When we arrived in Singapore in 1961, one of the first things my father bought was a Sony Transistor Radio. It was a very modern-looking device, not like the big brown wireless sets that we were used to back home. The picture, I think, shows the exact model.
As I remember, there was, essentially, only one English language station, transmitted by Radio Singapura. There were all sorts of programmes, including news, comedy drama, music of all sorts, and current affairs. Unlike the BBC, Radio Singapura carried adverts. We quickly got to learn the jingles for Tiger Oil and Brand’s Essence of Chicken. The Tiger advert went something like this:
Tiger Oil. Tiger Oil.
For fast relief of colds aches and pains.
It is used throughout the world.
You must get some right away.
Tiger Oil makes your day a happy day.
As well as the adverts there was constant political propaganda and patriotic songs. At the time that Malaysia was being formed, we were treated to Malaysia Forever every hour or so.
Let’s get together.
Sing a happy song.
Ten Million strong.
That soon changed when Singapore left Malaysia.
My favourite radio programs were a comedy whose name I can’t remember, and an American real-life detective series called The Mistakes They Made.
Also available – but only just – was the BBC World Service. It was very faint, and would be accompanied by eerie electronic whistles and other sci-fi sounds, and it would fade in and out, but we liked to tune in for cricket matches and the English Football results. It was quite frustrating, as just as our team’s result came on the radio would fade out or whistle, so we would only hear half the score. Nevertheless, it was a Saturday night ritual, long after lights out, to listen to the results. Given the time difference, it would be midnight when the results were read out.
One evening, in February 1963, we were driving home from somewhere. An enormous crowd of people was gathered outside a shop window. They were watching Singapore’s first television broadcast. This was the first time Singaporeans had seen a television, and it must have been a magical experience for them. Of course, it was in black and white, but nobody minded. Everyone wanted a TV, although they were very expensive in the early days, and for the first few years we did our viewing at the Island Club, at friends’ houses, or in restaurants (where a TV was a big added attraction).
For most of the 1960s, as I remember, there was only one channel, and it catered for at least four language groups – Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English. I know that there was more than one Chinese language in use, but I don’t know if TV Singapura catered for them all. Such was the addiction of TV that sometimes we would watch the programmes even when they were in a language that we didn’t understand. Indian and Chinese cinema was very dramatic, and sometimes you could follow the story without knowing the language. Of course, my favourite programmes were the American comedies (like I Love Lucy), adventure programmes and cartoons.
Eventually we bought a TV and had the pleasure of constantly trying to get a decent picture by adjusting the angle of the ariel, and playing with the vertical hold because the picture kept going round and round.
How things have changed.