Friday, June 7, 2019

New Book-ON AIR

INTRODUCTION to new book –ON AIR Untold Stories from Caldecott Hill
(The book is dedicated to Mrs Wong-Lee Siok Tin former Director of RTS and General Manager of the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation)

The story of  Singapore Broadcasting on Caldecott Hill is a nostalgic story recollected by the memories of former staff. Most have retired and over seventy years old. They pen 51 chapters to share with others their broadcasting experience and serve as a record of Singapore’s media heritage.
It all began in 1936, on a hill in the north eastern part of Singapore. The hill is called Caldecott Hill, after Sir  Andrew Caldecott Governor a British colonial administrator. Except for a few roads John Road, Olive Road, Andrew Road, named after his family, there were good class bungalows surrounded by a large vegetation.  Among this at its highest point, almost at the centre, the British built the first broadcasting station - radio studios and transmitter . The transmitter mast was about 50m  high and together with the height of the hill  enabled  radio broadcast to the residents of Singapore. The station was managed by a private company called the British Malayan Broadcasting Company.  When the station expanded it had to rent space from Loke Wan Tho at Cathay Building where additional studios were built.
And this station grew up to Radio and TV Singapore a department of the Ministry of Culture , to Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, Singapore International Media and now MediaCorp after 82 years of trials and tribulations. For a brief period in its history 1942 -1945 Caldecott Hill and Cathay Building were occupied by the Japanese when the war broke out.
Besides news and current affairs, the broadcasting business is also show business with lots of creativity and innovations. Over the years talent sprouted, ideas flourished and actions and more actions were the order of the day. For a period after the war in the 2001-2005, the dominant broadcaster faced the onslaught of a TV competition from a newspaper group. But undaunted it won the battle and later remained the only dominant broadcaster to this day.
It is said the success on the Hill is due to a mighty dragon that resides on the hill. The hill has metal and wood elements, This combination helped the success of the lone broadcaster. The dragon resided there since the founding of our nation. It chose the location because of the abundance of the elements especially water at the nearby McRitchie Reservoir. Each day it would spread out and flew to the water catchment and partook of the water. Satisfied and contented, it brought success and achievements to station there.
The stories we are about to unfold are stories from the hearts and minds of those who toiled and sweat for years to bring news and entertainment to the homes. They are stories never told before.
The chapters that followed are divided into eight groups namely Early Years (1-4), The Bosses (5-8),  Radio Making Waves (9-14), News and Current Affairs Making You Think (15-24), TV Entertainment Shows Making You Laugh and Cry (25 -31), New Frontiers (32-39),  Behind the Camera (40 -49) and Profiles & Glimpses (50 -51).
We kicked off the book with a beautiful foreword by George Yeo former Minister of Information and the Arts. His message encapsulated the interesting period of broadcasting on the Hill. His writing is full of quotable quotes and I recommend you read it first before reading other parts of the book. This is one quote I like: “The history of national broadcasting in Singapore is inseparable from the history of independent Singapore” Those working on the Hill are proud and glad they played a role in nation-building and independent Singapore.
Chapter 1 by  the late Joseph Seah tells  a gripping story of how he worked under the Japanese during the war. They were all over Caldecott Hill operating the radio stations including the Japanese radio, Radio Syonan Hoso Kyoku. He tells the story of the attack on the Hill in 1942 and how they quickly repaired the transmitters destroyed by the withdrawing British soldiers. And three years later they had the satisfaction of taking the guns from the Japanese soldiers.
We captured the early years in Chapter 2 with the recollections of Vernon Palmer. He recounted his experience in recording the Japanese Surrender signing ceremony at City Hall. He talked about the studios at Cathay Building where Lord Mount Batten and his Generals had their offices there. Known as Mr Broadcaster Vernon had an enriching career on the Hill.
The exciting story of what happened in the TV production gallery on the day where Lee Kuan Yew cried in the midst of a news conference in 1965 on the separation with Malaysia is told by Vernon Martinus in Chapter 3. He went on to talk about his production of the first National Day Parade held at the Padang.
This is followed by chapter 4, the recollections of Maureen Liew. A colourful character, Maureen remembers her production of childrens’ concerts at the Istana and National Day Rallies. She talks about experience running the radio and TV departments – how she managed the mega shows outdoor and the many popular studio programmes that came under her charge. She conceptualized the first night entertainment show of the National Day Parade in 1986. To this day, the night segment of the Parade is still popular and  has kept homes entertained.
It is not often that top civil servants tell their stories. Chapter 6 by Cheng Tong Fatt and Chapter 7 Moses Lee; both were top bosses of the station on the Hill and they tell the interesting stories how they transform the broadcasting station to what it is today. From Government held Department of Broadcasting under the Ministry of Culture to Corporatisation to SBC and Privatisation to Television Corporation of Singapore, Radio and Television Twelve(under holding company Singapore International Media)
