Barbados Rediffusion was born 31 years before Barbados was granted its independence from Britain in 1966 and it died peacefully exactly 31 years after that event.IPS Correspondent Terry Ally – “Barbados Rediffusion: The End of an Era in Broadcasting History”
For a long while in the 1950s to 1960s, Rediffusion was the lone radio station in Barbados. You paid a small monthly fee to have a special box with a speaker in your home. It broadcast via cable and was connected to almost every house and rum shop. Every morning it started programs at 6am with the morning service and then the death announcements. In the 1950s very few homes had telephones. Rediffusion provided a good mix of local and international news, and local and foreign produced programs.
From its early days, the speaker installed in the home, would never be switched off at the end of the broadcast day, because in the event of an emergency in the early hours of the morning, the station would spring to life awakening and warning Barbadians. The story most retold is of the warning that Hurricane Janet in 1955 was heading towards Barbados.
Rediffusion’s library was filled with vintage collection of music, spanning six decades, and with all the memorable and news breaking moments in history.
Almost every Barbadian broadcaster of note worked at Rediffusion whose newsroom was the training ground for those on the the island wanting a career in broadcast or journalism.
Veteran Barbadian journalist, Tony Best, recalls that young men courting young women were shown to the door once Rediffusion had gone off the air at 11:15 pm on weekdays or shortly after midnight on Saturdays. After all, he wrote in tribute, “no self respecting young lady in 1961 would have a young man in her home once the wired speaker in the corner had become silent. The goodnight kiss or last squeeze of the hand at the door regularly came as the last note of Britain’s national anthem was being played to signal the end of the broadcast day.”
This is how Rediffusion is remembered. If you have memories or photographs that you’d like to share please leave a comment at the end of this post or email us and we will add them.
Rita Lashley remembers:
I remember the hucksters and other workers gathering under a Rediffusion that hung on a wall in my mother’s food shop in Busby Alley Monday to Friday at 1pm to listen to the famous radio series in those days “Second Spring”.
I also remember at our home Rediffusion bursting on in the early hours of 22nd September 1955 warning Barbadians that Hurricane Janet was heading our way.
I remember listening to Joe Tudor every Saturday night on Rediffusion.
Rediffusion was also used as an alarm in awakening Barbadians at 6am every morning.
I remember listening to the burial service of King George and the Coronation service of his daughter Queen Elizabeth ll.
In the fifties and into the sixties Rediffusion was an important life line for many of us.Rita Lashley
William Burton remembers:
While researching the BajanThings Hurricane Janet posting the story of listening to the boxing fight and being woken by Rediffusion in the middle of the night was often repeated.
21st September 1955 – Rocky Marciano fights for the last time, recovering from a knock-down to beat world Light Heavyweight champion Archie Moore by a knock-out in round nine in New York, and retiring undefeated with 49 wins, 43 by knock-out, as of 2006, the only world Heavyweight champion to go undefeated through his career.
I remember listening to the Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon and President Kennedy’s death and funeral as a live broadcast.
I remember vividly the live commentary of the Cave Shepherd fire in 1969. The description was so articulate that living in St. Philip we could imagine the scene in town that night. I challenge any announcer to do that today!
I remember the daily weather report every morning that came from Bob Reece who lived next door to us at Three Houses.
I remember that they had a radio bingo. You bought a bingo card and every day they would broadcast a few numbers.
I remember Rediffusion also had a a radio version of teleshopping.
And, I remember that on Saturday morning was Children Party with Auntie Olga and Joe Tudor. Done live, I think, in the studio #2? Many entertainers got a start there.
It has to be a Bajan thing that you start the day off with death announcements! The comment that if you did not hear your name you knew you were living so could get out of bed I have heard many times. Before everyone had telephones this was the only way that you would know who died etc. My parents used to call the music that they played before the death announcements as the “Duppy Calypso”.William Burton
Kaspar Coward remembers:
During the late 50s early 60s, at 9 O’clock most mornings, many women in the villages could be seen scurrying to the home of someone who had a Rediffusion service, or to stand outside of the village shop, most of which subscribed to Rediffusion, to listen to their favourite soap operas, either Second Spring, or later, Portia Faces Life.Kaspar Coward
Valerie Gittens remembers:
I remember my grandfather Pop lying in his Berbice chair listening to “Doctor Paul” which was like a “Days of our Lives” soap for radio.
Pop and Granny Burton had their set with a plug, one in the drawing room and the other in their bedroom. Every night they would plug it in the bedroom so it would wake them up at 6am – although I think they were up by then.Valerie Gittens
Theo Williams remembers:
I recall one of our neighbours, who had installed Rediffusion, waking us up early in the morning to inform us that hurricane Janet was heading our way.
One of my dad’s first tasks a couple days after was to request rediffusion service for our home.
Of course, you may have heard the story of the old woman who poured some porridge in the back of her Rediffusion speaker because, “Dat man did talkin’ so long he got to be hungry.”Theo Williams
Jocelyn Hunte (nee Steele) remembers:
I remember as an Ursuline Convent boarder (1953), sitting on the stage floor of the old school hall which Hurricane Janet later destroyed, and listening to Rediffusion while the guest list was being read out, at the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Of interest – one of our resident nuns was an invited guest whose name was mentioned.Jocelyn Hunte (nee Steele)
Morris Greenidge remembers:
I don’t have many stories about ‘the box’ because my family never owned one. My father had a car-battery-powered radio which was later changed when we got electricity on the beach circa 1955. I do know however that Rediffusion set very high broadcast standards and that several older people found it difficult to pronounce the name correctly (many said “Radio-fusion”)
However, I knew many of the personalities including Col. Oliver, Jim Kidd, Frank Pardo, sports-casters Jerry Richards and “Shell” Harris (who once offered me his job), and of course, Alfred Pragnell; and Nick Stanford came to live next door to us on Trents Beach sometime in the mid-fifties. It was tragic for neighbours when his friend George Mosbaugh died in a road accident, and Nick, diving, the two terrible incidents in close proximity.Morris Greenidge
Opa Hoyte remembers:
Memories of Rediffusion: I have so many!!
