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Hong Kong culture

Exhibition on Hong Kong public service broadcasting at Heritage Museum in Sha Tin tells story of RTHK

  • Acting city leader pays tribute to RTHK’s contribution to local life
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 9:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 8:20am

It is hard now to imagine a time when listening to the radio was a common pastime for the people of Hong Kong. So it is an eye-opening experience to visit an exhibition looking back at 90 years of public service broadcasting in the city.

Exhibits there include a Marconi microphone used for radio broadcasting in the 1930s, a vacuum-tube radio set used in the 1950s, and a real radio control room with broadcasting equipment.

The exhibition, at the Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, takes visitors back to an era when radio was the centrepiece of the living room and a tool that connected people, much like the internet does today.

There are six themed galleries featuring the various productions of the city’s only public service broadcaster, the government radio station Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).

“RTHK has accompanied the development of Hong Kong and its people. We have become part of the city’s collective memory,” said Ng Man-yee, the head of RTHK’s corporate communications and standards unit.

The radio station had a humble start in 1928. It had a staff of six: two announcers, three technicians, and an office boy. It only broadcast for seven hours a day, across two sessions.

RTHK’s original call name was GOW. It changed to ZBW in February 1929 and moved to the old general post office on Pedder Street, Central. ZBW closed down during the Japanese occupation, but returned to air in August 1945.

In 1948, the station was given the official title Radio Hong Kong. In 1969, it moved to its present home, Broadcasting House, and soon added “Television” to its name with the launch of the TV unit.

RTHK now has a staff of about 800, running seven radio stations, transmitted on AM or FM signal and broadcast in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. It also runs three TV channels, and launched its website in 1994.

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At Tuesday’s opening ceremony for the exhibition, veteran Hong Kong pop singer Alan Tam Wing-lun said: “The exhibition reminds our younger people of a major part of Hong Kong’s past. The preservation of history is the responsibility of every generation.

“Looking at it this way, RTHK is 90 years young.”

The ceremony was also a reunion for generations of broadcasters who worked on air or behind the scenes at the station, including former RTHK head Franklin Wong Wah-kay, veteran radio talk show host Wong Kwai-lam and former DJ and radio drama actor Simon Ngai Ping-long.

And any celebration of RTHK would not be complete without the DJ Ray Cordeiro, better known as “Uncle Ray” and holder of the world record for the longest career on air.

Cordeiro lent some gramophone records from his own collection for display in the exhibition, including the autographed records of Patti Page and Quincy Jones.

Officiating at the opening ceremony, acting chief executive Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah – standing in during Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s trip to Shanghai – said RTHK had made a lot of high-quality programmes for Hongkongers over the years.

“Listening to RTHK programmes has become part of our daily life,” she said.

As a public broadcaster, RTHK has a high degree of editorial independence although, administratively, it remains a government department.

RTHK had the chance to break from the government in the 1980s under a corporatisation plan. But Beijing opposed it, and staff voiced concerns about their pension arrangements. The plan was eventually shelved.

None of the major controversies surrounding the government station were mentioned in the exhibition.

The exhibition, “90 Years of Public Service Broadcasting of Hong Kong”, will run from Wednesday until February 25 next year. It opens from 10am to 6pm on weekdays, and until 7pm on weekends and public holidays. The Heritage Museum closes on Tuesdays.