Chapter 5 is a vivid description by Raymon T H Huang on Mrs Wong-Lee Siok Tin starting from the Japanese Occupation, his work with Film Censorship Board and Singapore Tourist Promotion Board to his exciting experience of working in top management positions on the Hill .
Chapter 8 From Banker to Broadcaster is the story of Ernest Wong – how he managed MediaCorp as CEO and the competition with SPH.
The section on Radio Making Waves is told by Lucy Leong, Belinda Yeo, Horace and S P Panneerselvam. Don’t miss the chapter on Excuse me, you want to be a DJ and the story of the RTS Orchestra.
Chapter  15 and 16 are about the News Scene – on the work life of two popular newsmen, Ee Boon Lee and Lee Kim Tian. If you wish to know about life working as a news journalist , read Kim Tian ‘s account of his adventure in the news department. Chapter 17 is story by Mushahid Ali of his exciting journalist adventure whilst covering the Malaysian Parliament when Singapore was in Malaysia.
Chapter 15 -24 are stories from Current Affairs producers Chan Heng Wing, Loong May Ling, Zainab Rahim, Joan Chee, Amy Chua , Kenneth Liang and Choo Lian Liang. The stories how they produced current affairs documentaries which undoubtly helped to build Singapore during the stormy years.
Life as a TV producer is penned by Suhaimi Jais  in Chapter 29, I came I saw I shot, followed by George Favacho recollections of his job as sports commentator and TV Producer. Although he had a short stay on the Hill, Larry Lai recounted his memories of shows such as Talentime and the Rado Show together with on-air personalities Brian Richmond and Tan Hock Lye.
The story of Chinese drama is also being told by Chua Swan in Chapter 27 followed by Daisy Irani Subaiah  talking about her career with SBC and her role as Daisy in the popular TV situation comedy all Under One Roof. A broadcast engineer Lau Hing Tung has his say in chapter 31 on how he buildup the facilities for Singapore Television Twelve under CEO Sandra Buenaventura.
In chapter 28, Kenneth Liang narrated his interesting recollections of how he returned to Caldecott Hil after a stint with EDB and developed the English Entertainment programmes of Channel 5.
There is never a complacent moment on the Hill. To meet new challenges, the station had to be innovative and on the move to capture attention of the people and also to earn revenue. Chapter 32-39 capture the new frontier of broadcasting. Going international, the success story of Channel NewsAsia is told vividly by Woon Tai Ho. PN Balji tells his gripping story of the painful competition with SPH. Theatre of the Mind, an adventure into movie making is well narrated by Daniel Yun. Read the ups and downs of his experience in Chapter 37.  Michael Chiang gave an interesting account of the inside stories of 8 days – a ever popular publication of radio and TV listing and write ups. (Past copies of 8 days are available at the National Central Library).
The painful and exciting tale of the competition with MediaCorp is narrated in Chapter 35 by Anthony Chia the battle fought between MediaCorp and SPH –owned Mediaworks. These stories are penned with much thought and research as well as materials from the competitors.
The planning and implementation of a new TV Complex at One Stars Avenue is written in detail by Yeo Kim Pow engineer-in-charge of the mega project to move from Caldecott Hill to Fusion Polis, the location of  the headquarters of IMDA (Chapter 39)
The back room boys i.e. the engineers, editors , camermen and many more also write their short memoirs on how they support the producers . Ujagar Singh, Sim Choon Hin, Mun Chor Seng and Francis Chowduries narrated their stories on the technical aspects of broadcasting. And Mun Chor Seng recalled his work experience in the Camera and Sound department. Mun painstakingly took milestone photographs during the early period of broadcasting which proved to be useful in the making of this book. More than 300 photos in thi book are attributed to him. In Chapter 43 readers will learn of how Radio pioneers digital, as told by Assad Sameer. Mock Pak Lum CEO of Technologies gave an account of disruptions to technologies on the Hill with the dawn of the Internet. He tells how the broadcasting station cope with the onslaught of the New Media. Mr Param Singh writes rewarding experience both in the Administrative and in SBC, recounting how he helped to corporatize RTS to SBC. The importance of Training is highlighted by Dr Paul Seow who had an illustrious carrer in the Ministry of Education and later as Head of Training on the Hill. What the audience can watch or not is told by David Christie who spent much of his career in TV Censorhip on the Hill. Chief Engineer Philip Tay Joo Thong tells his story in the long chapter 49.
To make the book complete as possible, the last two chapters Chapter 50 and 51 is an attempt to reveal some of the iconic and well-known personalities on the Hill. It is not exhaustive and they are included as long as some old timers recognized their contributions and hard work making broadcasting to the people a successful story from Caldecott Hill.
This book contains more than 200 photographs, mostly from the collection of Mun Chor Seng. He has
archived more than 10,000 pictures of early broadcasting and Singapore from the 50s. If there is any interest in photographs in his collections, please email him at
Enjoy reading this book. If you have any views please email to

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