As a child, I recall people referring to it as “Radiofusion”.
I recall the Obituary announcements every morning to “The Palms (Les Rameaux)”, by Jean-Baptiste Faure.
I recall hearing the start of the soap, “Portia Faces Life”
I recall the boxing match in 1953 when Rocky Marciano battered Roland La Starza and the upset match in 1959 when Ingemar Johansson of Sweden won the belt form Floyd Patterson.
I recall making a few appearances on Rediffusion, in one case to play music along with Jeff Cobham.Opa Hoyte
Victor Brooks remembers:
WOW! Oh Barbados Rediffusion! Rediffusion indeed! One of the four Rediffusion stations set up in our region.
When I started Medical school at UWI Mona , I lodged with Julian Rogers who was doing the first Mass Communications there. He would do a few stints at RJR. He said that the RJR studio was set up exactly like that at Rediffusion at home, and he thus had no difficulty in operating at RJR.
Much of what I say below pertains to the late 50’s and the decade of 60’s.
My non Bajan wife would tell you that whenever we are sitting watching tv and a piece of classical music, or old popular music from days of old is played, I say “I heard that on Barbados Rediffusion on Alfred Pragnell’s Music to Remember Programme (which I think was 2 minutes pass one in the afternoon) or Doris Provencal’s Sunday Symphonette at 8:30 on Sunday nights.
As a boy in the school holidays one heard “Sports Round up from the BBC” (which I think was 2 minutes pass two in the afternoon). I used to follow English County Cricket then, and used to enjoy how they would report the scores from Eastbourne, or Sheffield or Hull, or Canterbury, or Lords, Trent Bridge etc as they crisply gave the scores and highlighted which batsman or bowler had excelled that day.
One remembers first hearing “Findlandia” which was the tune for the hymn used for the theme song for a religious broadcast on afternoons at 2.45 pm with ”’Lorin Whitney at the Pipe organ.”
In our home the practice was to turn the set up at night as it went off, as it was an effective alarm clock in the mornings, as broadcasting began with a rousing piece of music, followed by either the obits or the religious broadcast. I can not now remember the order, but I often in public speaking engagements here in the USA, to tell my audience this.
When we awake in the mornings in Barbados, you would lie there in bed and carefully listen to the Obits on Barbados Rediffusion, as the names were called… and if you did not hear your name called… you then knew that you could get up, and begin your daily activities. This is usually followed by peals of laughter.
The short religious broadcasts was Anglican on Mondays (F.C Pemberton), Wednesdays (H St. C Tudor) and Fridays (Canon Hazelwood, Dean of St Michaels.) Tuesdays and Thursdays it was the Methodists with Dereck Lyder, or M.A. E Thomas or Albert Aymer, and Saturdays (Catholic.) As a young choir boy, I used to enjoy listening to the chosen hymns, more than the intervening homily.
On Sunday mornings before we left for Sunday worship there was I think the Chuck Wagon Gang, a quartet with their Gospel Songs, especially “Come to the church in the wild wind,” and a SDA group.
As little boys after Sunday lunch we feasted on the Clitheroe Kid, a comedy from the BBC at 2 minutes pass one in the afternoon. This was followed by a programme that reviewed local sport for the week, with broadcasters like Gerry Richards, Don Norville, Peter Short, Seven up Sam Wilkinson and Harold “Ricochet” Kidney.
Then the Weitwuiler or Rottweilers Twins preached the gospel, followed by The Hour of Decision with Billy Graham at 3. pm, and then there was at 3:30… Sunday Half Hour from the BBC – a half hour of Community Hymn Singing, by then I was out the door to catch the bus for Sunday School at the Parish Church.
Rediffusion was a virtual clock if you were on the road walking, as you could tell the time from the news, eg 7 am, 11 am, 7 pm from the BBC… as it effluxed from the homes you passed.
For example on mornings as you wended your way to primary school, you had a good idea of your likelihood for punishment for lateness, from your location when you heard being emitted the theme song for the morning soap designed for housewives that started at 8:45. It was called Portia Faces Life. At night there was a similar programme at 7:45, and another at 8:02 called Life can be beautiful and Dr Paul respectively.
One remembers when “Shell” Harris succeeded Gerry Richards as the Sports news reporter, and especially when the Indian off spinner Srinivas Venkatarhagavan came on the scene. Shell had some difficulty in pronouncing his name, and after several attempts Shell announced “Look I am just going to call him “Venkat”, and so it was that Venkatarhagavan became VENKAT on scoreboards around the world, and in cricket literature.
There is also the tale of Shell commentating on a local boxing match in which the commentary went something like this 1-2-3 2-2-2- 2-3-1- 3- 3-2-2-1-1 etc. When the round ended, and all the punches has been thrown, Shell explained that ” the ones were the rights, the twos were the lefts, and the threes were too fast for me to see.
Fama refert, i.e it has been reported or rumour has it that, during the broad cast on the funeral of Sir Frank Worell that when the Cathedral Clock chimed, that Shell pealed “That is the sound of the Cathedral Clock… it is a French Clock… but it chimes in English”.
One remembers Don Norville in cricket commentary on Rediffusion exclaiming that the batsman played forward defencelessly and was bowled. What a lovely way to describe the batsman’s ineffective forward defensive prod…….when compared to the inept contemporary cricket commentary.
