great Livy
Wijemanne and endorsed by Clifford Dodd.
As a child I was in awe as soon as I entered the foyer - you heard
the hum, the buzz, the multitude of people - all coming in to meet the
radio personalities, place their advertisements, participate in radio
I remember as a member of the S.Thomas' Prep School Choir being
involved in a broadcast. I remember meeting the great Duke Ellington to
who visited Radio Ceylon and played in the studio.
My childhood was surrounded by some of the greatest broadcasters in
the world - 957 by the Director of the Commercial Service, Clifford
R.Dodd. Vernon had the joined the 'greats' - Livy Wijemanne, Pearl
Ondaatje, Tim Horshington, Greg Roskowski, Jimmy Bharucha,Claude
Selveratnam, Mil Sansoni, Eardley Peiris,Shirley Perera, Bob Harvie,
Chris Greet, Prosper Fernando, Ameen Sayani (of Binaca Geet Mala fame),
S.P.Mylvaganam (the first Tamil Announcer on the Commercial Service),
Thevis Guruge H.M.Gunasekera, Nihal Bhareti, Leon Belleth, Vijaya Corea,
to name a few.
They blazed a trail in broadcasting in South Asia. My father also
worked with the legendary Karunaratne Abeysekera, they were very close
My father presented radio programmes such as: Two for the Money,
Kiddies Korner, Old Folks at Home, To Each His Own, Ponds Hit Parade,
Saturday Stars, Take it or Leave It, Maliban Bandwagon (Maliban Show),
Roving Mike, Dial-a-disc, Holiday Choice, Sunday Choice and many more.
These were the glory days of Radio Ceylon. I hope that President
Mahinda Rajapakse will invest in the future of the SLBC. This radio
station is a national treasure.