History of the Durban Municipal Broadcasting Station

posted in: New Articles 6

 

The building housing the African Broadcasting Company studios in Aliwal Street – Picture courtesy Kevan Mardon.

 

Compiled and Researched by Kevan N J Mardon

The first radio broadcast in South Africa was undertaken in Johannesburg on 18 December 1923 by the Western Electric Company … “Good Morning this is JB Calling …. “, Cape Town followed next on 15 September 1924, Cape Peninsula Broadcasting Association … “Good Morning, this is Cape Town Calling …” and finally Durban on 10 December 1924. Durban Corporation holds the record in the world of opening the very first and only municipal broadcasting service … “Good Morning, this is Durban Calling …”

The Durban City Council sponsored the establishment of broadcasting in Durban. They were urged to this step by John Roberts, Borough Electrical Engineer and Lyell Tayler, Borough Musical Director, each strongly supported by their respective chairmen, Tom Shearer and Tom Burman, as well as the Mayor of the time, Mr Tom Wadley. The Marconi company was nominated to supply the broadcasting plant, a Marconi “Q” transmitter, which had a broadcasting radius of 100 miles.

In the early part of 1923 the Durban City Council agreed to the establishment of a municipal radio station as they felt that as caterers for holiday makers who came to Durban in large numbers, especially in Winter time, and being equipped with a municipal orchestra second to none in South Africa, they were better able than anyone else to run a successful broadcasting undertaking.

Durban Broadcasting started very modestly with one studio in the south-west corner of the City Hall, on the second floor on the corner of Church Street and Smith Street. There was a small control room which housed the apparatus, an office used by members of the staff and an artist’s room. The very first Durban announcer was Mr Gerald Clayton Beadle who was superintendent of programmes, Mr HE Davies was the controls operator, Miss K Sherlock the secretary  and the first children’s aunt was “Aunt Violette Marples” known by the children as “Aunt Tabitha” …

On 15 July 1935 the new African Broadcasting Company Studios were opened in Aliwal Street between Pine Street and West Street (Today Liberty Square ­– BP Building). With the expansion of the SABC in the mid 1950’s some of the studios were moved to Radio House in Gardiner Street between Smith Street and Victoria Embankment. This building sadly burnt down in the mid 1980’s.

As the 1960’s approached the SABC stood on the brink of further great development and a brand new building was built called “Broadcasting House” situated at 100 Old Fort Road and was officially opened on 21 August 1967. However, on 01 September 1966 the studios for Radio Zulu were ready for use and the administration staff were able to move in.

Radio Port Natal was able to carry out its official first broadcast from the new building on 01 May 1967. The first announcer was Sarel Marais and the first lady announcer was Laetitia Vorster. Radio Port Natal was sold and became East Coast Radio on 01 July 1994.

Indian programmes started in Natal in 1932 and were broadcast from the old studios in the Durban City Hall on Mondays and Fridays from 18h00 to 18h20. There were no live broadcasts, the programmes were in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Urdu and Gujerati consisting entirely of gramophone records. The first announcer was Abel Peters, who was known as Thunder Bolt and first lady announcer was Devi Bhugwan who started in 1950 and left in 1965. Abel Peters was followed by PR Singh and SR Naidoo. The last announcer of the old Indian service was Mr Jugadheesan Devar when the service closed on 31 December 1985. For the children the first Aunt was Aunt Daya Pillay and last Aunt was Aunt Nirmala. On the 01 January 1983 the SABC introduced a new Indian Cultural station called Radio Lotus. The very first manager was Isabel van der Linde, the first lady announcer was Farida Ismail and first announcer was RB Ram.

Afrikaans language was introduced in Natal in 1925. Zulu was introduced in Natal on a small scale on 17 January 1927 with a half-hour programme” from 21h30 to 22h00 by the Zulu Versatile Company!