Another Rediffusion commentator was heard to say that the “bowler bowled an injudicious ball, the batsman played an injudicious shot, and he was out injudiciously.
It was on Rediffusion that we heard Johnny Moyes and Allan MacGilvary and all the great cricket commentators of old.
It was on Rediffusion that I first heard John Arlott the poet in 1963, purr in his Hampshire burr, “We greet you here at Lords where the pigeons are playing below us on the verdant grass, as Trueman runs in from the Nursery End and bowls to Sobers, who hooks him for four.”
There was none of today’s bovine excrement about whether the ball had legs to get to the boundary… just a pure plain piece of poetic description emblazoned on the memory.
Then there was Gerry Richards asking Sir Clyde Walcott at the dismissal of a batsman “Was that the googly?” To which the former great replied “No, that was the straight ball actually” or “Raffie Knowles” via 610 radio hook up describing the dismissal of a batsman thus “and he is on his way”!!
Barbados Rediffusion was priceless for us who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in our lovely island.
What a joy to reminisce thereon.Victor Brooks
Clara Gall memories via her son David O’Carroll:
My Mum, Clara Gall, came to Barbados in 1935 when she was twelve. Her father had just retired as the Barclays DCO bank manager in Dominica. She and her sister Cynthia went to school at Codrington High School as weekly boarders so they were home at the weekends. When my sister and I were listening to Radio Luxembourg or “pirate radio” in Britain in the 1960s Mum would reminisce about listening to Frank Sinatra and other music broadcast from America on Rediffusion.
She was very keen on Frank Sinatra who really came to fame when he joined the Tommy Dorsey Band in 1939.
When Mum returned to school she was one of the only girls who had heard the latest tunes and she was able to bash them out playing by ear on the school piano to the admiration of her classmates, but perhaps not the teachers.
My Mum also said that “Pops” her father would regularly listen to the news each evening. Not sure when the music programs were broadcast. I assume the programmes were all relayed from America rather than Britain in the early days.David O’Carroll
Peter & Pat Burke remember:
The very popular romance program “Second Spring” was aired every afternoon at 1pm and the theme song of the program was an instrumental version of the song Beautiful Dreamer.
At 8pm every night the very popular ” Dr. Paul” program was aired.
In the early sixties there was a program called “Bajan Bandstand” which featured local bands and was broadcast once a week, after the 7pm BBC News.
The” Request” program, to which listeners would send in their written requests by post, for songs to be played for family or friends, was aired around 6pm on week days.
Alfred Pragnell and Joe Tudor were regular performers on Comedy programs.Peter & Pat Burke
Liz Morris remembers:
As a little girl I travelled from St Vincent to Barbados to vacation with my Aunt. The year may have been 1962.
I remember my aunt holding my hand as she walked me over to the Rediffusion building to take part in this adventure. I met Joe Tudor who warmly welcomed me and put me at ease as I got ready to play the piano.
I played “From Pole to Pole” and I still vividly remember the position of the piano and me seated and ready to play. When I returned to my aunt’s work place which was Y de Lima , her co-workers cheered as I entered.
Such fond memories!Liz Morris
Pat Callender remembers:
Dossier on Demetrius a much loved serial carried by Rediffusion starring Major Gregory Keen and highlighting the work of MI5, the British Intelligence agency.
The Gilbert and Sullivan Operas.
The opera singer Gracie Fields.
Edmundo Ros and his Latin American band.
Vera Lynn the gifted singer and darling of the British Armed services. She was invariably the most requested singer on the Saturday afternoon programme Forces Favourites.
The Maurice Hutt documentaries.
Radio Newsreel heralded by the march Imperial Echoes.
The famed BBC pips announcing the news “1100 hours GMT; this is London calling. Here is the news read by Roger Collinge.”
Leonard and Joe, Auntie Olga and the Elizabethan Serenade and there was much morePat Callender
Hazel Sinclair remembers:
In the time before TV was available on the island my family listened to Rediffusion quite a bit. I also remember listening to Rediffusion with my grandmother after lunch, when I used to spend days with her.
My mother used to listen to various radio soaps, e.g. “Aunt Mary” (just after lunch), “Dr Paul” (evenings) and “Portia Faces Life”. Of course there were the news programmes, the obituaries. Also I remember “Women’s Hour with Carolyn Barrow”, and comedy from the UK e.g. “Around the Horn with Kenneth Horn”. Another very important aspect was the Test Match cricket commentary from Kensington Oval. My father would listen if he was not at work or could not get to actually see the match.
In the 70’s whilst I was working in Barbados I got to know Oliver Valentine Chandler who I believe was the director of programmes at Rediffusion. There was a very good Sunday evening programme of classical music which my family listened to quite regularly, however, on one occasion we missed the programme. The following week Mr Chandler came into our office and I happened to mention this. He said he would try and repeat it in the near future. True to his word, soon after this conversation, one Sunday evening we sat down to listen to the programme and the presenter said: “By popular demand we are repeating our recent programme of …… !“ I have no idea whether there were other “popular demands”.
RIP Rediffusion!Hazel Sinclair
Jan Weel (nee Pemberton) remembers:
My father, Canon Frank Pemberton, was a regular early Monday morning broadcaster, on Rediffusion with his Anglican radio service. “We begin with the hymn etc..”
As a tiny girl of 6 or 7, I remember him saying a cheery goodbye to me and leaving St. Paul’s vicarage, Bay Street, on his bicycle on his way to the studio!
In fact, he recorded his final service in the studio about 6 hours before he suddenly died in early 1974.
