The Evolution of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria


The Evolution of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

Broadcasting in Nigeria was the answer to the British quest for communication to her West African colonies. From Britain, radio broadcasting, which began with the Radio Distribution Service (RDS) in Nigeria spread like the harmattan wind to the other parts of the country. All the phases of the development of radio signaled the advancement of the medium.

At the end of this article, you should be able to:

Recount the history of Radio broadcasting in Nigeria

Discuss NBS transformation into NBC, regional broadcasting and among others.


History of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

The history of radio broadcasting in Nigeria dates back to the year 1932 when the British colonial administration in Lagos relayed the first British Empire service to Nigerians from Daventry, England.

The establishment of radio broadcasting in Nigeria was sequel to the decision of the British government in London to link its West African colonies with the “mother country”, Britain.

Such a link, according to Ikime (1979) “was expected to serve the dual purpose of providing powerful propaganda machinery for the colonial master as well as providing a source of information about Britain and the wider world.” To achieve this, programmes from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) were relayed to other parts of the world under British Colonial administration.

The Evolution of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

The need for such a radio service had been felt for some time in Nigeria to the point that the colonial office in London resolved to take positive steps to actualise this need.

To this end, the colonial secretary in London at the time decided to set up a committee to consider and recommend what steps could be taken to accelerate the provision of broadcasting service in the colonial empire, to coordinate such services with the work of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and to make them effective instrument for promoting both local and imperial interests.

This committee recommended the introduction of radio broadcasting in Nigeria and other British non-settler colonies. It also envisaged that the programmes to be broadcast in the colonies would consist of mixture of selected BBC materials and “local (colonial) government programmes piped into homes through “wired wireless.”

The committee naturally noted the need to control such programmes to ensure that the people were not fed with objectionable and subversive information.


Broadcasting in Nigeria (1932-1950)

The Evolution of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

Broadcasting which was first introduced by colonial masters came to Nigeria in stages. To give a more lucid explanation and for better understanding of the journey of radio broadcasting in Nigeria, the history will be given in significant stages.

The first stage began from 1932 when the first radio signal was received in Nigeria from England.


The Era of Radio Distribution Service or Wired Wireless

Radio broadcasting in Nigeria began in 1932 with the introduction of wired broadcasting popularly known as Radio Distribution Service, (RDS). Under this form of broadcasting, programmes were relayed or distributed using wires connected to loud speakers installed in the homes of subscribers who had paid a small subscription fee for this system and were also provided with a make shift and home apparatus (Uche,1989).

The Evolution of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

The Lagos studio distributed programmes originating from the British Empire Service from Daventry, England as part of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) external service. The increasing popularity of the Radio Distribution Service in Nigeria made it to expand to other stations outside Lagos.

This method of broadcasting known as “wired broadcasting” by “wired wireless” differed from the “wireless broadcasting” which is the transmission of programmes through radio waves (Electromagnetic waves).

The need for radio stations in the colonial countries was necessitated by the desire of Britain to expand the services of the BBC, which coordinated the activities of radio broadcasting in the British empire. The British government had given approval for the establishment of broadcasting services in the colonial countries with the objective of making them a more effective instrument for promoting both local and imperial interests.

The circumstance in which broadcasting was introduced in Nigeria was not surprising. At the beginning, the broadcasting service consisted simply of re-transmission of BBC programmes on a relay system similar to the radio relay exchange system, which had been operating in Britain since the 1920s.

Because of the nature of its services, it was termed Radio Distribution Service (RDS).

The RDS was introduced into Nigeria by the colonial office in London through the initiative of the engineers of the Posts and Telegraphs (P&T) Department, which, by then had established 13 stations in Nigeria, viz: Lagos, Kastina, Jos, Zaria, Sokoto, Ilorin, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Onitsha, Warri, Abeokuta and Ijebu-Ode.

The P&T engineers had incidentally been involved in the monitoring of test transmissions of the BBC on short wave. The wired broadcasting, which came to Nigeria in 1932, did not originate any programmes but simply relayed programmes from England using presenters on ground.

Each subscriber was required to pay a monthly subscription fee of fifty pence after an initial payment of three months rental in advance. By 1939, the RDS had less than 1000 subscribers and over 2000 licensed receivers.

By 1944, distribution stations had been opened in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Enugu, Calabar and Port-Harcourt. Five years later (1949), a total of 9000 subscribers wired to 10 stations in the country had emerged. By that year, there were 4,562 licensed radio sets in Nigeria.

There was only a little change in the programme content of the RDS as most of its broadcasts were still part of the BBC external service. The colonial government’s information department produced only a few programmes, which were relayed through the service.

The relay services began at 5.00am every morning and went on until 12.00 midnight with break at mid-morning for an hour or two. 

In 1936, the Plymouth committee set up to work out modalities for the introduction of a wireless broadcasting in Nigeria and empowered or mandated by the colonial office to come up with a plan which was endorsed to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

In 1945, the establishment of a wireless broadcasting in Nigeria received mention during the preparation of the 10-year development and welfare plan.

