The island of Sri Lanka celebrated 80 years in broadcasting – a
historic landmark where international broadcasting is concerned.
The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation formerly known as Radio Ceylon and before
that as Colombo Radio is the oldest radio station in South Asia.
Edward Harper who was appointed Chief Engineer to the Ceylon Telegraph
Department in 1921 carried out the first ever radio experiments on the island.
Broadcasting was started in Ceylon by the Telegraph Department in 1923 on an
experimental footing, 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.
This broadcasting experiment was a real success and barely three years later, on
December 16, 1925, a regular broadcasting service came to be instituted. The
station was called Colombo Radio.
Edward Harper also founded the Ceylon Wireless Club together with British and
Ceylonese radio enthusiasts. He has been dubbed ‘ the Father of Broadcasting in
Radio Ceylon ruled the airwaves in South Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. Millions
tuned in to hear the popular announcers and music program presenters who enjoyed
iconic status in South Asia, among them – Livy Wijemanne, Vernon Corea, Pearl
Ondaatje, Jimmy Bharucha, Tim Horshington, Greg Roskowski, Claude Selveratnam,
Prosper Fernando, Karunaratne Abeysekera, S.P.Mylvaganam, Gnanam Ratinam, Thevis
Guruge, H.M.Gunasekera, Christopher Greet, Eric Fernando, Vijaya Corea, Nihal
Bhareti and others.
The Hindi Service of helped to clinch the station’s number one spot in South
Asia by broadcasting the latest Hindi film music through a variety of
entertainment programs presented by Indian announcers – Gopal Sharma, Ameen
Sayani, Hamid Sayani, Sunil Dutt,Vijay Kishore Dubey, Shiv Kumar Saroj, and
Manohar Mahajan. Millions of listeners in India tuned into Radio Ceylon to hear
the latest Bollywood hits of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Radio Ceylon was a part of
youth culture to many South Asian teenagers growing up in the 1950 and 1960s in
the Indian sub-continent. Young and old alike enjoyed the steady stream of
English, Sinhala, Tamil and Hindi music.
The Australian administrator, Clifford R.Dodd (who was sent to Radio Ceylon in
the 1950s under the Colombo Plan) galvanised the Commercial Service of the
station into action. It was a powerhouse of musical entertainment.
Radio Ceylon helped make Ceylonese musicians Nimal Mendis, Des Kelly, Bill
Forbes, Cliff Foenander, Adrian Ferdinands, Douglas Meerwald, Clarence
Wijewardene, Annesley Malewana, H.R.Jothipala, Nanda Malini, Mignonne Fernando
and The Jetliners, Desmond De Silva, A.E.Manoharan, household names.
The station was made a public corporation in January 1967 and changed its name
to the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation headed by the brilliant Director-General,
Neville Jayaweera. In 1972 after Sri Lanka became a republic the station was
known as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
In January 2007 the SLBC will celebrate 40 years as a public corporation. The
SLBC has truly been a ‘starmaker,’ many Sri Lankan musicians owe their careers
to the radio station.