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Television Singapura was Singapore's first television station and was launched on 15 February 1963. Two months later on 2 April 1963, Television Singapura started regular transmission. On 9 August 1965, the station captured the nation's greatest event; the announcement of Singapore's separation from Malaysia and the declaration of Singapore's independence by Singapore's first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Corporatisation of the station started in 1980 and led to several changes in name and organisational structure. Television Singapura has evolved from a government broadcaster into a commercial broadcasting station known today as Mediacorp TV.
The idea to start television broadcasting in Singapore was debated as early as 1956 by the Legislative Assembly. The decision to introduce television though did not come about until 1961 when it was decided that Television Singapura should run on two or more channels, broadcasting programmes in the four official languages. Television Singapura should also be incorporated into Radio Singapura which was then broadcasting its service under the Ministry of Culture.
Inauguration and expansion
Television Singapura was launched as a pilot monochrome service on 15 February 1963. On that day, Singaporeans gathered at the Victoria Memorial Hall and witnessed (at 5: 30 pm sharp) the first pictures and sounds from Television Singapura bursting onto 17 television sets that were placed at the Hall before 500 VIPs. Thousands others captured the first one hour and 45 minutes of the broadcast along Princess Elizabeth Walk and at 52 community centres. 2,400 families who owned sets also enjoyed the ground-breaking moments from the comfort of their homes. Among the guests at the Victoria Memorial Hall were the Minister of Culture, Mr S. Rajaratnam, and the Minister of Finance, Dr Goh Kweng Swee.
From Channel 5 of Television Singapura, the first programme to be aired was a documentary, TV Looks At Singapore. It was followed by Heckle and Jeckle, Dicky Duck, News in English and then Hancock's Half- Hour. Rampaian Malaysia (Malaysian Mixture), a variety show that was later to become a staple on TV, also came on.
On 2 April 1963, another milestone in television happened as the nation's first President, Encik Yusof bin Ishak, appeared on Television Singapura to launch the stations regular transmission service. Regular broadcasts consisted of four hours of programmes on only Channel 5. A second channel, Channel 8, was introduced in November 1963 and it showed predominantly Chinese language programmes and less of Tamil ones.
In order not to rely on subsidies alone, the station started to sell airtime for advertising and find sponsors for its programmes. The first advertisements were aired on 1 January 1964.
When Singapore separated from Malaysia on 9 August 1965 and declared independent on the same day, Television Singapura captured this historic moment. As a result of television, the nation became involved in its birth and was moved by the emotions of the event, especially when Prime Minister cried over his anguish at the separation. The station, which had joined Radio Singapura and been renamed Radio Television Singapura (RTS), expanded rapidly. Foundations for a new Television Centre was earlier laid out in November 1964, and on 23 May 1966, Channel 8 begun transmission from the new centre, and Channel 5 on 14 June 1966. A new $3.6 million building at Caldecott Hill that housed the Television Centre was officially opened on 26 August 1966.
In May 1974, RTS began colour TV test transmissions with two daily half-hour slots but public response was lukewarm. That changed however when the station announced that it would broadcast as its first live colour telecast the World Cup Soccer Finals on 7 July 1974 via satellite.
Corporatisation and privatisation
As early as 1969, there was already considerable study on the feasibility of converting RTS into a statutory board. The main advantages of such a move were greater operational efficiency, financial autonomy and convenience for expansion. By the mid '70s, RTS' expansion was constrained by budget, facilities and manpower.
The Bill to corporatise RTS was passed in Parliament on 11 December 1979. In the parliament session, it was reinforced that the government would retain control over the policy of the Corporation in the public interest so that the air time for programmes for the minorities would not be reduced. On 1 February 1980, the Department of Broadcasting (RTS), Ministry of Culture, became the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), a statutory board.
In the years when RTS grew, there were concerns over its role in producing local programmes (which were and still are seen as promoting national aspirations) vis-à-vis its reliance on imported programmes. By early 1977, on average, locally produced programmes constituted 66% of total hours of TV programmes per week as against 34% for imported programmes. In terms of number, in an average week, there were 84 imported programmes compared to 67 local ones. One of the barriers of producing more local programmes was the lack of local talents and the opportunities for local talents to perform. At that time, TV artistes were only employed by the Television Service. These concerns were successfully addressed by RTS' successor, SBC. After two years in existence, SBC produced its first local drama for Channel 8.
On 1 Oct 1994, SBC was dissolved to make way for Singapore International Media (SIM), a fully privatised entity that led to Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS) taking over the television broadcasting role of SBC. In 2001, TCS became Mediacorp TV under a newly restructured group, Media Corporation of Singapore (MediaCorp Singapore).
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The information in this article is valid as at 2005 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic .