"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.
Wavescan N293, October 5, 2014
The Story of Radio Broadcasting in Ceylon: The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Turns Commercial
Many moons ago here in Wavescan, we presented several progressive topics on the radio story in Ceylon and we brought you up to date as far as the middle of last century, the exact middle actually, in the year 1950. In our program today, we return to the radio scene in Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as we know this verdant isle today, and we tell the story of their very popular Commercial Service.
In fact their Commercial Service was indeed a very successful venture, one of the very few on shortwave anywhere in the world. At the height of its popularity, it is stated that half of the shortwave radios in India were tuned to the Commercial Service of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, the SLBC All Asia Service. And, in order to obtain advertising in India for their Commercial Service, SLBC opened an advertising office at Colaba in Bombay in 1951, and they were authorized to also issue QSL cards.
At the time when the Radio Ceylon Commercial Service was inaugurated, Sunday, October 1, 1950, there were just eleven broadcast transmitters on the island, and these facilities were on the air at just three different locations. Radio Ceylon was set ready for expansion, but island wide coverage was still rather tenuous.
The first location was a new set of studios that had just been completed during the previous year at Torrington Square Colombo. These replaced the temporary wartime usage of the studios in The Bower on Cotta Road, and the previous SEAC studios on Turret Road.
The lone mediumwave transmitter station at Welikada on the edge of suburban Colombo contained just four transmitters: 1 @ 15 kW (Sinhala Language National Service), 1 @ 1 kW (English Language Service), and 2 @ 250 watts (Sinhala Language Commercial Service & the Tamil Language Service).
Their third radio broadcasting facility was located at Ekala (ECK-a-la) a dozen miles north of Colombo and it contained a total of seven shortwave transmitters: 1 @ 100 kW (International coverage), 3 @ 7.5 kW (National and international coverage) and 3 @ 250 watts (Capital city coverage).
At the time when Australian born Clifford Dodd was transferred to Colombo under the international aid project known as the Colombo Plan in 1950, the BBC Program Director James Mudie concluded his term of service and returned to England and joined the technical staff of BBC Television. (James Mudie was a relative to our DX host, Adrian Peterson.)
Clifford Dodd was the driving force behind the rapid development of the Radio Ceylon Commercial Service and his name is still honored more than half a century later. Under his leadership, many local personnel became legendary radio personalities, and among them were Jimmy Bharucha, Shirley Perera, Nihal Bharati and Vernon Corea.
The coverage area for the Radio Ceylon Commercial Service extended well beyond the shores of their own island. The capital city Commercial Service was heard on mediumwave and tropical shortwave in three language streams; English, Sinhala and Tamil. The main Commercial Service for Southern Asia was beamed to India mainly, but also to other nearby countries on shortwave.
Attempts were also made to introduce a Commercial Service beamed to Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia. The service to India and nearby countries was later broadcast under the title, the All Asia Service.
During the mid 1950s, there was some consideration given to closing the Commercial Service on shortwave due to poor propagation. However, over a period of time, conditions improved and the service became a resounding success. In fact, in a huge number of village bazaars throughout India, a visitor could walk down the shopping aisle and follow the programming from Radio Ceylon all the way, with the radio receiver blaring loudly in each stall.
Sometime around the year 1958, all six of the low powered shortwave transmitters at Ekala, 250 watt and 7.5 kW, were progressively removed and replaced; ultimately, by a total of ten new transmitters, each rated at 10 kW, made in Holland by the Philips company.
In 1967, Radio Ceylon was renamed the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation; and in 1972, the station was redesignated again, as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, due to the change in name for the island country itself. Then, as we know, the entire Ekala shortwave station was ultimately and finally closed in the middle of last year.
During the more than six score of active years on the air, the shortwave services from Ekala were heard virtually worldwide. Many thousands of reception reports were addressed to the station at the Torrington Square studios. Even though many international radio monitors frequently complained that they were unable to receive a QSL card from Colombo, yet in reality over the years they were spasmodically a prolific verifier. The Indianapolis Heritage Collection contains several hundred shortwave, mediumwave and FM QSLs from Colombo, though admittedly many of them are self-prepared do-it-yourself cards, rubber stamped onto Postal Cards issued by the national postal service.
Among the many QSL cards officially printed for use by the station are colorful tourist style picture cards showing city and country scenes, as well as events and people within the island nation. Also highly appreciated were the two different QSL cards showing the studio building in Colombo. The QSL card issued by the Bombay office in India showed a modified picture of the same studio building.