Much later on, I met Colonel Oliver who was in charge of the station from 1951 to 1967.Jan Weel (nee Pemberton)
Col. Roy Oliver – General Manger Barbados Rediffusion Services Ltd: 1951 – 1967
Col. Oliver joined Rediffusion Group in England in early 1951 and was appointed General Manager of Barbados Rediffusion Service Ltd – a post he held until 1967 when he retired on medical advice. He died at the age of 72 in Oregon USA on 21st September 1986.
Roy Oliver was the driving force behind the expansion of Rediffusion from a few thousand subscribers in 1951 to nearly 25,000 subscribers when he retired in 1967.
Transcript of newspaper cutting Daily News 6th July 1962:
Rediffusion Head Lauds Honesty of Barbadians
In a total revenue of some $7,000,000 in eleven years, Barbados Rediffusion has only had to write off $32,000 of bad debt for subscriptions and $500 for advertising, a remarkable tribute to the honesty of Barbados, Col. RWR Oliver, Managing Director of Barbados Rediffusion Service Limited, told the Barbados Rotary Club at their regular weekly luncheon yesterday.
Col. Oliver , who was guest speaker of the day traced the history of the company from its small beginnings to its present 21,662 installed speakers, 1,200 miles of wire, 16,000 poles and 17 hours a day service.
He defined broadcasting as any means of of disseminating programmes over an area, and said that wired distribution was much used in the United Kingdom, where there were over 4,000,000 sets, popular because their operation was simple and cheap.
A factor in deciding upon the establishment of the rediffusion method in Barbados was the fact that at the time of the beginning of the operation there was very limited distribution of electric power. In fact electric and telephone lines had been far behind rediffusion lines in the coverage of the island.
Broadcast, he said, are about 95% entertainment and 5% information and news. Theirs was a commercial operation, he said, and the demands of audiences were paramount . He gave the cost of operating the service as $800,000 a year.
Listing the advantages to the community, Col. Oliver began with the fact that Rediffusion employs 130 persons, all recruited in the West Indies with himself as the sole exception in a deliberate effort to West Indianise the operation.
Direct revenue to Government by way of company income tax, staff personal income taxes, trade taxes, import duties, postage and the like totalled $200,000 a year, while there was indirect revenue accruing from the fact that salaries in the neighbourhood of $250,000 a year were paid, and local purchases made of around $150,000.
One of the great benefits of such a service, Col. Oliver went on, was forcibly demonstrated on the occasion of Hurricane Janet in 1955.
At the request of Government the service went on the air at two o’clock in the morning and because 81% of listeners (a figure established by a 1953 survey) leave their speakers on permanently, it was possible to alert thousands of citizens in districts all over the the island with the injunction to get up and warn their neighbours. This no doubt save several lives, Col. Oliver said, adding that he himself and the then engineer had opened up the station and operated the service, receiving compliments afterwards for their programming what had been done by sheer hit and miss selection of records.
Col. Oliver also cited as an advantage of broadcasting the response given to charitable appeals, such as the Children’s Trust Fund, which had appealed
for $3,000 on one occasion and received $5,000 in a very short time.
Comparing radio with other news media, Col. Oliver said that he regarded them as complementary and not opposed. Radio had the advantage of immediacy. He illustrated this by relating the story of the recent Boeing 707 crash in Guadeloupe, which, by noon, had been a completed story as far as Rediffusion was concerned, but could not be read by newspaper readers until next day.
Such immediate coverage, he said, whets the appetite of listeners for details and makes them more eager to follow up the stories in the papers.
As an aside to the Boeing story, Col. Oliver related how the American Broadcasting Service had telephoned Rediffusion, as being the nearest point toDaily News 6th July 1962
Guadeloupe listed in the broadcasting directory for news long after noon. He had then been able to read the full story to them over the phone for taping
and re-broadcasting. This proved to be a scoop for the ABS stations in America – another example of the immediacy of radio broadcasting.
Transcript of Rediffusion broadcast script Col. Oliver 3rd April 1985:
I find it difficult to imagine a more exciting or fascinating vocation than to be involved with broadcasting or the medium it spawned , Television. It was my good fortune to enjoy that kind of life for many years in your island, perhaps the most beautiful and and tranquil of homeland in the world.
From where I speak today I look out at magnificent snow-covered mountains and forests, icy cold lakes and a crisp freezing air that could hardly be more differnt than your warm sunshine, beautiful sea and soft trade-winds. I found a breath-taking paradise when I first set foot in Barbados not long after the last war — and not too conducive to work! But my job was to make Rediffusion big by spreading it to every corner of the country, and that called for a large influx of technical material to cope with thousands more subscribers, and to improve programming to attack them.
Many of you listening today will be middle -aged but were children when I first broadcast an important ceremony. The occasion was the consecration of Bishop Mandeville in July 1951, and his enthronement as Bishop of Barbados the following day. It was all very impressive with an Archbishop and eight other Bishops from all over the Caribbean filling the Cathedral with colour. And, speaking of St. Michael’s, I wonder how many of you remember those evening song services packed with more than 2,000 churchgoers who, when the Dean’s Sermon got too long, used to drop their collection pennies (big English ones!) in the stone floor as a signal to ‘get on with it’. Perhaps you do still do sometimes.
D’you remember the Coronation ceremonies in 1953 with Bridgetown lit up and decorated magnificently? Then our first of many Royal visits with The Princess Royal, Mary, and soon after, a very young niece – the new Queen’s sister, Margaret?
And, of course, the devastation of Hurricane Janet in September 1955. SO much of Rediffusion’s hard work was blown away that day and we had to re-build all over again. But I do believe the warning broadcast through the night before saved many lives.
You will remember that before Television we all had to live with sound pictures brought by broadcasting. This called for newer and bigger studios and a demand for talent for the many local shows. Who can forget the antics of Joe Tudor or the first success of the Merrymen? I often myself musing over the thoughts of the fun and light-heartedness we all had well over a generation ago and my personal sobering thoughts in realising that I was responsible, then, for everything you listened to. Those thousands of children have now grown into responsible Bajans and I hope that Rediffusion contributed in some measure, to the tastes and knowledge of your Nation which has, perhaps, the World’s highest literacy rate.
