Wartime Radio in Sri Lanka

This article was originally aired over Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” program and now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to the South Pacific DX Resource hosted on www.radiodx.com for a period of 5 years from December 1 2003. Author: Adrian Peterson

During those decisive years in the middle of last century, there was a spate of rapid development in the radio scene on the island of Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was known in those days. This is what happened.

In the year 1943, the BBC in London began the broadcast of a forces radio program for the benefit of English servicemen on duty in India. Shortly afterwards, the production and broadcast of this program was transferred to All India Radio in Delhi. Then it was that Lord Louis Mountbatten moved the headquarters of his South East Asia Command to Ceylon, first in Kandy and then in Colombo.

While the headquarters were located in Kandy, an English army transmitter was used as a broadcast service and also for the relay of voice broadcasts back to the BBC in London. This station was on the air from October 1944 until early in 1946.

Around the same time the American forces in Kandy established their own entertainrnent radio station. This was a small 50 watt unit which was on the air without callsign on the mediumwave channel 1355 kHz. This somewhat unofficial AFRS station was launched in August 1944 and it was on the air for a little over a year.

When the SEAC headquarters were transferred to Turret Road in Colombo, a production studio was installed, and a program service was commenced over a 7.5 kW shortwave transmitter with the callsign ZOJ (ZED OWE JAY). We could guess that this transmitter was co-sited with the Radio Ceylon transmitter ZOH at Welikada (VELL-i-CAR-da) on the edge of Colombo.

In the mean time, work began on the construction of a big new shortwave station at Ekala, some twenty miles north of Colombo. However, on a temporary basis, a new 7.5 kW RCA unit was installed in the transmitter hall at the Royal Signals base adjacent to the new station. One of the Marconi communication transmitters at this location was hurriedly pressed into service for the opening ceremonies of the new facility on April 25, 1945.

Work continued on the big new station and on May 1, 1946 the Marconi 100 kW entered regular service. Soon afterwards three RCA units at 7.5 kW and one at 1 kW were co-installed with the “Big One”. The little 1 kW unit carried the SEAC service for listeners within Ceylon.

The large 100 kW Marconi was heard almost worldwide, and at certain times each day it carried a relay from the BBC. During the cricket season in Australia, the SEAC transmitter acted as an intermediate relay from Radio Australia in Shepparton to the BBC in London.

The SEAC station at Ekala was in use for forces programming for a period of four years and then the whole facility was handed over to Radio Ceylon, with co-operation and input from the BBC. The first regional director for the BBC in Ceylon was a man who had been a prisoner of war in Singapore, James Mudie (MEW-DEE). (He was a relative of mine.)

SEAC Colombo was noted as a very reliable verifier, and their black and white card was considered at the time to be quite plain, though today it is a valued possession.

Wartime Radio in Ceylon

Time Lines

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Station Location Year Event
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BBC London 1943 Forces Service beamed to India

AIR Delhi 1944 Forces Service commenced over AIR

UNR Kandy 1944 “Voicecast” feed to BBC began October 26
1944 “Here is Kandy Ceylon”, test broadcasts November
1946 Closed early 1946

SEAC Studio Colombo 1944 Program production began in November
1949 CBS & BBC took over April 1

SEAC ZOJ Welikada? 1944 ZOJ experimental service began October, 7.5 kW?
1946 ZOJ replaced by SEAC at Ekala
1949 CBS & BBC took over April 1

RS 7.5 Ekala 1 1945 Marconi approx 7.5 kW opening ceremony April 25

SEAC 7.5 Ekala 1 1945 1st RCA 7.5 placed into service April at Royal Signals
1946 Transferred to SEAC site

SEAC 100 Ekala 2 1946 Commenced regular service May 1
1949 CBS & BBC took over April 1

SEAC 7.5 Ekala 2 1946 1st RCA transferred from Royal Signals to SEAC site
1946 Additional 2 @ 7.5 kW placed into service
1949 CBS & BBC took over April 1

SEAC 1 Ekala 2 1946 Placed into service after 100 kW installed
1949 CBS & BBC took over April 1

CBS ZOH Welikada? 1943 ZOH 1 kW 4880 kHz begins relay MW VPB
1946 ZOH programming transferred to SEAC 7.5 kW

AFRS Kandy 1944 50 w 1355 kHz no callsign inaugurated August
1945 AFRS Kandy closed Nov 28

