Friday, June 17, 2011

A&V years

Some time between 1964 and 1967, National Panasonic(那申纽) set up a show room at North Bridge road opposite St. Andrew Church. Although the National showroom was squeezed in between Capitol Theatre and Bata, the neon brightened up the sky at night and made it a prominent landmark.

(North Bridge Road. c.1970)

My grandmother would bring me to National to watch free TV programmes when the night fell. Two TVs were showing Chinese news in black and white, and English news for the other two. The TVs were like bulky cabinets which housed the assembled picture tubes and electronics. Switching on the TVs in those days required a lot of patience. It usually took more than a minute or two before the sound and picture appeared. It also went against the theory of light travels faster than sound. We usually received sound a couple of seconds earlier than images.

Broadcasting in Singapore began on 5 May 1923 when Radio Singapura was established as the first local mass market radio service. 40 years later, on 15 February 1963, Singapore launched the first television service through Televisyen Singapura (TV Singapura) under Radio Television Singapore (RTS). The inauguration of regular television broadcast took place on 2 April 1963 with four hours of English programmes daily in Channel 5. Channel 8 was introduced on 23 November 1963 to broadcast programmes predominantly in Chinese.

(Typical "1st generation" bulky B&W TV found in Singapore)

RTS became part of the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) in 1980. SBC was fully privatized in 1994. Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS) took over the television broadcasting arm of SBC and Radio Corporation of Singapore (RCS) took over the radio broadcasting arm of SBC.

In 2001, the broadcasting groups were restructured again into Media Corporation of Singapore (MediaCorp).

The changes from RTS, SBC, TCS, RCS to MediaCorp were too complicated for ordinary folks like us. For the general mass, the concern was to receive valuable AV entertainments to brighten up our days.

(Classic from RTS: 王沙野峰,1970s)

(Classic from SBC: 红头巾,1986)

(Classic from TCS: Stepping out, 出路,1999)

(Classic from Mediacorp: The Little Nyonya,小娘惹,2009)

Despite the long history of radio broadcast in Singapore, I only owned the very first palm size portable AM radio in 1974 when I was a secondary one student. It took me tremendous effort to convince my dad to buy one at a price of less than $10. The reason I provided was that we did not have a TV at home to receive news on time. I felt extremely handicapped when communicating with teachers and schoolmates the next day. The most cost-effective option to bridge such gap would be a small radio. After weeks of consideration, dad finally decided to buy a transistor radio as a gift for my secondary education.
(Portable AM transistor radio)

In the same year, colour TV was brought in to Singapore market although Singapore broadcasting technology had yet to be fully colour-ready for quality signal transmission. In July, I went with my neighbour to People’s Park to watch a midnight live telecast world cup final between Germany and Netherland. People’s Park was flooded with crowd to watch the football match in colour. Netherland was the favourite as hot as their orange jersey. They even scored an early goal. But eventually Germany displayed the finest teamwork and greatest efficiency in alignment with their traditional black and white outfit and won the match 2:1.

From a portable radio, we advanced to own a portable black and white 16” Philips TV in 1977. Apart from paying more than $300 for the TV, we had to fork out another $100 to install an outdoor TV antenna outside the window. The reception remained bad with the antenna. We were told that where we lived was too close to Fort Canning. The TV signal was partially blocked by the 60m hill and partially affected by the huge telecom radar fitted on top of the hill. We could install the antenna at the roof top just like our neighbours but this would cost a few hundred dollars extra. We chose not to spend precious money.

The 16” B&W TV brought us many enjoyable nights. Of the four channels (5 and 8 are Singapore channels, 3 and 10 are Malaysia channels), we usually locked on to Hong Kong serials such as 三国演义、小李飞刀、陆小凤、变色龙 and 网中人. On Sunday afternoon, Channel 8 used to show Cantonese films acted by 谢贤、胡枫、刘嘉玲、陈宝珠and many other famous Hong Kong stars. On special occasions, we would switch to Channel 5 for Malaysia cup and British FA cup live telecast.

During my national service days, we accumulated enough to upgrade to a 20” Philips KT3300 colour TV at $600+. I remembered the TV model so well because soon after not long, I joined Philips Video Factory in Toa Payoh and learned that KT3300 was the most reliable model. It did not have the common hiccup problem (cracker sound that could cause heart attack as and when. It usually diminished after a few weeks) during run in period as faced by many other TVs produced at that era. KT3300 lasted for more than 10 years. However it could not outlast our very first B&W TV which was only given away 2 years ago at fully functional condition.

(Highly innovative advertisement)

Since then, we witnessed the rapid wave of technology changes over time. From CRT, it developed into flat square tube (FST), projection TV, HDTV, plasma, LCD, LED and 3D. In 2004, I visited Japan NTT Cyble Communications Laboratory Group (Yokosuka) and deeply impressed by the 4D technology which has yet to be commercialised today. We were like boarded a yacht riding in giant wave without having to put on 3D spectacles, and yet we experienced the 3D effect and the familiar kind of sea sickness! The demonstration was virtual but the feeling was exceptionally real.

(Outside NTT Cyble Communications Lab Yokosuka, 2004)

Since then, we also kissed goodbye to our very first portable radio. Step-by-step, we moved on to 2-in-1 radio cum cassette player, stereo radio, and HiFi with multiple modern features and surrounding sound effects.

(Portable stereo radio cum cassettee player and recorder)

Today, we are also able to access to radio broadcast through handphone and computer. We do not have to dial a fixed line or use a mobile phone to communicate with each other, not forgetting that we have to pay huge overseas fees to telecom companies. We can simply download Skype and enjoy free AV communication over internet. We watch MediaCorp programmes through starhub cable. We could also watch many TV programmes and live broadcasts through the net.

(Kissing goodbye to $110 TV license fee from 2011 onwards)

Despite all these technology changes, what amazed me most was that we still had to subscribe to the legacy of paying the compulsory radio and TV license fees. Over the years, no one in the government was bold enough to abandon such out-dated practice until the recent year 2011 budget announcement. Perhaps it was also staged as a gift for the general election?

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