My departure from Barbados coincided with Independence. It was a happy seventeen years for me and in that time the Rediffusion network grew from 4,500 in the Bridgetown area to over 25,000 homes all over the Island.
My wife and family remember those days frequently and with much nostalgia. We read The BAJAN avidly and are very aware of all the proud achievements you win whether on the cricket field or as scholars or diplomats. I sign off with strong thoughts of a most loyal team of Staff and listeners and wish you continued success as you grow into the 21st Century.Col. Roy WR Oliver – Rediffusion Broadcasts, 3rd April 1985, eighteen years post retirement.
Potted History of Rediffusion in UK and Barbados
Broadcast Relay Service Ltd. was incorporated in 1928 in the UK and started to relay radio programmes to subscribers in Clacton, Essex. The following year, 200 subscribers in Braintree, Ramsgate and Hull were paying 3 shillings a week for the service which required just a loudspeaker to be installed in the home to receive the programme.
In 1931 Broadcast Relay formed a new company, Rediffusion Limited. The name was based on re-diffusing or re-broadcasting audio signals via a wired network.
By the mid 1980’s BET plc, who now had outright ownership decided to divest it’s electronics interests and the Rediffusion Group was subsequently broken up and sold off with overseas interests being disposed of by the early 1990’s.
Wired Broadcasting in Barbados commenced in 1934. The Company was formed on 24th October 1934, under the name of Radio Distribution (Barbados) Ltd. The first manager was Mr. H.J. Witnell and on 2nd April 1935, the first subscriber was connected to Cable Radio in Barbados. The service comprised relays of programmes from the BBC and other short wave stations in America and Canada.
By 1947 when the number of subscribers had risen to 1,800, a studio was built in the Bridgetown premises and regular broadcasts commenced.
Technical support for the service in Barbados was supplied by the UK company: Broadcast Relay Service Ltd., the owner of Rediffusion.
Post World War II, Rediffusion in the UK sought to expand it’s cable relay business overseas in an attempt not to be nationalised by the new post war Labour Government. In the late 1940s they had systems already being installed in Malta, Hong Kong, Singapore and Montreal Canada.
In January 1951 Overseas Rediffusion Ltd. acquired the controlling interest in Radio Distribution (Barbados) Ltd. which had existed in the Island since 1934. The Company went into voluntary liquidation and on 1st February 1951, Barbados Rediffusion Service Ltd. came into being.
The organisation continued to operate from it’s small facility in Trafalgar Street but in 1958 relocated to much larger premises in Riverside Road, Bridgetown with new studios, programme department and a record library.
Subscribers on service totalled only 4,200 located in the capital town of Bridgetown. The main amplifying station consisted of one A50, there was no High Level Links (HLL) system but trunk telephone lines were rented, running two miles north and south to carry the programmes to 200W amplifiers at two distribution points. All feeders ran from these and the main station. The network was generally open wiring, several years old.
The overall arrangement was unsatisfactory and in 1952 plans were made for the construction of a HLL system with the objects of freeing the Company from dependence on telephone lines providing for future expansion.
By April 1953 the network had assumed the general shape and coverage shown on the map and the subscriber total was 6,381. The HLL system was operating at five times service level, three A50 amplifiers providing the power. A solitary booster amplifier was still in use at Wildey and the decision had been taken to extend the Black Rock HLL northwards as far as Speightstown to take service to the almost continuous ribbon of houses between the two points.
This work commenced in July 1953 and at the same time the HLL system was converted to seven times service level. The booster amplifier at Wildey was removed and the system at last began to resemble the more conventional and efficient U.K. distributions. Sept. 1953 saw the installation of Rediffusion in Speightstown and the completion (at that time) of the longest HLL in existence.
There were six kiosks on the link and, in addition to minor feeder development, by the end of the year the subscriber total had jumped to 7,582. For economic reasons it was decided that HLL extensions should be confined to existing pole routes which belonged to either the Telephone or Electricity companies with whom agreements had been made to use their poles as were necessary.
Although HLLs were confined to pole routes it was soon apparent that a radical change in method was needed to deal with feeder development, for, once off the main roads, few poles were to be found to carry the service to side streets and houses. Extensive use was therefore made of house to house wiring for the first time (although some use of it had been made in a few city districts).
The method is very similar to the block cabling used in the UK and elsewhere and has over the years proved itself to be simple, efficient and economical. Naturally all was not plain sailing as Barbados had some peculiar problems of its own – like chattel houses.
Between Oistins and Speightstown there was practically a continuous ribbon of chattel houses and elsewhere in the island they are clustered into villages varying from 12 to 300 houses in size. As soon as the owner had accumulated enough wealth he might replace all, or part, of his wooden house with a more substantial home of coral or concrete blocks. If a householder decided to move it was not uncommon for him to get a few of his friends to help him lift and carry the wooden home to a new location.
Wayleaves had to be obtained from each individual householder and it was usually readily given. Difficulties arose, however, if the owner was a member of one of the stricter religious sects with which Barbados abounds. These people had strong views on such things as dancing, film, radio, etc. and would actually oppose the extension of the Rediffusion network on or even over their houses.
Subscribers who were disconnected for arrears had a habit of demanding the instant removal of all wiring from their homes even if this means depriving all their neighbours of service as well. It speaks well of the tact and skill of the wiring staff that these problems were met cheerfully and very seldom involved inconvenience to other subscribers.