In February 1935 Hugh Travers Tracey was appointed Branch Manager of Natal and established Radio Bantu-Zulu broadcasts. The first Zulu lady announcer was Winnie Mahlangu who started on 07 January 1960 and retired on 01 April 1993. King Edward (K.E). Masinga (Um Fana We Keshi) was the first Zulu announcer in 1942. Radio Zulu officially opened up as a full time station on 01 June 1960. Hugh Tracey was internationally famous as an authority on African music and culture. Radio Zulu (Radio Bantu) had its first broadcast in 1942 from Johannesburg and in 1947 it had its first broadcast from Durban On 01 January 1963 it became FM.

On the 01 August 1936 the South African government appointed a Board of Governors to take over the entire broadcasting service and administer it for the benefit of the state and styled the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC / SAUK).

Control of broadcasting remained with the municipality until 01 July 1927 when it was ceded to the African Broadcasting Company Limited with Mr IW Schlesinger as managing director and chairman, the new company having already acquired the Johannesburg and Cape Town stations when it was first established on 01 April 1927.

Today the original Municipal Studio houses, and very appropriately, the Natural Science Bird Collection.

 

SA vintage radio dates

  • This is Durban Calling – 10 December 1924
  • This is Cape Town Calling – 15 September 1924
  • This is JB Calling – 18 December 1923

This is the African Broadcasting Company – 01 April 1927

  • Broadcasting from Durban – 01 July 1927
  • Broadcasting from Cape Town – 01 June 1927
  • Broadcasting from Johannesburg – 01 April 1927
  • This is the Indian Service for Natal – 1932

This is the South African Broadcasting Corporation

  • Broadcasting from Durban & Pietermaritzburg – 01 August 1936
  • Broadcasting from Cape Town
  • Broadcasting from Johannesburg
  • Good Morning this is the A Programme (English) of the SABC
  • Goeie more dit is die B Programme (Afrikaans) van die SAUK
  • Springbok Radio was going to be C Programme/ service (commercial)

SABC

  • This is the English service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation -1955/1956
  • Dit is die Afrikaanse Diens van die Suid Afrikaanse Uitsaai Korporasie
  • Good Morning -You are tuned to the National Network of Springbok Radio for Brighter Broadcasting opened 01 May 1950 and closed 31 December 1985 at 18h30.
  • This is Radio Zulu (Radio Bantu) “Lona Umsakazo wesizulu” – 01 June 1960 – Very first broadcast was in 1942. Renamed “Ukhozi FM” on 10 October 1996 -“Lona Umsakazo wo Khozi FM”
  • This is the English Service of Radio South Africa – 1961
  • Dit is die Afrikaanse Diens van Radio Suid Afrika
  • This is Radio Port Natal – 01 May 1967. “The station with a lilt in its voice” closed 30 June 1994 sold and renamed East Coast Radio on 01 July 1994 – “KZN’s Home of the Hits”

“The Noble service of the English Service” – 1971

This is Radio Lotus (New cultural Indian Service) opened on 8 January 1983«tg.111 Radio Lotus “Your family friend”. The old Indian service of SABC closed 31 December 1985.

This is Radio South Africa/ Dit is Radio Suid Afrika  – 01 January 1986

Dit is Afrikaans Stereo “Radio sonder Grense” – 01 October 1992

SA FM 104-107 The station for the well informed. – 01 March 1995

Dit is Radio Sonder Grense (RSG) Die stasie met geen grense – 10 October 1996

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6 Responses

  1. Gerald
    | Reply

    Hi Kevan,
    Excellent and informative post. Moving away from the Transport History of Durban? Some time ago I was given a book by a long time friend called “Landmarks of Old Durban”, a series of documentary programmes broadcast from the Durban Studios of the South African Broadcasting Corporation compiled by H. Edmund Dawes. Printed by E.P. &Commercial Printing Company Durban 1948. Dawes compiled the scripts for the programmes and produced the programmes. Reading from the book, it seems Dawes was associated with Broadcasting in Durban from its inception.
    Your photo of the Broadcasting Studio in Aliwal Street is interesting as, if I recall correctly, it remained as such until it was burnt down. In the early 1960s Myklebust Dancing Academy were established there probably in one of the studio rooms. The late Laurie Kenton and his wife Ethne were associated with that dance studio. Dancing competitions were held in the City Hall. These were high social strictly black tie events. The male partner used to have a number on his back so that the judges could keep an eye on the competitors. The audience sitting on the periphery would bellow out the number to draw the judges’ attention to what they thought were the best dancing couple.

