BBC World Service Begins
At 9.30 on Saturday 19, 1932, the BBC’s new Empire Service began from a studio in Broadcasting House , its programmes sent around the world by shortwave transmitters. The first speaker was the corporation’s then chairman, J.H. Whitley.
The BBC was not the first in the field, and it is hard to judge what John Reith intended for the new service given the content of his own opening address wherein he told his audience not to expect much as they tested the technology and the requirements of listeners, famously saying the initial programmes would be “neither very interesting nor very good.” But for all the Empire’s failings many in it wanted closer links to the mother country, something the Empire Service could provide.
Australia and New Zealand were the targets for the first broadcasts; later that day it would be the turn of India, then Africa, and lastly Canada and the Caribbean, with programmes shaped for the intended market (though Reith repeated his own speech live at the opening of each section).
Funded firstly by diverting radio licence money to the new service, then eventually with Foreign and Commonwealth Office support, the Empire Service and the BBC World Service that evolved from it gained and have retained a reputation for politically unbiased broadcasting, a trusted source of information in many troubled areas of the globe in the three quarters of a century since John Reith launched it in such understated fashion.
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