From 1954 on, the network development had been rapid and extended to every town and hamlet on the Island and the experienced help of Mr. B. van Ryn, Chief Engineer, Rediffusion (Wales) Ltd. was forthcoming for this work. Over 225,000 route yards of HLL were by now in use and some 736,000 route yds. of feeder.
The HLL system by now operated at ten times service level and fed over 80 HLL kiosks. Power was supplied by three A160 amplifiers (a successful local modification of original A50) soon to be augmented by two similar units from London.
At the end of 1956 the subscriber total had reached 16,426 and service was available to over 50,000 houses. In the city areas open wire HLLs had been replaced with star quad and the system as it stood could cope with a connected load of 20,000 subscribers. Modifications already planned would increase the capacity to 25,000 subscribers.
Programmes, largely commercial, were originated in the Company’s Studios although some sustainer material was presented from transcriptions or tapes from various sources and by direct relay of the BBC.
Programming included: The Fire Fighters, Journey into Space, Portia Faces Life, Second Spring, Mary Layne which later became Aunt Mary, Doctor Paul, Life Can be Beautiful with Pappa David, Stephen Hamilton and Chie Chie.
Then there was the Goon show, A life of Bliss, The Clithero Kid, starring Jimmy Clithero and the Navy Lark.
There was also Flying High with Jim Kidd and Joe Tudor and the Mighty Charmer; then for the children there was the Children Party with Aunty Pat (Pat Carpenter) on Saturday mornings and Carolyn Barrow hosted Women’s World.
There were two studios in use, one used as a continuity studio, and a larger one for the origination of dance music, local talent, etc. with audiences.
The continuity studio had facilities for pre-cueing and mixing inputs from four transcription units, two tape recorders, microphones, receiving stations, outside broadcast points, etc., and is equipped with the usual talk back and telephone facilities.
The larger studio was equipped with a severely modified Redifon console of early design and duplicated the essential facilities of the continuity studio.
A small recording room with tape recorders and a disc recorder was also provided and Rediffusion had often been complimented by visiting BBC producers appreciative of the high standards of efficiency provided by the operating staff and equipment.
All recording equipment and outside broadcast equipment, together with the receiving station and amplifying equipment was maintained and serviced by a staff of three engineers under the direction of Mr. F. G. Duesbury, the Equipment Engineer.
Maintenance and some other vehicles were equipped with VHF radio telephone sets.
The Rediffusion single programme network covered the entire island, an area of 166 sq. miles and the VHF equipment enabled the Company to reduce the average time of fault clearance from 3 hrs. to 1/2 hr.
With the exception of the General Manager, Programme Manager and the Engineer-in-Charge all the staff were recruited locally and Rediffusion was proud of the fact that all technical, wiring and operating staff were Barbadian, practically all trained by the Company itself.
The staff now numbered 104 split into the usual departments of Accounts, Engineering, Programming, Advertising and Rental Collection.
Rediffusion Barbados 1979 to 1997
In September 1979, the Nation Corporation purchased Barbados Rediffusion Services Ltd., enabling the company to expand its broadcasting division through the launch of its second radio station, Voice of Barbados (790 VOB) on 1st May 1981.
In October 1997 it was announced that an era of broadcasting would come to an end with the closure of Barbados’ lone wired radio service, Star Radio. General Manager of Barbados Rediffusion Services Ltd Vic Fernandes said the 62 year-old service was not financially viable and would be closed on 30th November. Possibly the last remaining Rediffusion wired service to close down.Gerald Clode – rediffusion.info
Wired Radio broadcast during World War II
Two press cutting of the Barbados Governor’s speeches to the people of Barbados on 20th December 1939 and 14th May 1941. These were were broadcast via the “Government Experimental Broadcast Station” as well as via the “Service of Radio Distribution”. Radio Distribution (Barbados) Ltd which for set up in 1934 was Rediffusion’s predecessor. Governor Sir John Waddinton’s message was also printed in the local newspapers.
Did you Know? – Professor Emeritus Sir Henry Fraser
After a run of 460 episodes of Did you Know? Professor Emeritus Sir Henry Fraser has just completed his last Did you Know? five minute history tribute that are broadcast on Capital Media HD 99.3 FM in Barbados.
Did you Know? is about people, places and untold stories of historic Barbados summarised into a 5 minute radio time slot. It is about all aspects of Barbados’ heritage – much like BajanThings.
Our thanks to Prof. Sir Henry Fraser’s who featured two stories on Rediffusion and two stories on CBC at the end of his series and send us his scripts:
- Did You Know? No. 455, Barbados Rediffusion – A Voice From The Past
- Did You Know? No. 456, Barbados Rediffusion – A Voice From The Past, Part 2
- Did You Know? No. 457, The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation Or CBC
- Did You Know? No. 458, The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation Part 2
Did You Know? No. 455, Barbados Rediffusion – A Voice From The Past
Did you know that Barbados Rediffusion was the voice and the catalyst of culture and communication in Barbados for decades, but especially in the 1950s and 60s?
Wired broadcasting in Barbados began in 1934. A company was formed on October 24th that year, named Radio Distribution (Barbados) Ltd. The first manager was Mr. H.J. Witnall and on April 2nd, 1935, the first subscriber was connected to Cable Radio. The service relayed programs from the BBC and stations in North America.
By 1947 a studio was built and regular broadcasts began, from premises at the corner of Trafalgar Street. In January 1951 Rediffusion Ltd. of the UK acquired the controlling interest in Radio Distribution (Barbados) and on 1st February 1951, Barbados Rediffusion Service Ltd. came into being.
For a long while in the 50s and ’60s, Rediffusion was our only radio station. For a small monthly fee a special box with a speaker was installed in your home, broadcasting by a copper cable network. Roy Oliver was the first general manager, and the driving force behind the expansion of Rediffusion from a few thousand subscribers in 1951 to some 20, 000 plus subscribers, 1200 miles of wire and 16,000 Rediffusion poles by 1962.
