Rediffusion And Its Glorious 63 Years

Rediffusion has officially walked into the history books as the midnight struck on the 30th of April 2012, bringing down the curtains of its glorious 63 years of operation.

It was 1949 when the first office of Rediffusion was set up here at Clemenceau Avenue. Rediffusion first started in London in 1928, before expanding to Asia after the Second World War, establishing in then-British colonies such as Hong Kong, Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang) and Barbados.

During that era, the radio broadcasting technology remained largely at AM (Amplitude Modulation), which was often disrupted by noises and interferences. In contrast, the crystal clear sounds provided by the Rediffusion cable radios proved to be a big hit in Singapore. Thousands subscribed to its monthly rate of $5, a considerably large amount by the standards of that era, to enjoy radio programs in English, Malay, Indian and several Chinese dialects.

Legendary storytellers such as Lee Dai Soh 李大傻 (Cantonese), Ng Chia Kheng 黄正经 (Teochew), Ong Toh 王道 (Hokkien) and Chong Soon Fat 张顺发 (Hakka) helped Rediffusion cement its leading position in radio broadcasting from the fifties to seventies. Lee Dai Soh (1913 – 1989), in particular, mesmerised countless listeners with his charming narration of classics such as Monkey God and Return of the Condor Heroes. The programs in dialects were so popular that by the seventies, Rediffusion’s subscription rate hit almost 100,000.

One of Rediffusion’s most prominent English DJs in the past was Roger Kool (Roger Kiew, 1954 – 2005). He was the first blind DJ (Disc Jockey) in Singapore, overcoming his physical disability when he made his debut on the air in 1973 at an age of only 19.

Roger Kool had a huge following of fans during his time at Rediffusion, which lasted until the late eighties. The catchy “ding ding ding” bell ring sounds and the Dial-A-Joke program were some of his highlights.

In the early seventies, a booming Rediffusion was eager to groom many local broadcasting talents. Some of them, such as Xiang Yun and Mark van Cuylenberg (The Flying Dutchman), are still active in the local entertainment realm today. In order to attract new fans, Rediffusion also came up with many unprecedented ideas such as live broadcasting at shopping malls, interviews with stars, call-in games and lucky draws.

In 1967, the Radio Television Singapore (RTS) launched four FM (Frequency Modulation) radio stations with high quality sounds that posed a threat to Rediffusion’s advantage. Fierce competition in the radio broadcasting arena also caused Rediffusion to lose some of its brilliant talents. In 1982, Rediffusion suffered another blow as its dialect programs were ordered to cease in conjunction of the Speak Mandarin Campaign launched in 1979.

The iconic building of Rediffusion at Clemenceau Avenue was demolished a year later after the ownership of Rediffusion in the United Kingdom changed hands in 1988. The rising popularity of new FM radio stations and the failure in its application to switch to the free-to-air broadcasting right in the nineties determined the fate of Rediffusion. By 2006, it had only 8000 subscribers.

The pace in the society and technology might be too great even for an old established brand to keep up. Both Rediffusion Hong Kong and Rediffusion Malaysia were taken over in 1973 and 1997 respectively. For Rediffusion Singapore, the final moment came in 2012 when the former broadcasting giant decided to cease its 63-year-old operation after failing to find new investors. It is truly a sad day for many of its supporters, especially the older dialect-speaking generations who have depended on Rediffusion as their main source of entertainment.

For more memories of Rediffusion, visit Rediffusion’s former DJ Xu Huimin’s Chinese blog.

Published: 01 May 2012

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12 Responses to Rediffusion And Its Glorious 63 Years

  1. pkisme says:

    i rem last time my parents used to tune in to AM radio stations, so just curious.. are there any local AM radio station(s) left?

  2. gnoofyem says:

    I remember listening to 丽的呼声 occasionally in my childhood, playing from this brown box on the wall of an aunt’s flat. I don’t remember what was playing but I remember liking it, and asking my mother to get it – I don’t remember her reply though!

  3. I remember 丽的呼声 in Hong Kong from a long time ago.. They closed down in 1973 due to fierce competition.
    “香港 丽的呼声 电台 (Radio Rediffusion)于1949年 3月1日启播,安装费港币 25元;每月收费港币 9元,最初播送24 小时 ,为香港首间商营有线广播电台 [1] 。 丽的呼声共有二个广播频道,其中「银色台」主要以粤语广播,「蓝色台」主要为英语频道,每一电台每天播送24 小时 粤语 节目 。 丽的呼声在全盛时期主要播放广播剧和单人讲述的天空小说节目。 艺员包括钟伟明 、 李我 、 萧湘 、 邓寄尘等等。 受到商业电台的启播影响,丽的呼声的电台广播至1973年停播。”

  4. Old Singaporean Teo says:

    Remember the request prog “608” (also the no. of the station’s P O Box). Went to Golden Mile to catch the “live” broadcast on my 21st b/day, Larry Lai was on duty that day. The Hokkien serial story Tiow Ban Lu Kiap Ang Hoh Tiap (Red Butterfly) in 1969 when I was in primary 6. Love that Cantonese story on weekdays 7.30 to 8pm Lum Yu Hak (Blue and Black), from HK, story along the line of Gone With The Wind. One particular Teochew comedy story has Tan Soo Seng in the lead role, very hilarious…

  5. Ong Wee says:

    Ong Toh was my grandfather. Do you have more stories about him?

  6. T E says:

    $5 a month for Redifusion? Wow. It was a large sum those days. It must be a luxury for my grand mother whom had it on all the time and of which I couldn’t stand it when it was playing nothing but Chinese/Teochew opera.

  7. othman says:

    My neighbour subscribe those channels. I can still remember the speaker having few channels by selector switch at the side. Cable laid from the connection box at common area to the unit. Enjoying Chinese New Year songs on the air.

  8. Cazper says:

    I love listening to Mr Ong Toh stories. How can I tune in?

  9. Lesley MacFarlane nee Ratana says:

    Larry Lai! You were awesome. I loved listening to your dulcet tones growing up in Spore. Your on air “banter” was always light hearted & good humoured. Way to go Larry. “King of the airwaves is a very fitting tribute to your professionism.

  10. John says:

    Would really appreciate, if anyone can advise on how I can access those ” Ong Toh ” and other Hokkien , etc. stories ( telling ) back then. Thank you.

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