Mike Ellery now runs Cuevision, a video production house. In earlier times, he was a well-known broadcaster and his voice can still be heard from time to time over the radio.
As I started radio broadcasting in these parts (as opposed to cable broadcasting) 50 years ago, this year it seems like a good time to wonder what happened.
For me, it was Rediffusion (the ubiquitous cable radio network) in 1950 as a novice, then the great leap (@ 21) to Radio.
Radio was known as Radio Malaya to the public, but The Department of Broadcasting to the Administration.
We were designated Programme Assistants then, which has mutated to Disc Jockeys now. The difference being that as Programme Assistants we didn’t jockey any discs, that job was done for us by a noble band designated Broadcasting Assistants.
A Programme Assistant was at the mercy of his EPO (English Programme Organiser), who was at the mercy of his English Programme Supervisor (EPS), who handed out jobs that in the course of a week might include writing and presenting at least half a dozen music programmes, covering a sports or public event, acting in a Drama Group play and co-producing a quiz show. OK. At 21, you have the energy to do it and the anxiety to please.
Technically, it was wild. At the start, things either went on the air ‘live’ or were cut to acetate-covered aluminium discs – 18” for quarter-hour chunks or 12” discs for short bits like interviews etc. If you made a mistake, the disc would probably have to be scrapped and you started again. Not a popular idea. It was possible to edit, involving the Broadcasting Assistant playing over the disc, marking off the bad bit with a chinagraph and then – hold your breath – jumping the bad bit ‘live’ on transmission.
Running in parallel to this, for external interviews, was the revolutionary technology of the portable wire recorder made by Grundig, as I remember. A little problem here was that if the machine stopped too suddenly or you tried to rewind, the springy wire would likely jump off the spool and strangle you.
This was replaced fairly quickly by the famous EMI L2B portable recorder using TAPE! It ran on torch batteries (for the electronics) but the motor was clockwork, so that every three minutes, one had to stop and re-wind using the handle attached. There was another portable called Wearite which I think ran off a car battery. Take your pick.
Meanwhile, in the studio, things were going ahead by leaps and bounds with the advent of Ampex tape recorders. Ampex seems to have disappeared now, but at the time, it was an amazing tool. ONE HOUR tapes! Ye gods. Thank you Bing Crosby (it was reputed to be his company).
On the cultural side, things have undergone their little changes. The credo of Radio as laid down somewhere was “to inform, to educate and to entertain.”
Of course, the result leaned towards boredom, but it did mean that there were wildly different credentials needed to become a broadcaster, with the ability to compere a variety show somewhere down the end of the list. An enviable ability to consume huge amounts of alcohol came somewhere in the middle.
Before I forget, there was no advertising then – no listener surveys either. Blessed memories!
It’s a pleasant thought that many of the people I worked with then are still around today (in their 70’s and 80’s) and one or two can be heard on BBC World Service from time to time. Or here, taking grandchildren for walks and doing other useful things. I don’t think any are actively broadcasting here though.
It was Radio’s solid aunty image that led to the establishment of Rediffusion and to its runaway success.
My time with Rediff was mid-fifties to mid-seventies during which we created a bit of a pop monster. Virtually, ‘all the hits all the time’ with a scad of young local music enthusiasts presenting from 6am to midnight, mixed in with imported DJ programmes from the likes of Kasey Kasem, plus ‘live’ shows with local acts and visiting foreigners.
The phone-in had its start in Singapore on Rediffusion giving the duty DJ’s heavy experience in handling some pretty weird people.
With that sort of output, perhaps you can imagine the total panic that set in when The Ministry of Culture decided to ban from broadcasting “the type of music known as ‘rock and roll’”. I can remember frantically digging through the record library pulling out anything with a beat. It didn’t help that Elvis and Chubby Checker were reigning at that time.
Long hair also became a taboo. It didn’t affect me personally, being a nice upright English boy, but I can name a DJ or two (still with us) who had to have a hair-do before their next ‘live’ show. They were so ashamed they went out and bought wigs to wear in their own social circles.
I don’t recall how everything eventually returned to normal. It was a gradual process, and here we are today, with countless radio stations playing almost nothing but beat music day and night and poor old Rediffusion semi-dormant, wondering what hit it.
Article published in AdAsia Jan/Feb 2004