Colonel Oliver had a brilliant career in the British army in the Second World war, and after the war he served with Lord Mountbatten and Lord Montgomery. He resigned from the army in 1949, joined the Rediffusion Group in Britain and was appointed the first General Manager of Barbados Rediffusion Limited in 1951.
He was an excellent manager and popular with staff. He retired in 1967 on medical advice and relocated with his wife Kay to British Columbia. He died in 1986 at the age of 72.
He was succeeded by Gary Duesbury, an engineer, who served for 20 years and then the inimitable Vic Fernandes on September 1st, 1988. Vic set about transforming the old lady of River Road in the 90s into Starcom Network Inc., and was elevated to Managing Director and CEO a few years later. When he finally retired a few years ago he formed his own radio station Capital Media HD at 99.3 on the dial, and that’s us you’re enjoying as I speak!
One of the events that made Rediffusion famous, and much valued, was its broadcasting of the early morning warning of Hurricane Janet on 22nd September 1955. There was no efficient Met service for the region in those far off days, but most Bajans left their Rediffusion on, hearing it sound off around midnight, and using it as an alarm clock when it came on in the morning, Thus most people heard the earliest possible announcement of that dangerous lady’s arrival in a few hours’ time.
The company was sold to the Nation Corporation in 1979 and was granted a broadcast license which saw the birth of Voice of Barbados (V.O.B.), and A.M. radio stations. It was Vic Fernandes who later rebranded it as an F.M. station, created 104.1 (now known as The Beat), Hott 95.3 and 97.5 The Gospel station.
Vic tells me that ghosts reputedly roamed the building – whose ghost we’re not sure – and some staff were reluctant to work alone late at night. Vic himself mysteriously got locked into his office one night – presumably by the ghost – and was cautious after that about closing his office door when he was working late!
Rediffusion, and in turn Star Radio, Starcom and V.O.B. were the cradle for many top broadcasters, from the legendary Alfred Pragnell to Julian Rogers, Patrick Gollop and Dr. Alyson Leacock.
Dame Olga Lopes-Seale was a seasoned broadcaster in Guyana before joining Rediffusion, as was Frank Pardo. More about these famous personalities, and some stories from loyal listeners, next time.Professor Emeritus Sir Henry Fraser
Did You Know? No. 456, Barbados Rediffusion – A Voice From The Past, Part 2
Did you know that our famous Barbados Rediffusion followed an earlier cable radio called Radio Distribution?
And did you know that the website BajanThings has a new posting on the story of Barbados Rediffusion?
This delightful website tells the story of Rediffusion in the words of many people who responded to an invitation to reminisce about it.
Rita Lashley recalled four key facts. She remembers the hucksters and other workers gathering under a Rediffusion that hung on a wall in her mother’s food shop in Busby Alley at 1pm to listen to the famous radio series in those days “Second Spring”, while Opa Hoyte recalls the popular soap opera “Portia faces life” … and it controlled many people’s movements!
Rita recalls Rediffusion “bursting on” in the early hours of September 22nd 1955, warning Bajans that Hurricane Janet was heading our way.
She remembers listening to Joe Tudor every Saturday night and she said, as I said last time, Rediffusion was used as an alarm awakening Barbadians at 6 am every morning.
Theo Williams recalled one of their neighbours, who had installed Rediffusion, waking them up early in the morning to inform them that hurricane Janet was heading our way. And one of his dad’s first tasks a couple days after was to request rediffusion service.
And Peter and Pat Burke recall the weekly Bajan Bandstand. So many memories.
I had two favourite programmes as a schoolboy. One was the brilliant comedy programme Wait a Minim from the BBC, featuring Frank Muir and Dennis Norton, and the other was anything read by Alfred Pragnell, who was the first person to record my voice on tape.
My own first engagements with Rediffusion were with the inimitable, lovely Dame Olga Lopes-Seale and Mrs. Carolyn Barrow, who invited me to talk about historic preservation and my first books on historic architecture.
One memorable Rediffusion moment for me was a Sunday many years ago when an announcement was made while we were having lunch at home, of the sudden death – the murder – of Professor Aubrey Fraser of the UWI in Jamaica. My telephone rang off the hook that day and I had to say, like Mark Twain a hundred years before, that the rumours of my death were greatly exaggerated.
Dame Olga was legendary for her charitable work and she created the Rediffusion Needy Children’s fund which ran for years; she then took it over after the company could not sustain it any longer.
Vic Fernandes tells me that on one occasion in a rainy October, River Road lived up to its name and staff could neither get to work nor leave due to high flood waters. Some enterprising young men created a raft and put a female announcer, Gaynelle Marshall, on it to bring her through the waters safely!
I think everyone over forty or fifty has some fond, personal memory of our very special Barbados Rediffusion -from Alfred Pragnell to Joe Tudor.Professor Emeritus Sir Henry Fraser
Did You Know? No. 457, The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation Or CBC
Did you know that the CBC will be 60 years old this year? It began with the radio station, followed by television in 1964.
Its mandate was expressed in The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation Act of 1963, which said it was:
“To provide, in accordance with this Act, broadcasting services of high quality both as to the transmission and as to the matter transmitted.”
It went on… the functions as outlined in the act are: To have the powers:
- to erect, maintain and operate broadcasting, transmitting, relay and receiving stations;
- to arrange for the provision and equipment of, or, if need be, themselves to provide and equip, studios and other premises for broadcasting purposes;
- to make arrangements for the distribution of programmes broadcast by the corporation and to receive programmes to be broadcast by the corporation;
- to do such things as are necessary or expedient for the purpose of turning to account any property or rights of the corporation.”
