INAUGUARATION OF COMMERCIAL BROADCASTING IN SRI LANKA
Posted on December 6th, 2017

By late Mr. Livy Wijemanna-,Director of Commercial Broadcasting-Chairman-Patron Adaptation by Dr.Sripali Vaiamon-Vice President of the Sri Lanka Veteran Broadcasters Association

THE VETERAN BROADCASTERS IN SRI LANKA FORMED AN ASSOCIATION SOMETIMES BACK AND RELEASED A COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE on 16th of December  2000 WHERE the Patron of the Association, late Mr. LIVY WIJEMANNA CONTRIBUTED AN ARTICLE ELABORATING THE COMMENCEMENT OF COMMERCIAL BROADCASTING  IN SRI LANKA.WAR OFFICE IN BRITAIN INVOLVED FOR THIS FROM THE VERY INCEPTION.

WAR OFFICE IN BRITAIN.IN 1941 PURCHASED OUTRIGHT A 78 ACRE ESTATE AT EKALA, J a-ela , CLOSER TO COLOMBO FOR THE ERACTION OF A TRANSMITTING STATION FOR -ONE 100 KW,TWO, 35 KW AND 2 KW SHORT WAVE TRANSMITTERS TOGETHER WITH THE  ANCILLARY ANTENNA FIELD AND A TRANSMITTER HALL FOR THE ABOVE PURPOSE..

With the entry of JAPAN INTO WORLD WAR 11,consequent on the aerial attack on AMERICAN BASE OF PEARL HARBOUR IN HONOLULU ON DEC.8TH1941 and the successful operation of General Tojo’s forces , THE SOUTH EAST ASIA region became part of the  EASTERN THEATRE of war in which a large number of ALLIED TROOPS were deployed.in order to maintain their morale, keep them posted with the latest news of war situation, and establish a link with their folks at home; SUPREMO LORD LOUIS MOUNTBATTEN ,INITIATED THE MOVE TO SET UP -RADIO SEAC- (South East Asia Command) which came under the direct control of the WAR OFFICE IN LONDON.  With the fall of SINGAPORE, THE   SUPREMO moved his headquarters to CEYLON, to Phoenix Gardens at Peradeniya KANDY. The War Office then made an outright purchase, in 1941.

The STUDIO CENTER was set up at Calverly House at Turret Road, Colombo 7. An additional  one kw transmitter was also installed on the premises to facilitate transmissions. RADIO SEAC COMMISSIONED IN 1943.

Colombo Broadcasting Station, which was then in its war time home at Cotta Road, Borella, was given the privilege of originating a special evening transmission on 325 meters from one of the studios at Turret Road.  Our local staff were thus, the recipients of a sort of a professional training under the benign supervision of the experts of the staff of RADIO SEAC.

WHEN HOSTILITIES CEASED IN 1945, (When the war was over) and the Services personnel of RADIO SEAC began getting their demobilisation orders.  Then the BBC took over the management of the station, which had still to cater to the large number of troops who were awaiting transfer back home.

The studio centre at Turret Road RADIO SEAC was disbanded, and the BBC unit moved to Torrington where transmissions were operated from the studios which were later to be occupied by the English Service of the SLBC. The programme material was stored in the library of the Colombo Broadcasting Station at Cotta Road and was under Bill Fletcher the their Chief Engineer who also served as the Chief Engineer for Colombo Broadcasting Station until Mr.Norman Wickremasinghe ( He became the Chief Engineer of RADIO CEYLON, Residence was at HUNUPITIYA, 4 miles away from Torrington Square)of the Telecommunication who took over.

Shortly after Dominion Status was granted to Ceylon on Feb.4th 1948, the Govt. made a bid to enter the UNITED NATIONS ORGANISATION, but the USSR raised objections on the grounds that Ceylon was not really independent, as we had not only BRITISH NAVAL AND AIR BASES ON THE ISLAND, BUT HAD ALSO ALLOWED A FOREIGN RADIO STATION TO OPERATE ON OUR SOIL.

