Rediffusion: a national treasure
Rediffusion closed its service in April 2012, sixty-three years after its launch in 1949 in this small island just emerging from wartime occupation and still under British rule. The Governor of Singapore, Sir Franklin Gimson, opened this radio service at the Rediffusion headquarters in Tank Road (later to become Clemenceau Avenue). This was a purpose-built, three-storey construction with offices, three studios, control rooms, recording booths, and record library. There was a standby generation plant, too, because black-outs were quite common in those days due to overloading.
Rediffusion started in the UK in 1928 and the company brought to Singapore its cable service bringing radio entertainment to thousands of subscribers, many of whom could not afford a radio set. Also reception of the broadcast stations was, at that time, rather poor. For just $5 a month, subscribers across the island, domestic and commercial, were given a loudspeaker and access to Rediffusion programmes. Rented lines linked the subscribers via amplifying stations. Hong Kong and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang) had a similar service from this enterprising British group. In Singapore programmes were broadcast in English, Malay, Indian and several Chinese dialects.
Radio Television Singapore and its successor SBC drew on the Rediffusion talent and enticed away popular DJs such as Roger Kool, the first blind disc jockey in Singapore. He started in1973 at only 19 years old. Another DJ, Mark van Cuylenberg (The Flying Dutchmen), is still active in a Mediacorp breakfast show at the time of writing.
Rediffusion came up with many ideas which we take for granted today such as live broadcasts from shopping malls, interviews with stars, and phone-in games. The ubiquitous wooden speakers could be seen all over Singapore and some remained in coffee shops even after the station closed.
Apart from popular DJ’s playing records, the station had story-tellers such as Lee Dai Soh who narrated classics in Cantonese while other broadcast similar stories in Teochew, Hokkien and Hakka.
The demise of the Rediffusion service can probably be laid at the feet of three factors. Growing affluence meant more people could afford to buy a personal radio receiver. RTS improved its service technically in 1967 offering a higher quality in the broadcast soundwaves. However, the final blow was when the Singapore government order the station to cease its dialect programmes to force Singaporeans to adopt Mandarin and create a common language amongst the Chinese community. The Speak Mandarin campaign was launched in 1982.
Many old people felt cut off when they lost access to dialect broadcasting and this was not a popular move.
However, Rediffusion was a product of its time and, as with many media outlets, the service it provided just became irrelevant.
This story of this popular cable service is now woven into Singapore’s broadcasting history and its importance to Singaporeans during the fifties, and right up to the seventies, should be appreciated.
Article posted in 2018
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