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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 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. 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 programs.

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 friends.

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.

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