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Wartime Radio in Ceylon

References

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Station Location Information & Reference
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SEAC Origins BBC began Forces Service to India 1943; AM&AF 84.445 54
British Forces Radio Service on AIR; Hitchcock & Haggett
SEAC HQ originally in Delhi; AM&AF 84.445 54
Mountbatten moved SEAC HQ to Kandy; AM&AF 84.445 54
SEAC HQ moved to Turret Rd Colombo; AM&AF 84.445 54

SEAC UNR Kandy “Voicecast” feed to BBC began 26-10-44 15275; R&H 12-44
Tests for new SW service from Ceylon; R&H 79.12 12-44 35
11810 15275, “Here is Kandy Ceylon”; R&H 79.12 12-44 36
Kandy 17815 calling BBC fair Australia; R&H 77.10 3-45 38
SEAC Kandy new channel 11765 kHz; R&H 79.13 11-45 36
Closed before March 1946; R&H 79.13 50

SEAC Studio Colombo Nov 1944 staff of 4 begin programming; AM&AF 84.445 56
White 2 storey house Turret Road studio; AM&AF 84.445 54
Early 1945 more staff arrive from Delhi; AM&AF 84.445 56
Taken over by BBC & CBS April 1 1949; AM&AF 84.445 64
James Mudie ex POW Singapore 1st BBC director; AM&AF

SEAC 7.5 Welikada? Experimental ZOJ launched Oct 1944; R&H 77.14 12-47 83 UNR-SEAC “Colombo Calling” 11810; ARW 77.8 10-44 25
UNR Colombo calling Far East 25 & 31; LI 79.24 18-11-44
New ZOJ 11810 strong signal Australia; R&H 11-44 36
ZOJ 11810 relay BBC & USA; R&H 77.10 11-44 36
SEAC 11810 & 15275 calls BBC; R&H 77.10 1-45 38
SEAC 11810 & 15275 heard Australia; R&H 77.10 2-45 38
SEAC 11810 & 15275 heard Australia; R&H 77.10 3-45 38
SEAC Colombo 11810 & 15275 good; R&H 77.10 5-45 38
ZOJ 11810 & 15275 heard Australia; R&H 77.10 9-45 38
SEAC Colombo on 11810 & 15120 kHz; ARW 77.8 9-45
ZOJ 11810 & 15275 heard Australia; R&H 77.10 10-45 38
ZOJ 11810 & 15275 heard Australia; R&H 77.10 12-45 38
ZOJ already closed; R&H 79.13 4-46 50
SEAC 100 replaced ZOJ Forces Programs; R&H 77.14 7-55

SEAC 7.5 Ekala 1 RCA 7.5 kW installed at Royal Signals near SEAC site; EH
Began service April 1945 mainly on 15120; SWM 10-00 45
SEAC heard in Borneo; LI 79.24 22-9-45 On air nearly year before 100 kW activated; SWM 10-00 35
Transferred to SEAC site Ekala 2

RS 7.5 Ekala 1 Located in Royal Signals transmitter hall Ekala; Hitchcock
Marconi approx 7.5 kW used for inauguration 25-4-45; EH
SEAC heard in Borneo; LI 79.24 22-9-45
On air nearly year before 100 kW activated; SWM 10-00 35

SEAC 100 Ekala 2 1st antenna system diverted Isle Wight; AM&AF 84.445 59
1st antenna system lost at sea; AM&AF 84.445 59
6 towers for curtains; Hitchcock letter
RCAs in same building as Marconi; SWM 10-00 45
100 kW agreement with VOA?; 83.76
Test broadcasts began April 1946; RA 447
Placed into regular service May 1; RA 447
Marconi 100 kW began 8-5-46; SWM 10-00 45, Taylor also
Marconi SWB18; Hitchcock
100 kW on 48.5 m; SADX 82.1 March
7.5 kW on air nearly year before 100 kW; SWM 10-00 35
11765 new “one” with Forces Program; R&H 79.10 12-45 38
SEAC 100 replaced ZOJ Forces Programs; R&H 77.14 7-55
SEAC Colombo 3395 11765 & 11810; R&H 77.10 2-46 38
SEAC Colombo 4890 6075 11765 11830 15230; R&H 7-46
Relay ABC on 17700 kHz; ARW 77.8 7-46 38
SEAC 100 kW new schedule; ARW 77.8 8-46 32
Increased power on 15120 kHz; R&H 77.10 8-46 64
SEAC Colombo 6075 increased power; R&H 77.10 9-46 66
SEAC Colombo 11770 good signal; R&H 77.10 9-46 66
SEAC Colombo 6075 & 15120; R&H 77.10 11-46 74
SEAC Colombo 15120 good signal; R&H 77.10 12-46 74
Calls BBC every Sunday afternoon; R&H 77.14 8-47 86
SEAC 100 kW on 9520 & 15120 kHz; WRHB 1947 53
Long article; R&H 77.14 12-47 83
SEAC 1 @ 100 3 @ 7.5 1 @ 1 kW; R&H 77.14 12-47 83
SEAC 100 kW 15120 kHz; WRHB 1949 52
Sometimes relay R Australia cricket to London; Hitchcock
Now Radio Ceylon; WRHB 1950 60
SEAC gone, now FBS; RN 84.2671 3-49
SEAC now on BBCrelay; RN 84.2671 188

