Sunday, April 08, 2018

Special Report: History of Broadasting in Zambia

A brief history from Ray Robinson of KVOH Los Angeles, on the history of broadcasting in Zambia

Jeff:  Formerly known as Northern Rhodesia, Zambia is located in southern central Africa, and it is a landlocked country bounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique on the east, Zimbabwe on the south, and Angola and Namibia on the west and southwest.  Its area of 290,586 square miles makes it somewhat smaller than Turkey but larger than Texas. 

The population of 7 million consists mainly of the Bemba and Tonga ethnic groups, although there are several smaller groups as well.  The official language is English, but over 70 other languages are also spoken.  About 15% of the population are Christian, whereas the remainder practice tribal religions.  Ray Robinson joins us now with the history of radio broadcasting in Zambia.

Ray:  Thanks, Jeff.  Zambia consists mostly of high plateau country covered with thick forests, the altitude varying from about 3,500 to 8,000 feet.  It is drained by a number of rivers, the best known one being the Zambezi, which separates it from Zimbabwe, and from which the country takes its name.

In the south on the border with Zimbabwe is the 175-mile long Lake Kariba, formed by the Kariba Dam across the Zambezi.  It is the site of one of the world's largest hydroelectric projects, opened in 1960.

The history of Zambia, or Northern Rhodesia as it was formerly known, goes back to the early 19th century when various Portuguese explorers traversed the country between Angola on the west coast of Africa and Mozambique on the east, both Portuguese colonies. In 1850, Dr. David Livingstone reached the Zambezi from the south, and in 1855 he discovered the Victoria Falls on his famous missionary journey. 

It is worth mentioning here that the Victoria Falls greatly surpass Niagara in dimensions. The width of the falls is one mile, with a maximum height of 420 feet.  Although of great volume, Niagara has parallel drops of only 158 and 167 feet, which makes Victoria Falls nearly twice as wide, and about two and a half times higher than Niagara.

Cecil Rhodes obtained mining concessions in Zambia in 1889 from King Lewanika of the Barotse tribe in the southwest, and he sent settlers to the area.  The country was under the administration of the British South Africa Company from 1889 to 1924, when a British protectorate was established. 

 In 1953, Northern Rhodesia became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which was dissolved in 1964.  On 24 October 1964, Zambia became an independent republic within the British Commonwealth, with Dr. Kenneth Kaunda as its first President.

It was not until World War II that Northern Rhodesia acquired a radio service.  In 1941 the Government's Information Department installed a 300 watt transmitter in Lusaka, the capital.  This station was built for the purpose of disseminating war related information.
 From the outset, the Lusaka radio station addressed programs to Africans in their own languages, becoming the pioneer in the field of local vernacular broadcasting.  In 1945 Harry Franklin, Lusaka's far sighted information officer, proposed that Radio Lusaka concentrate on developing programming for Africans.

Since Northern Rhodesia could not afford such a specialized service on its own, the administrations of Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were persuaded to share in the operating costs, while the British Government agreed to provide the initial capital funds.  Thus, the Central African Broadcasting Station came into being. 

Among the by-products of this effort were the world's most extensive collection of ethnic African music, and a breakthrough in that most formidable barrier to audience growth, the lack of a receiver which Africans could afford to buy.  Franklin tried for three years in the late 1940s to persuade British manufacturers that a potential mass market existed among Africans for a very simple inexpensive battery-operated shortwave receiver.  One must bear in mind that this was before the days of transistors.  He finally persuaded a battery company to invest in the research and development of the idea. 

One of the early models was mounted experimentally in a 9-inch diameter aluminum (or, aluminium) housing, originally intended as a saucepan.  Thus was born in 1949 the famous "Saucepan Special", a 4-tube tropicalized short wave receiver, which succeeded even beyond Franklin's expectations.  It cost five pounds Sterling, and the battery, which lasted 300 hours, was an additional one pound five shillings. 
 Within the first three months, 1,500 of the Saucepan Specials had been sold, and in the next few years, 50,000 sets were imported.  Franklin had hopes of capitalizing on a world market for the sets, but within a few years the transistor radio came into mass production and so his brainchild became a mere historical curiosity.

In 1953, Federation came, and in 1958 a new broadcasting organization, the Federal Broadcasting Corporation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was founded, with headquarters in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe).  Lusaka continued to use African languages as well as English, but the spirit which had animated the original station had long since been drowned by the rising tide of animosity between the tribes.  Eventually in 1964, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland broke away from the Federation and were granted independence as Zambia and Malawi. 

The station in Lusaka was then known as the Zambia Broadcasting Corporation until 1966, when it changed to Zambia Broadcasting Services (ZBS).  This was again changed at the end of 1988 to the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC).  The ZNBC is a Government department, now under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (MIBS).

For many years, ZNBC broadcast a “General Service” and a “Home Service” on both AM and shortwave transmitters that covered the country.  However, with the implementation of FM transmitters in the major population centers, the AM transmitters were all switched off some years ago.

ZNBC also used to broadcast an “External Service” called Radio Zambia International, beamed to Southern Africa over a 50 kW transmitter.  Much of the programming was anti-apartheid material produced by nationalist political groups. However, after South Africa gained majority rule in 1991, the need for this service evaporated, and it went off the air.

These days, there are now four ZNBC domestic radio services, known as:
  Radio 1 (the former General Service)
  Radio 2 (the former Home Service)
  A National Assembly channel (which carries parliamentary proceedings)
  Radio 4 – a mostly English language Christian music station

The first three channels are widely available throughout the country on FM, but for the fourth network, the 2018 edition of WRTH only lists four low-power transmitters, and on a visit I made to Lusaka last month, the Radio 4 transmitter there was off the air.

Radios 1 and 2 also used to be carried on shortwave to fill in the rural areas where the FM signals do not reach.  Equipment failures are a constant problem, and Radio 2 has not been heard on shortwave since about 2012.  It’s a pity, because Radio 2 is primarily an English language channel.  It is believed that the shortwave transmitter for Radio 2 has been cannibalized to keep the transmitter for Radio 1 on the air.

Radio 1 itself was also off the air for some months last year, but it was just reactivated on 5915 kHz in January 2018.  The transmitter is a 100 kW Continental model 418-E, usually run at about half power into an omni-directional antenna.

It is now generally on the air daily from 0245-2205 UTC (4:45 am -12:05 am local Central African Time), broadcasting mostly in seven local languages: Bemba, Nyanja, Lozi, Tonga, Kaounde, Lunda and Luvale, but also with news bulletins in English at the top of each hour

The languages are used in rotation, and programs include news, public affairs, light entertainment, sport, religion and education.  School broadcasts are also carried during school semesters, and there are agricultural programs for farmers in the country areas.  The station interval signal is the distinctive call of the fish eagle, a striking reddish-brown, black winged bird with white head and breast, found throughout southern Africa.

The best time to hear this station in North America is around sign-on and immediately thereafter, when there is a path of darkness across the Atlantic.
 Our thanks to Colin Miller in Sarnia Ontario Canada for the original script regarding the radio scene in Zambia, and to Ray Robinson at KVOH in Los Angeles California for the update in the Zambia radio scene, and for information regarding their Voice of Hope shortwave station in that same African country.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 470)