    • Zänkert, Hans-Jürgen
      |

      Hello Kevan Mardon
      Here’s your old friend from Osterburg/Germany
      All this is so interesting to read.
      Please, contact me per email.
      Your friend Hans-Jürgen

  2. Syd Oram
    | Reply

    Good day Gerald I realise this is well out of date, but I was skimming through FAD to see whethr I could pick up anything about the Smith Martin Dance Studio. This was run by Syd Smith my late uncle and Betty Martin. I think the studio was established shortly after the Second World War, but I know that Syd Smith was involved with dancing before he joined up in 1942 or thereabouts. My mother was also keen on dancing and I may have a few photographs which I think were taken in the late thirties/early forties.

    I am trying to check where the studio was situated. I have in mind that this was in London Chambers, which was burned down I think in the late fifties. Can you help on the dates of the fire ?

    Separately, I notice that there is a reference to Ethne Kenton. I worked for John T. Rennie from 1961 to 1967 and Ethne was one of the secretaries. I don’t know whether the name of Val Davidson means anything to you, but she too worked for Rennies while I was there.

  3. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Syd
    I have drawn a blank in the 1938 Directory ( a check to see if any mention of a Smith in what they called Dancing Academies) and in my 1957 Directory. London Chambers has been under discussion on the Face Book FAD but it was discussed here some years ago when two photos were sent in for identification of a burnt out building. Do a SEARCH here for the info. What has been ascertained is that the fire that burnt down London Chambers was roughly 1952. London Chambers were 358 West St and next door at 362 West St was the Palace Cinema Tea room (similar to the Roxy). It is rumoured the fire started in the Palace and spread to London House. Modern day 358 was replaced by the “new” London House which had the London Arcade running through it. Do you remember JIX Hobby shop? That was in London Arcade. Then 362 was replaced by African Life Building with African Life Arcade running through it. Playdays Shop was at the Pine St end. The old London House had two floors.

    Regarding Ethne Kenton she is still alive but getting on in years now and Laurie having passed away some years ago. I knew the Kenton family very well having gone through many years schooling with Laurie’s younger brother Creigh. We are still in contact. Laurie and Ethne specialised in the Tango if I recall. They were both rather involved with the Durban Racing Pigeon Club. Val Davidson no knowledge of her.

    • Syd Oram
      |

      Hi Gerald – hope this finds you in good health. Never let it be said that I am one who responds instantly! But better late than never perhaps. Clearly remember the fire in London Chambers. My parents took my brother and I into town to see the firefighting and to establish whether our Uncle’s studio had been affected. It sure had! But I think the main damage to the area in which his studio was situated resulted from firefighting. I would be interested to know whether the entire building was destroyed because I seem to recall that we went in again some days later to clear out the studio. This would not have been possible if the entire building had been destroyed. So I stand to be corrected. Talking of JIX, it was owned at one stage by Lionel van Onselen. He was very kind to impecunious youngsters who came in looking for various items for model aircraft, etc. He had three daughters and a son, David, who I think became one of the leading labour lawyers in Durban. As I remember sometimes I would
      see Lionel and his then very young son David on Lionel’s Vespa scooter heading off down to Rocket Hut to do some fishing. Great days.

  4. Mahjabeen Ebrahim
    | Reply

    Sir can anyone help me to recover my moms albums from the broadcasting department .During the 60s my late mom recorded her songs and it was aired on the mornings radio network, Her name was Rabia Ismail and known as FARIDA , Before her passing away in 2019 she asked me to enquire regarding her records .She was 16 yr or 17 at that time when she recorded she also mentioned the station manager I think she said Rathnam pillai also said while he did her recording he had a heart attack in the studio while recording and it was stopped probly he past away. I NEED ASSISTANCE ON HOW TO RECOVER HER RECORDS FROM OLD FORT ROAD BROADCASTING STUDIOS , AT THAT TIME I THINK IT WAS REELS NOT SURE. If there is any information you could provide me I would really apreciate that. THANK YOU

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