Modern Asian Studies

Research Article

‘The Modern Magic Carpet’: Wireless radio in interwar colonial Singapore

CHUA AI LINa1

a1 Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore, 11 Arts Link, Singapore 117570 Email: hiscal@nus.edu.sg

Abstract

Wireless radio broadcasting in colonial Singapore began with amateur organizations in the early 1920s, followed by commercial ventures and, finally, the establishment of a monopoly state broadcasting station. Listeners followed local broadcasting as well as international short wave radio. Both participants in and the content of radio reflected the multiracial, cosmopolitan make-up of a colonial port city which functioned through the lingua franca of English. The manner in which early broadcasting developed in Singapore sheds light on the creation of different imagined communities and the development of civil society. There was an increasing presence of non-Europeans, women, and youth, many of whom were drawn by the mystique of this new technology. Wireless radio also brought about a transformation in the public soundscape. These themes contribute to our understanding of the global history of radio as well as the nature of colonial societies within the British empire.