Unfortunately, the colonial authorities did not implement this immediately, despite the fact that it was favourably considered. The colonial authorities had blamed this on what they termed “lack of resources.”

In 1948, the colonial office directed the BBC to undertake a survey of broadcasting in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia and to make recommendation for a fast establishment of effective broadcasting services. Two British engineers, L.W Turners of the BBC and F.A.W Bryon of the Telecommunications Department were appointed to carry out this assignment.

By this time, a short-wave transmitting station was already installed in Lagos to relay the Lagos RDS programme under the call sign, “Radio Nigeria”. The main function of the RDS as earlier mentioned was to relay BBC programmes while in the evenings, one hour was set aside for the broadcasting of local programmes featuring news, entertainment, and local government.

The two British engineers who were saddled with the task of working out the technical details for effective broadcasting in Nigeria were asked, among other things, to determine.

Training of technical staff.

Using local language for broadcasting to the people

Servicing limited revenue from carefully articulated use of sponsored programmes.

In their report, they recommended the establishment and expansion of a wireless broadcasting service in Nigeria and other West African Countries under British Colonial administration.


The Beginning of Effective Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

The Evolution of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

The role played by radio during the Second World War also influenced the British government’s decision to set up broadcasting services that are effective in its colony. Up to the end of the 1940’s, the programme content of Radio Distribution service had very little change as most of its broadcasts were part of BBC external service.

However, as the need for effective radio broadcasting in Nigeria became very imperative as earlier mentioned, two British engineers from the BBC, Mr. F.A.W Byron and L.W Turners were charged with the task of working out the technical requirements for a more effective radio system in British West Africa.

Their report provided the technical pattern for the broadcasting services that were established in Nigeria and other British West African colonies in the 1950s. Another BBC top shot, Mr. Tom W. Chalmers was seconded to Lagos along with his counterpart; John W. Murray to prepare the ground for the setting up of a proper broadcasting service.

NBS was born after the Nigerian (colonial) government decided to convert the major existing Rediffusion stations into effective broadcasting stations in accordance with the Turner-Byron’s report. Mr. Chalmers, after completing his assignment in Nigeria was appointed the first director of broadcasting in Nigeria while his counterpart, Mr. Murray was appointed the first chief engineer.

By 1952, all the existing Rediffusion stations in the country had formed the nucleus of the new NBS.

The BBC assisted much by training staff for the NBS and provided the technical equipment needed for effective broadcasting.


Regional Broadcasting

The Action Group government in Western Nigeria capitalised on the NBC Ordinance or Act to translate its dream of owning a radio station into reality by setting up the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (WNBC).

All the three regions of the country set up their own regional broadcasting stations. The Western regional government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which was under the control of Action Group, started it all. Chief Awolowo as the regional premier had strongly criticised the 1954 Macpherson Constitution introduced into the country.

However, the last British Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson defended that constitution, using the NBS, and accusing Chief Awolowo of being unfaithful. When Awolowo requested for an equal airtime for the NBS to refute the Governor General’s accusation, he was not obliged. This led to increased campaign for converting the NBS to a corporation.

However, its greatest effect was the establishment of regional broadcasting as evidence in the setting up of the WNBC, which had a twin product - The Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) in 1959 and the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) in 1960. The WNBC had immediately gone into alliance with Overseas Rediffusion Limited which was to offer both radio and television services.

Its television, WNTV already mentioned was commissioned on 31st October, 1959. It was the first television station in black Africa. The radio-broadcasting arm of the Western Nigerian Radio-Vision Service which controlled both television and radio broadcasting was commissioned in May, 1960.

The Eastern regional government of Dr. Michael Okpara simultaneously engaged the same overseas Rediffusion Company that set up the WNBS for the Western region to build for it the Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Service (ENBS) and Eastern Nigerian Television (ENTV) in Enugu. Both stations went on air on the day of Nigeria’s Independence, October 1, 1960. 

The Evolution of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

Shortly after, both the Eastern and Western governments paid off the foreign companies that were stakeholders in their broadcasting systems, and consequently assumed full control of their broadcasting system. Broadcasting did not come to the Northern region until 1962 when the Northern regional government of Sir Ahmadu Bello engaged the services of Grand Group Limited which set up radio and television broadcasting systems, Radio Television Kaduna (RTVK) for the region.

The RTVK operated under the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN). The broadcasting systems in the then three regions were fully autonomous and free of Federal Government control or interference. The situation was the same until the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967 when additional states were created by the wartime Military Head of State, Yakubu Gowon.


Conclusion on the Evolution of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

From the ongoing, it is pertinent to note that broadcasting in Nigeria was actually established for political purposes. The emergence of radio revolutionized information dissemination in Nigeria. Television broadcasting spread fast in Nigeria and other parts of Africa though the growth of broadcasting in Nigeria was slowed down by government intervention and ownership.

This unit has revealed so much about the history of radio broadcasting in Nigeria, phases in the history of broadcasting, the beginning of effective radio broadcasting, the NBC transformation into BBC, regional broadcasting, and history of television broadcasting, television broadcasting in other parts of the country, the Nigerian Television Service and the era of private televisions in Nigeria.

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