A Brief History of Radio in Guyana

Image of times past: The old Radio Demerara

By Stabroek News October 28, 2010

The Ovaltine Programme was one of the best-loved children’s radio programmes in Guyana

The origin of radio broadcasting in Guyana is located somewhere in the 1920’s and the first evidence of radio is credited to several local ‘buffs’. The introduction of short wave broadcasts was preceded by a modest wired service that relayed broadcasts from the BBC over the telephone system in Georgetown. The subsequent short wave service which was reportedly provided for a few hours each week lasted until 1931 when it ended abruptly.

The resumption of radio broadcasts in 1935 had to do with the popularity of cricket and the demand by local audiences for commentary. It appears, however, that the success of the venture resulted in the creation of two radio stations, VP3BG which were run separately until 1938 when they were merged and re-christened the British Guiana United Broadcasting Co Ltd.

Station ZFY, as it was known, operated from the Post Office until the building was consumed by the Great Fire of Georgetown in February 1945. After the fire it was relocated to North Road and New Garden Street, west of Our Lady of Fatima church and close to the Bourda cricket ground.

ZFY reportedly had a significant Trinidadian audience being for them the main or only source of religious broadcasts and of Indian musical entertainment. Its popularity with Trinidadians, it seems, persisted even after September 1947, when Radio Trinidad was inaugurated.. In 1949 ZFY secured a medium wave transmitter to add to its existing short wave one.

In July 1950, the controlling interest of ZFY was purchased by Overseas Rediffusion Ltd., and for the first time foreign capital was involved in local radio.  Some improvements were made, and in 1951 the station became Radio Demerara.

Radio Demerara  moved into its first professional studio in 1955 erected on high street. At the same time the station benefitted from an upgrading of its equipment. Additionally, a new transmitting and receiving station erected at Sparendaam on the East Coast Demerara came into operation in 1957.

Under the terms of its licence, Radio Demerara was required to broadcast BBC material for 21 hours a week, and programmes provided by the Central Office of Information in London for 10½ hours a week.

In December 1958, a second radio station BGBS. (the British Guiana Broadcasting Service) was established at Broadcasting House on High Street, offering a broader range of programmes for listeners.. BGBS’ programming focused on special events and sports coverage allowing the uninterrupted broadcast on Radio Demerara of its regular programmes.

The entry of the Government of Guyana into radio broadcasting saw the creation of facilities at Hadfield street Lodge to enable more professional production pursuits. In this regard technical assistance was secured from the BBC’s Bush House in London.

On October 1, 1968, the Guyana Government took over the BGBS facilities, operating the station as GBS (the Guyana Broadcasting Service).

The Guyana Broadcasting Corporation was officially inaugurated on May 1, 1979, following the acquisition by the Guyana Government of the assets of Radio Demerara. With effect from January 1 of that year, the holding company of the Rediffusion organization, Broadcasting Relay (Overseas) Limited, operating through the Guyana Broadcasting Co Ltd, sold Radio Demerara to the Government, which carried on the operation of the station without a break in service.

On July 1, 1980, the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation emerged with its new image of “One Station, Two Channels.” Channel 1, the “general channel” operated on the frequencies formerly used by Radio Demerara – 760 KHz in the medium-wave band. Channel 2, the “regional channel” used the facilities formerly allocated to station GBS – 560 KHz on the medium-wave band. Subsequently,  Channel One became Radio Roraima (RR) and Channel 2 was renamed Voice of Guyana (VOG). The FM service on 98.1 went on the air in October, 1998.

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On 1st March 2004, the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) and the Guyana Television Broadcasting Company Limited (GTV) merged to form a new company, National Communication Network Incorporated (NCN Inc). and the state is currently the sole owner of a radio broadcasting service in Guyana.

This article benefits from prior research on radio in Guyana available on the internet

© Stabroek News October 28, 2010

This material remains © Stabroek News, Guyana Publications Inc and is only to be used for non-commercial personal or research use. Any other use requires permission of the copyright holder.

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  1. Thanks so much for the persons who researched and wrote this, it is I feel essential history of a major art form of our country. I recall going the High Street with my mother Joyce Ferdinand-Lalljie, who was a concert pianist long before I was born, and she played life in studio A, which had a large piano. I recall that it was very difficult for me, as a lady there – I don’t think it was Ulita Anthony, but I do recall when I became a broadcaster in the early 1980s she did mention something like that, seeing me as a boy.

    What made it very difficult for me was she the lady gave me two sweets, which I put in my pocket and thanked her for it. But when she left mum and I in studio she told me that I must be quiet and not make a sound. And all I wanted to do was to eat one of those sweets, but know that unwrapping it would make a noise I didn’t dare. And I am sure that mum played for over an hour and it was torture for me. And that’s why I probably never forgot it.

    Now that the building is gone, what I can tell you for sure is that a lot of history was created right there, that has not been recorded anywhere that is known in Guyana. Indeed word history was created there decades ago and few know it outside those who participated in it. I shall share that with you later as I have a Service to prepare this evening. But the first world exclusive radio programme to be produced in the Caribbean was written and recorded right there it was called: CLR James His Life Achievements And Thought. The writers and producers were Roger Moore, Eddie Minns, Clifton Valdyke, (known as Moses, hope that I spelt that right, Paloma Mohamed, the programme consultants were Christopher Dean, James Sydney and Terry Holder. All of them played major parts and what is amusing is none of us had done this before, didn’t know what we were doing, but knew what we were looking to do. It was a tremendous learning curve for all of us! Best Regards Robert Lalljie, Executive Producer and Copyright Owner of the programme.