The unexpected setback, prompted the government to send a HIGH-POWERED DELEGATION TO LONDON TO NEGOTIATE THE CLOSURE THE BBC UNIT IN COLOMBO.WHICH HAD TAKEN OVER COMPLETELY from   RADIO SEAC. THE DELEGATION COMPRISED SIR JOHN KOTALAWALA, who was then in charge of the portfolio of broadcasting in addition to the MINISTERIES OF COMMUNICATIONS AND WORKS ,SIR OLIVER GOONATILLEKE,MINISTER OF HOME AFFAIRS,SIR CLAUDE COREA, our High Commissioner in London ,and two senior executives-Ananda Tissa de Alwis (who later became the Minister of Broadcasting) and Mr.Tissa Chandrasoma

The British delegation, which was led by Sir Patrick Gordon Walker, then made an offer of the entire complex to Ceylon at Rs.3 million. Sir Oliver, intervened at this stage saying that Ceylon was in no position to invest in such powerful and valuable equipment as we were a small country with limited resources and the complex would turn out to be a white elephant to us. When Sir Patrick said that the unit will have to continue operations till all the troops in the region have been dispersed. Sir Oliver countered this by saying that Ceylon would then have to take over the set up and allow the BBC to use the facilities on an agreed basis of payment. Sir Patrick was taken completely aback by this proposal, and said that the Treasury would not agree to such an arrangement as it would be totally unexpectable to the British taxpayer. Sir Oliver then turned round to Sir John, and requested him to convey to the Government of Ceylon his apologies for letting it down during the war years, when he, as Civil Defence Commissioner, failed to take into consideration the Ceylon taxpayer, when he convinced the government at the time to go all out to

support the war effort. SAYING THIS HE BOWED TO ALL PRESENT AND STARTED TO MOVE OUT OF HIS SEAT. Sir John and Sir Claude prevailed him to resume his seat. At this point Sir Patrick requested a short adjournment.to consult his government.

On his return to the conference room, Sir Patrick announced that, in view of the cordial relations that existed between the two countries, his government has agreed to hand over the entire

complex to the government of Ceylon as an outright gift. and that till the troops are moved out of the region, the British Government would agree to pay for the use of the facilities for a maximum of 8 and half hour per day. The conference ended on that exhilarating note for Ceylon. Thanks to the wizardry of Sir Oliver!

With the acquisition of this valuable assets from Britain, question arose as to what could be done with the transmitters as they were too powerful for use on the domestic services. Govt. then decided to utilize these transmitters and open up a Commercial Service, and arrangement made through Colombo Plan to get down a commercial broadcasting expert from Australia.

Mr.Clifford R.Dodd a dynamic personality, from 2GB  Sydney a Macquarie Organisation ,in Australia was appointed as  the Director on a 10 year contract to open up a Commercial Service. Mr.John N, Lampson,the Director General of Broadcasting, gave him the full freedom to organize his venture according to his experience and knowledge of the subject.

It was not an easy task for him to lay the foundation, collect material, introduce a Code of Ethics, select personnel and build programmes to suit the country. AT THAT TIME THERE WAS A HUGE CALAMITY IN INDIA WITH THE FILM PRODUCERS AND HIGHLY CULTURAL ALL INDIA RADIO.  Dr.Kesker,The Minister of Broadcasting was not in favour of Hindi film music. Mr.Dodd earmarked this but did not come out with anything. Keeping that in mind he went ahead with other arrangement to give a good start to the new venture.

