10 Facts About the History of Radio in Jamaica

Radio is a vital part of Jamaican life. Since the first official broadcast on Radio Jamaica on Monday, July 10, 1950, Jamaican radio has become an increasingly essential avenue for mass education, entertainment and information on a variety of issues relevant to Jamaican life. From daily talk shows to newscasts, radio is by far the most popular medium for news and views in Jamaica. In fact, Jamaica has been at the cutting edge of developments in radio in the Caribbean region and Commonwealth since the technology’s very inception. Through RJR, Jamaica was the first country in the British Commonwealth to broadcast regular scheduled programmes on the FM band.

Here are 10 facts you probably did not know about radio’s history in Jamaica:

  1. Jamaica has a population of 2.8 million people. Of that number, over 2 million are said to be radio listeners.
  2. In 1939, the first broadcast was transmitted via a shortwave “ham” operated unit from the Seaview Avenue home of John Grinan. The call sign was VP5PZ and offered wartime news and information for a half-hour once a week.
  3. VP5PZ became ZQI when, in 1940, Grinan negotiated with the colonial government to set up a station that with greater frequency and variety of broadcasts. It did not get more than 100,000 listeners because of the relatively high cost of radio sets.
  4. On July 9, 1950, commercial radio broadcasting began in Jamaica when the government granted a licence to the Jamaica Broadcasting Company (JBC), a subsidiary of the British Rediffusion Group.
  5. What we call RJR today started off as Radio Jamaica and Rediffusion Network.
  6. In the early 1950s RJR distributed some 200 “little brown radio boxes” (rediffusion boxes) to communal locations (police stations, schools, shops) so that more Jamaicans would have access to radio information and programming.
  7. By 1954 over 57,000 Rediffusion sets were in use and over 285,000 Jamaicans were confirmed radio listeners (a major increase from the 75,000 in 1947).
  8. 1951 ushered in wire radio service – meaning that transmissions were sent from a central station. Users had to be a rediffusion subscriber, paying three-pence a day.
  9. Popular Jamaican radio personalities like Louise Bennett and Ranny Willians, Alma Mock Yen, Radcliffe Butler and Roy Reid got exposure that helped them launch their careers from appearances on Radio Jamaica and Rediffusion Network.
  10. When radio programming started, it was formatted after the BBC, but that was eventually Jamaicanised and evolved until the variety we have today emerged.

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