Launch of Singapore's First Television Station

Launch of Singapore’s First Television Station

Television watching – everyone’s favourite perennial pastime – has evolved alongside technological advancements and the increased access to multiple channels and content providers. The system has transformed from an analog to a digital one, with options expanding from free-to-air terrestrial to pay-on-demand television channels and programmes. Today there is Internet television with popular online streaming services such as Netflix. Gone are days where families and neighbours gather in a community centre or crowd around a television set at home to watch television.

Patrons and passersby watching television at a coffeeshop.

Patrons and passersby watching television at a coffeeshop.

Television consumption has become increasingly mobile and personalised.

Television consumption has become increasingly mobile and personalised.

No longer bound to a broadcast schedule and medium, one can watch a television programme whenever and wherever they want. It is common to see square-eyed commuters or people on the street glued to the latest episodes of their favourite series on their mobile devices. This is a stark contrast to the early 1960s, when Singapore’s first television station, Television Singapura, was launched. Broadcast only lasted for an hour daily.

Television Singapura was launched on 15 February 1963 as the first television station in Singapore. The decision to introduce television in Singapore was first mooted in the mid-1950s. Cathay Organisation, Shaw Brothers and Singapore Rediffusion, three commercial operators with existing stakes in the film and radio industries, submitted proposals to run this television service. However, the government decided that it was in the public’s interest for a public corporation to operate a medium of mass reach.

It was only in May 1960 that former Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam confirmed that a television station would be set up in Singapore. His cabinet paper proposed two plans with different time periods and expenses in setting up a television station. The cabinet opted for the longer-term route of three years that would result in a more extensive television service.

A television set showing the Television Singapura logo during its launch on 15 February 1963 at the Victoria Memorial Hall. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

A television set showing the Television Singapura logo during its launch on 15 February 1963 at the Victoria Memorial Hall. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Thousands of people had gathered for the launch of Television Singapura outside the Victoria Memorial Hall. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Thousands of people had gathered for the launch of Television Singapura outside the Victoria Memorial Hall. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Former Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam was the first face to appear on Singapore television. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Former Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam was the first face to appear on Singapore television. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Television Singapura piloted at 6pm on 15 February 1963 with a broadcast that lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes. After the image of the State Flag and the playing of the National Anthem, Rajaratnam became the first face to greet everyone on Singapore television. He announced that “tonight might well mark the start of a social and culture revolution in our lives.”

300 invited guests attended the launch event at the Victoria Memorial Hall, while members of the public squeezed into the 52 community centres and homes that owned television sets (which numbered at 2,400 homes then). Thousands had also gathered at Princess Elizabeth Walk and outside Victoria Memorial Hall in anticipation.

The first programme televised following Rajaratnam’s announcement was a 15-minute Television Singapura documentary called TV Looks at Singapore. The station screened two cartoons, a news report, a comedy show and a local variety show right after. When Television Singapura was launched in 1963, only 1 in 60 owned a television set.

On 2 April 1963, Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak officially inaugurated the regular service of Television Singapura. Broadcast was extended from one hour to four hours every night. By the end of the year, there were two channels: Channel 5 and Channel 8. Channel 5 broadcasted English and Malay programming, and Channel 8 broadcasted Chinese and Tamil programming.

A Setron television set on display at the Made in Singapore Products preview at the National Library in 2014. Established by a group of local businessmen, Setron was the first company in Singapore to produce television sets. The first black and white sets were produced from its Leng Kee Road factory in May 1965.

A Setron television set on display at the Made in Singapore Products preview at the National Library in 2014. Established by a group of local businessmen, Setron was the first company in Singapore to produce television sets. The first black and white sets were produced from its Leng Kee Road factory in May 1965.

Victoria Memorial Hall was the site of launch for Singapore’s first television station, Television Singapura.

Victoria Memorial Hall (today’s Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall) was the launch site for Singapore’s first television station, Television Singapura.

The television landscape is fast-changing in Singapore. MediaCorp continues to monopolise the free-to-air terrestrial market and has introduced its online streaming service Toggle to keep to pace with other pay television operators such as Singtel TV and StarHub TV and popular online streaming television services.

Television in Singapore has broadcasted, among many historical milestones, Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and her independence in 1965, the Hotel New World disaster in 1986 and the SARS outbreak in 2003. Television has come a long way in Singapore and has acted as a bearer of news and current affairs – to an extent.

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