He studied how American set up of Commercial broadcasting where Mr.H.P.Davids ,Vice President of the Westinghouse in America who was very enthusiastically proposed at the Executive meeting on the 30TH SEPTEMBER to start Commercial Broadcasting at the new station KDKA- So Mr.Dodd also planned to start a new transmission on the 30th September  which he named as the ALL ASIA SERVICE. IT WAS ENGLISH OF COURSE. HE PREPARED THE CONTINUITY SHEET-HE PREPARED THE TRAILERS-HE MADE OTHER REQUIRED ANNOUNCEMENTS-selected records from the library-With the help of assistants and placed everything at the allocated Continuity studio and present himself with an engineer 15 mts. early. One minute prior to the correct time played the theme music of the opening of the beam  with frequencies and segue into opening theme .Iimmediately after made his opening announcement, introduced the joyful song by NAT KING COLE- YOU ARE MY SUN SHINE MY ONLY SUNSHINE  –and played THE DISC, iT CAME OUT really WELL!–  He was extremely

delighted .Then he keptup to the scheduled programme. Engineer shook hands and went out from the CUBICLE. DIRECTOR—Mr.DODD inaugurated the Commercial transmission! Ha  ! ha! without any pomposity or auspicious time! And he was sure, it will BECOME a success!!!

Flowing day morning when  he stepped into the office, telephone was ringing. He raised the receiver ”Hallo! It was a great pleasure! Good Morning! It went on very well, extremely well, I am Hamid, Good

morning to you!” O my dear Hamid, Morning to you. How was the reception?” Dodd was delighted and questioned in high tone.

Extremely good! People will listen to AIR for news only! Everything is in our hands now. I am getting  ready with all necessary requirements for the envisage HINDI TRANSMISSION. Binaca is very eager to start a Hit Parade. I have just prepared a format for a sample programme! SANGEETHKI SITHARON KEY MEHEFIL-I’ll do a lot. Let us meet this week itself. We must meet our Film Producers Association. I ‘ll get an appointment without delay. You must come over here;”

I will do that! no problem.”

So, they decided! planned to meet! It was Hamid Sayani. Head of the RADIO ADVERTISING SERVICES. BOMBAY. Which he handles at the moment with his brother, AMEEN SAYANI.

AS DISCUSSD THEY MET and finalised everything: rates, channels, material and programmes! And to commence after the SILVER JUBILEE of Colombo Radio which falls on 16—December —1925.

After the commencement of the HINDI SERVICE, Mr.Dodd worked 0ut gradually other channels.

For the western listeners in the country –he opened up-from 7.15 am to 1.00pm and 5.00 to 10.15 pm. Two hrs for Hindi music from 5.00 to 7.00 .pm. These were started on 12th Feb.1951.

On 12th March started the South East Asia Beam.

Sinhala channel was started on 9th of April.1951 from 11.00 11.55 am.-Mr.Prosper Fernando was the Giant behind the mike! If you can still remember his baritone voice with the commercial announcements You can figure him out! ( Sad that he died in Canada sometime back!)Mr.Dubey who was sent from RAS in addition to Ganjwar sisters handles the Hindi Transmission very well. RAS deal with all the commercials and recorded progs. And freight hundreds of Hindi film musical records free from copyright restrictions.

Mr.Livy Wijemanna  who joined on 01.12.1955 as the Asst. Director  lay his hand into all the areas. He summoned me and instructed that I should extend my transmission and start a women only prpg.1.00 to 2.00p.m. on week days and have other programmes till 7.00 pm. You may have to get an efficient lady announcer and a male voice soon, Perhaps from the National service as there is no time to advertise and recruit. As the head of the Sinhala Service I had to do it. I asked one of the kids in my QUIZ KIDS panel, Gunatunga K liyanage to go and talk to Mr.Welikala. Drama Producer of the National Service and convey my requirements and I too telephoned him. He sends a chit with a name of a member of the drama panel, Miss Chandra Ilangaratna with the telephone number. I telephoned and asked whether she is in a position to  come  for an interview and I elaborated what it is. She came with her mother. .Mr.Wijemanna and myself interviewed her and on the request  of Gunatunga we had a chat with him too.. Both were selected. I were asked to go ahead with training. Following day my friend Morris Dhahanayake came with his friend Millawithanattchi and request me to get him as a relief announcer and that he is a relative of Wijemanna.

