When I was a kid in the 60s, mass media consisted only of newspapers, radio, Rediffusion and TV (which was just introduced then). Of course, the Internet had not been invented yet - it only came about in the early 80s.
Radio only had 3 bands then - short wave, medium wave and long wave. Frequency modulation (FM) band was unheard of at that time. We switched on the radio if we wanted to hear international news and stock market reports. But if we wanted news and entertainment with a local flavour, we turned on our Rediffusion set.
Rediffusion was a subscription 'cable radio' service. The signals came via physical wires connected to what was basically a speaker box with a volume control and a 2-station selector knob. The stations were called 'Golden Station' and 'Silver Station' - one was for dialect programmes while the other was for English programmes, although I can't remember which was for which. The monthly subscription fee then was an affordable $5 hence our family and most of our neighbours could afford the service. As the operation of the Rediffusion set did not require the use of any of the subscriber's electricity supply, most of us just left the set on at maximum volume throughout the day. I think that the broadcast for both stations started at 6 in the morning and ended at midnight everyday. Those of us who needed to wake up at 6 am would leave the set on so that it would act as an alarm clock.
Siting of the set was an important consideration. As connection was by physical wires, the set was not portable. Once you had decided on a location to place the set, it was as good as fixed. You could not bring it along into the kitchen or the bathroom with you even though it was playing your favorite song or story. Hence most people would place the set in a location where they could hear it no matter where they were in the house. This was not very difficult to do because most of us lived in tiny abodes. Most people placed their sets in their living rooms or halls so that visiting relatives and friends could have some entertainment when conversations ran out.
You also could not put on headphones/earphones to hear a programme in privacy simply because there was no such feature available on the set. Best of all, there was no remote control to fight over - whoever laid hand on the selector knob first got to choose which station to listen to, provided there was no overriding vote or veto from either mum or dad.
The Rediffusion man would come around once a month, carrying a soft brown briefcase. After collecting the $5 subscription fee from you, he would tear off a blue stamp-like receipt from a larger sheet and hand it over to you. The receipt had the subscription month and a serial number printed on it in red.
This little brown box we called Rediffusion provided many hours of endless entertainment for us. I remember Lee Dai Soh relating his interesting Cantonese stories at 2 pm every weekday afternoon and then again at around 6 pm in the evenings.
Ong Toh, the Hokkien storyteller would come on every night at around 9 pm. For the English station, I could not forget Casey Kasem's countdown of the American Top 40 every Saturday at around 2 pm.
With TV being introduced in the 60s, the attraction of Rediffusion entertainment diminished somewhat. With the Government's introduction of the Speak Mandarin campaign in 1979, dialect programmes on Rediffusion were cut down. Lee Dai Soh subsequently retired from Rediffusion. He passed on in 1989.
Rediffusion also had to reinvent itself since then. It is currently providing a wireless digital broadcast service. Visit it's website and you will find words like reborn, reinvent, rewound, redefined, revitalised, retro, rethink, remake, relevant, etc plastered all over its website.
Read more about Lee Dai Soh here and here (in Chinese).
Also read about fellow blogger carcar's memory of the 'small square brown color box' (as he called the Rediffusion speaker box) here.
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