These are all commendable goals, but we’re all very much aware that the goal “turning to account” or making a profit hasn’t been the good fortune of CBC for a very long time!
Managing CBC has always been a demanding, challenging task; some might even say a thankless task. Few general managers have served more than one three-year stint. The longest serving was Sam Taitt, GM from 1986 to’94, followed by Melba Smith – 1995 to 2001. Dr. Allyson Leacock came next, serving four years from 2002 to 2006.
One very controversial GM was the well-known author Austin “Tom” Clark, reputedly a friend of Prime Minister Barrow, who made the mistake of thinking that a proficient writer and talker would be a good manager. Things went down hill rapidly with Tom, and he ended up writing a bitter book The Prime Minister , hardly disguised as fiction, after a brief, rough two years “at home”, but very much alienated.
Just as Rediffusion nurtured many media men and women, CBC actually did the same. One of them still going strong is Vic Fernandes, famous first at CBC-TV, then at Rediffusion and VOB and now Capital Media’s “Godfather”; and he tells some great stories of the early days at The Pine.
The one I like best was an occasion when the beautiful and brilliant Marvo Manning – beauty queen, actress, journalist and motivational speaker – was reading the news, to be followed by Vic Brewster, who would take over in the operator’s studio as a D.J. for the next hour.
Marvo had just relieved Vic Fernandes, who was in the outer studio with the other Vic – Vic Brewster; there was a glass panel between the two studios so the announcer Marvo could see the operator, in this case Vic Brewster.
Marvo started to read the news of a bus running over a precipice in India resulting in many deaths, and exactly as she started to read, Vic Brewster in the studio facing her, separated by a glass panel, sat on his chair which collapsed. A loud noise was heard and she looked up to see Vic’s feet in the air above the studio console because he was flat on the floor.
Marvo could not contain her laughter while trying to read a story of people dying! Her voice quivered with laughter as she struggled through the story, leading to an irate Programme Manager Keith Foster rushing in to restore order and discipline!
More about CBC next time!Professor Emeritus Sir Henry Fraser
Did You Know? No. 458, The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation Part 2
Did you know that The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee this year, and CBC-TV is just one year younger?
Last time we ended with a very funny story from the early days, told by Capital Radio’s Godfather Vic Fernandes, who was one of the most popular CBC-TV personalities when I came home more than forty years ago.
Vic also tells me that the late Jeff Newton was reading the news one night on TV about the U.S. President Lyndon Johnson on a visit to Mexico.
Jeff read the introduction with the words “U.S. President Johnson met with his Mexican counterpart and discussed many pressing issues including illegal migration to the U.S. President Johnson said …” and the film was supposed to play except it didn’t!
In the master control area there was much scrambling going on behind the scenes, with Jeff still on camera; feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what was happening he said ”I will read that again” and proceeded to read the introduction a second time. Again the film did not play … again Jeff was left on camera and for a third time he read the introduction, slowly and again the film did not play and a red-faced Jeff Newton was left on camera again!
He looked straight into the camera, and said “Apparently President Johnson did not say anything after all” and introduced the commercial break!
One more story: At the opening of the Barbados Community College Queen Elizabeth was to unveil the plaque.
Vic was anchoring the outside broadcast, covering the whole event and the Royal party. As the queen was about to step forward and unveil the plaque the camera of the late Frank Grimes, the CBC videographer, ran out of film! What to do ?
Realizing this was a moment that could not be missed NOR repeated, Frank did the unthinkable; he stepped forward, addressed the queen directly (a commoner from Bubbadus, mind you) and said: “Excuse me Ma’am, but could you wait for me a moment please?”
She did. Now poor Frank suddenly realized an entire country was waiting on him. I watched while continuing the commentary as Frank sweated, hands trembling like he had an electric shock running through his body, in what seemed like eternity, as he finally managed to insert the film and said to her Majesty “Thank you ma’am!”
It was memorable and unscripted, but she then unveiled the plaque to much applause. Vic later commended Frank for his creativity under pressure.
I had my own experience of no film, when I was filming Treasures of Barbados. This was the first of my 29 documentaries for CBC-TV, produced in 1986. I had done some health programmes with CBC and produced a couple of books when I was asked to do my first series on historic architecture.
It was exhilarating, working with director Betty Lynch. We worked to a really tight schedule. I would do the research, explore Barbados on a Saturday, write the script on the Sunday, share it with Betty and film on a Wednesday morning. She’d edit, with me previewing a week later and airing it the week after that! And I couldn’t walk down Broad Street without being stopped with questions from all sorts of people.
On one occasion we filmed all day far from home at Codrington College, and when it was all over I was told “No film, sorry, we’ll have to do it all over again!”
I’ve since done seven half hour films for the series Pillars of Worship, four on Parliament and a few for fund-raising, all with Betty Lynch, and a lot more work in recent times with Sherwood McCaskie. I’ve always found filming fun and I’m grateful to CBC-TV for the pleasure!Professor Emeritus Sir Henry Fraser
- The basis of this story uses an OCR transcript from: http://www.rediffusion.info/Barbados/ with the permission of its author Gerald Clode.
- We would also like to thank all those that took time to send us their memories of Rediffusion in Barbados.
- We would like to thank Victoria Oliver and Mark Oliver, the children of Col. RWR Oliver who shared with us some press cuttings about their father’s 17 years in Barbados as General Manager of Rediffusion.
- Out thanks to David O’Carroll for sharing some of his archived research notes on Rediffusion.
- The End of an Era in Broadcasting History by IPS Correspondent Terry Ally.
- Our thanks to Professor Emeritus Sir Henry Fraser for sharing his radio scripts on Rediffusion and CBC.