Now Illangaratna and Gunathunga do the channels quite well. Mr.Wijemanna is very enthusiastic and advertised for some relief Announcers. From the Interview he selected and appointed Lalith Maithripala ,Gemunu Wijesuriya, Sumana Nellampitiya, Elmo Fernando and Dewid Athukorala, They were  entrusted to Vernon Corea for training. English service is doing very well with Jimmy Barucha, Mill Sansoni, Greg Roszkowaski, Norton Pereira, Bob Harvei, Dan Doreiraj,Blacker,Jeff,Sujatha Jayawardana and

Few others. One of the typists, Raj Kumar is handling the Tamil Services, local and India. One Myilvaganam has been interviewed. Ariyadasa Pieris who was a contract officer attached to Sinhala Commercial has left and established an advertising Service by the name ARYANS. There was a big demand for announcers at the Commercial Service. Minister Marikkar too have sent two girls to appoint as announcers if they are good. One was selected  Srima,Rajakaruna,who was trained by Chandra and undertook her duties when she was employed at the National Service.

Commercial Service at the very early stage, emerged as the third  most popular short wave station in an international popularity poll carried out.  It was reported that Sir Edmund Hillary picked up the voice of Greg Roszkowaski one of the announcers in the commercial service, at the Peak of Mt.Everast.

One evening when myself and our Administrative Director,Mr.Weerasekara were chatting at the foyer ,   our DG., Mr.S.B.Senanayake returned from the Ministry and got down and comment, ”I got an idea.” He came out with a suggestion,” We broadcast day and night Maithri Chinta, Bana, Pirith and several Buddhist progs. don’t you think it is ideal to put up a Statue of the BUDDHA in front of the station?”

Ideal Sir”Mr.Weerasekara said.

I will summon a Committee meeting tomorrow morning, so that we can find out how we are going to collect funds.”

Yes, Sripali, You summon a committee meeting.” (I am the General Secretary of the Radio Ceylon Buddhist Association) Come to my office will discuss further” DG moved we went behind.

That is how the idea to put up the BUDDHA statue and canopy was built up after conducting a show at the Vihara Mahadevi Park. As it was not the practice to get Govt. money at that time for religious purposes. Chandra Illangaratna’s performances were extremely good and I was prompt to get married to her. Mr.Wijemanna commented wife cannot work under the husband .I approached DG,He agreed to appoint her at the National Service.

When I went to invite our Minister Hon.Mr.J.R Jayawardana to officially open the sanctified place, he preached me for about 5 mts. And asked IF CHRISTIANS ALSO WANTED TO PUT UP THE STATUE OF THE CHRIST, YOU ALL WILL AGREE TO THAT TOO?

I said, we are the majority, Sir”.

He asked me to go an invite Rev.Kalukondayawe Pannasekara,!What a silly utterance that I have made. I was repenting badly later.!  Well, our Director Mr.Dodd was on contract and he left 30th Dec 1960. When

he left,  Mr.Wijemanna became the Director. These days there was a nasty petitions against me that I am relaying too much of Hindi songs and no place is given for Sinhalese music. Director General was Mr.Neville Jayaweera. He was a very strict Administrator, he is the man who made RADIO CEYLON A CORPORATION-SLBC. Wijemanna said that he wanted to see me. on a petition from a society! I went to his office with three letters. Before he talks to me I gave him my letters, He asked me what are these?” I said I need your approval 1/.To engage Fr.Jayakody, Sunil Santha and Douglas Wickramasinha for a light music Audition and pay each hundred and fifty per day. 2/ Obtain permission to borrow light song from National Service library and get them dubbed on to c/s ascetate discs and to do the dubbing/recording from 6.00 to 10.00 p.m. on week days and permission to engage the technician , Mr.Mervin Rodrigu for this assignment. For this I don’t required any emolument or O.T. and 3./ Approved the following auditioned artists to record four songs from each and pay an enhanced payment of additional Rs.20/- and does not matter even Hindi movie style but not to substitute Sinhala words for Hindi melodies and to engage two extra musicians to the orchestra for Rs,30/-each per day. This is because I do not have sufficient Sinhala songs in our Library. Well I summoned you to discuss this subject. I don’t think a discussion is necessary now I have approved your memos. I Thanked him and went to see Mr.Guruge. for his personal opinion.