SEAC 7.5 Ekala 2 SEAC 2 @ 7.5 kW RCA installed Ekala; Hitchcock letter
2 RCA @ 7.5 to India & South Pacific; SWM 10-00 45
2 @ 7.5 installed after 100 kW began May 1 1946; RA 447
Later, 3rd RCA at 7.5 kW installed; SWM 10-00 45
RCAs in same building as Marconi; SWM 10-00 45
After 100 kW activated, 7.5 to 6075 kHz; SWM 10-00 45
SEAC 7.5 kW on 3395 6075 & 17820 kHz; WRHB 1947 53
SEAC 7.5 kW 6075 & 7185 kHz; R&H 79.13 1-47 69
New 7.5 kW (3rd?) usually 17780 kHz; R&H 77.14 5-47 69
SEAC 1 @ 100, 3 @ 7.5, 1 @ 1 kW; R&H 77.14 12-47 83
SEAC 7.5 kW 17730 & 17770 kHz; WRHB 1949 52
Now Radio Ceylon; WRHB 1950 60

SEAC 1 Ekala 2 SEAC 1 kW Installed after 100 kW installed; RA 447
1 kW for Ceylon coverage; SWM 10-00 45
SEAC 1 kW RCA; Hitchcock letter
ATC QSL letter 3395 less than 1 kW; ARW 77.8 1-46 32
SEAC 1 kW on 3395 6075 & 9520 kHz; WRHB 1949 62
Now Radio Ceylon; WRHB 1950 60

CBS 1 Welikada ZOH relay MW VPB; R&H 79.12 7-43 40
Colombo 4880 parallel 700; R&H 79.12 10-43 36
Ceylon 4880 kHz, heard in Australia; R&H 77.10 8-44 38
Ceylon 4880 kHz heard in Australia; R&H 77.10 9-44 38 Ceylon 4880 kHz heard in Australia; R&H 77.10 10-44 38 Ceylon 4880 kHz heard in Australia; R&H 77.10 11-44 36
Colombo 4880 kHz mostly noisy; R&H 77.10 12-44 38
Colombo 4900 kHz mostly noisy; R&H 77.10 1-45 38
Colombo 4900 kHz mostly noisy; R&H 77.10 2-45 38
Colombo 4900 kHz mostly noisy; R&H 77.10 3-45 38
Colombo 4900 very consistent signal; R&H 77.10 5-45 38
Colombo 4900 kHz good signal; R&H 77.10 9-45 38
Colombo 4900 kHz good signal; R&H 77.10 10-45 38

CBS 7.5 Welikada? ZOH Colombo 4900 kHz; R&H 77.10 12-46 72
ZOH Colombo 4900 kHz 11 kW; WRHB 1847 53
ZOH Colombo 4900 11 kW; WRHB 1948 54
ZOH Colombo 4900 kHz 11 kW; WRHB 1949 52
Now Radio Colombo 4900 kHz 7.5 kW; WRHB 1950 60

AFRS Kandy 50 w I&E station, no call 1355 kHz; AFRTS 79.21 436
On air Aug 1944 – 28 Nov 1945; AFRTS 79.21 436
AFRS station in Kandy; BBB 47

QSLs Letters Letters as first SEAC QSLs; Ray Simpson;R&H 1-47 69
B& W Card 1st SEAC QSL card to Australia; Ray Simpson; R&H 1-47 15120 kHz March 20, 1847; NASWA 12-90 23 CPRV
6075 kHz April 5, 1947; AMP
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