Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Radio Broadcasting in Sri Lanka: After the War

In our program today, we present the next episode in the onward progress of radio development on the island of Sri Lanka.  The topic for this occasion tells the story of radio events upon this tropical island around the middle of last century.

 In synopsis, there was just one radio broadcasting station on the air in Ceylon at the time when the heavy clouds of war broke over continental Europe at the beginning of September 1939.  This lonely, and now almost forgotten radio station, was the mediumwave unit VPB with studios at Torrington Square in Colombo and a 5 kW mediumwave transmitter on 700 kHz that was located out a little, at Welikada.

            In 1941, the callsign was changed to ZOH, and the shortwave transmitter, previously on the air with just ½ kW was re-activated with an increase in power to 1¾ kW on a new channel 4880 kHz.  The official callsign for this shortwave transmitter was ZOI, though usually only the mediumwave callsign ZOH was announced on air.

            During the following year, the Torrington Square studio building was handed over temporarily to the Royal Air Force and the radio studios were transferred into a cottage known as the Bower out on Cotta Road, Borella.     

            An introductory international shortwave service was inaugurated at the high security RAF Radio Station at Ekala, some 10 miles north of Colombo on October 11, 1944.  The programming was produced and co-ordinated at a new studio facility on Turret Road, opposite the Town Hall.  This new shortwave broadcasting service identified on air as Radio SEAC Kandy, though it was located near Colombo, not in Kandy.

            When the Pacific War ended rather abruptly at the beginning of August 1945, there were now just 2 radio broadcasting transmitters on the air in Ceylon, and these were:-

            Radio SEAC               Turret Road Studios    1 shortwave transmitter at 7½ kW at RAF Ekala

            Colombo Radio           Bower Studios             5 kW on 700 kHz mediumwave at Welikada

             However, at this stage, work was already underway on the adjoining property at Ekala for the large new transmitter station for SEAC Radio, and this was taken into service on May 1, 1946.  Initially, there were just 2 shortwave transmitters at SEAC Ekala, a 7½ kW RCA unit and the large 100 kW Marconi unit.    Subsequently, two more RCA transmitters at 7½ kW were added, and also a 1 kW transmitter for local shortwave coverage.  The usage of the RAF Radio Transmitting Station was phased out when the SEAC station was activated, and the 7½ kW RCA transmitter was re-installed in the new adjoining building. 

            The antenna systems at Radio SEAC consisted of 4 curtains and 3 folded dipoles, and these were beamed towards India, the Far East, the South Pacific & England. The antenna that was beamed towards England was reversible for the service to the South Pacific.

            Programming for the Ekala shortwave station was co-ordinated in the Turret Road Studios, and it was made up of locally produced programming together with relays from the BBC London & All India Radio Delhi, with occasional inserts from Radio Australia Melbourne.  The locally produced program featuring music requests from listeners was one of their most popular programs.

            At pre-arranged times, Radio SEAC acted as a relay station for the BBC London, and there were occasions when cricket broadcasts from Radio Australia were picked up in Ceylon and relayed on shortwave to the BBC London.

            A monthly magazine was produced in Colombo and posted out to listeners, the SEAC Forces Radio Times.  This magazine gave an outline of all programming, together with frequencies & timings, and it also included feature articles about the station and other items of listener interest. 

                    Desmond Carrington on the air at Radio SEAC
On June 1, 1946, the administration of Radio SEAC was taken over by the War Office in London, though the station still identified on air under the SEAC and British Forces slogans.  This administrative arrangement ended in February 1949, and it would appear that the station was then off the air for a month or so. 

            SEAC Radio was a prolific verifier of listener reception reports, and they stated that they received around 8,000 letters a month from listeners all around the world.  Their QSL card was sort of squarish, with a Phoenix Bird arising out of the ashes, printed in black on a white card.

            Beginning in April 1949, the station was taken over by the BBC as a relay station, during the interim period in which a massive facility was under construction near Tebrau In Malaysia.  The temporary usage by the BBC of this shortwave relay station in Ceylon concluded at the end of the next year, 1950. 

            The BBC also installed a new mediumwave transmitter at Welikada for the relay of BBC programming to the Colombo area.  This station, ZOJ, was inaugurated apparently around April 1949, and it was on the air with 10 kW on 920 kHz.

            However, during this interim period, a new Commercial Service was introduced on shortwave in Ceylon, on September 30, 1950; and that’s the story on the next occasion when we take another look at the radio events on this island, the Gem in the Indian Ocean.
(AWR/Wavescan NWS 201/Dr Adrian Peterson)
(photos via

Wavescan Winter Broadcast Schedule
Day UTC Call kHz kW Station Location Country
Sun 0500 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
1200 AWR 17535 250 Media Broadcast Wertachtal Germany
1500 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
1600 KSDA 11825 100 Adventist World Radio Agat Guam
1530 AWR 15255 250 Sri Lanka Broad Corp Trincomalee Sri Lanka
1600 KSDA 15360 100 Adventist World Radio Agat Guam
1630 KSDA 11740 100 Adventist World Radio Agat Guam
2230 KSDA 15320 100 Adventist World Radio Agat Guam
Mon 1200 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
Tue 0430 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
Wed 0100 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
1200 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
2000 WINB 13570 50 World International Red Lion Pennsylvania USA
Thu 0400 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
1430 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
Fri 0415 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
Sat 0800 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
1200 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA
1730 WWCR2 12160 100 Worldwide Christian Nashville Tennessee USA
2100 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA 2330 WRMI 9955 50 Radio Miami Int Miami Florida USA