DG  later appointed me as the EDITOR PUBLICATION to be in charge of all the publications of the Corporation and he released me three veterans  as Editor Sinhala,(Pundit ) Wimal Abeyasundara, Editor Tamil Mrs. Gnam Rathinam and English Mr.Mervin Jayasuriya. I also had been selected for a Scholarship to West Germany for one and half years, at the same time got an invitation to go to Britain for two weeks for a familiarization  trip at BBC and visit historical places. After my return I was appointed as DIRECTOR ,RUHUNU SEVAYA,MATARA, Subsequently had to go to Indonesia for a Media  Seminar, when returned APPOINTED AS DIRECTOR RAJARATA SEVAYA Thera after went for a Seminar in Malaysia. After returned I had to undertake MAHANUWARA SEVAYA  and in a short time  I had to undertake Listener Research Division to release Nandana Karunanayake to go to Cornell University in America to follow his DOCTORATE. I retired at 60 and migrated to CANADA.A country where there are more than 100 communities living together in harmony. Giving prominent to this concept I wrote a novel went over little more than 500 pps.I named it THE THERAPY”2ND EDITION ready to print in SRILANKA. Medical facilities for all in CANADA are getting with a big concession and for those over 65 free of charge. ”Pre historic Lanka to End of Terrorism” another publication I did where I advocated every citizen to live in  UNITY UNDER ONE BANNER and further published a novel BLESSING IN DISGUISE”,   .high-lighting RAVANA’s period to have a high regard to the history of the country.

Commercial Service I presume must be now well improved and as Prof.KNO advocated in the Foreword of my book on Sociology Pre-historic Lanka…., the  standard of the language must have been  uplifted  to an approvable level.  Bravo.!

sripaliv@gmail.com
Dr.Sripali Vaiamon
55, Quail Feather Cres.
Brampton ON
L 6 R 1 S 7

CANADA

2 Responses to “INAUGUARATION OF COMMERCIAL BROADCASTING IN SRI LANKA”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Those were the golden days of our country where the cruel ambudayas had ruined it and they are still at it today.

  2. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Thank you very much Dr.Vaiamon for your nostalgic account on Radio Ceylon Commercial service.
    Since my childhood, as early as from 1953 (at that I was 9 years old) I listened to Sinhala commercial service and that was the time I began to appreciate Hindi music.

    Apart from some basic Sinhala songs (සරල ගී) Sinhala music was at its infancy at that time .However, When I went to Europe for my University Education in 1965, I took two reels of magnetic tapes full of Sinhala songs copied by a friend working at radio Ceylon and that gave me pleasure of listening to the Sinhala light music during my stay in Moscow and Kiev for six years. At that time there were no commercially available Sinhala music on tapes.

    However, as I could easily get Hindi LP records from my Indian friends, I kept on listening to Hindi music as well. As I had an Indian girlfriend, so I got free translation service as well.

    I think it was not a correct decision to completely remove Hindi music from broadcasting by commercial service.

    According to Indian students, the Radio Ceylon was the most popular Radio station in India at that Time, not only in cities but also in the remote villagers as they could easily tuned to the powerful short wave transmissions.

    Even the Sinhala commercial service was popular among south Indians. It was so popular even Some south Indian student could mimic programme introductions and advertisements without understanding a word in Sinhala.

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