Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) [1928- ]

Submitted by David on Thu, 04/19/2018 - 17:43

RTHK has its 90th birthday this year, and Annemarie Evans asked if we have any information about its history. (This includes RTHK, and its previous incarnations as Radio Hong Kong, and radio station ZBW.)

There isn't much here, so if any readers have memories / photos to share, please could you let us know in the comments below? Annemarie is specially keen to hear from previous broadcasters. 

Date organisation created
(Day is approximate.)
Photos of this organisation:
(see more)

Photos of this organisation:



A report from February 1928 describes a transmitter at the Lee Theatre:



Another wireless test transmission will be carried out by the Y.M.C.A. Entertainment Committee from 6.15 p.m. onwards today. Further improvements have recently been made to the transmitter, which is now installed at the Lee Theatre, and recent reports show that both the quality and strength of the transmissions are excellent.

To-night's programme will consist of gramophone records supplied by the Anderson Music Co., Ltd., for broadcasting purposes. Listeners are requested to send reports of reception to Mr. R. Sutherland, c/o, Messrs. Jardine, Matheson and Co.

Page 6, The Hong Kong Telegraph, 1928-02-03

Further tests along similar lines were reported on the 17th and 23rd of February.


It's not clear what connection, if any, they had with the government's plans for radio. Those plans were reported in June, but don't mention the YMCA or the Lee Theatre:





Following the announcement that Government broadcasting of test musical programmes is being curried out, a Telegraph representative who called on Mr. L. H. King, electrical engineer of the P.W.D., this morning, learned that a provisional scheme for the transmission of broadcast programmes through the medium of a Government station in Hongkong has been arranged.

Tests have been carried out for some time past, using the transmitter at the Observatory Station. This transmitter has now been transferred to a new site on Victoria Peak, and the resumption of daily weather reports will take place next week. Further tests will also take place nightly, the programmes consisting of electrically-reproduced gramophone records. 
These test transmissions will be extended until the end of this year, when a properly equipped studio will be available.
Educational Talks.
When the studio is ready, a programme consisting of music, lectures, educational and other matters of public interest will be inaugurated, and it is hoped that local radio organisations will assist in providing some of these items.
Apparatus is also being obtained to enable outside programmes to be relayed to the studio, such as religious services, organ recitals, and items of special-interest.
When atmospheric conditions are suitable, an endeavour will be made to relay programmes from London

Such a service can only be built up gradually, and progress will depend on the financial support obtained from the sale of licences and other fees. Any place of amusement fitted with the necessary microphone and amplifiers can, by arrangement, transmit approved items for advertisement purposes.

The station will use the call sign G.O.W. and will transmit on a wave length of 300 metres.

Listeners’ licences arc obtainable from the Postmaster General, the charge being $5 per annum. This charge may be increased later when the scheme is more developed.

Further details of programmes will be issued to the Press from time to time.

[The article continues on page 1 of The Hong Kong Telegraph, 1928-06-21]


At the end of the year, the "Communications" annual report for 1928 gives a different call sign, ZBW, for the new wireless station: 

4. Early in the year a new site for a wireless station, to be built and organised on the most up to date lines, was chosen at Victoria Peak. A considerable amount of progress has already been made in the erection of station buildings, masts etc., and two transmitters are already installed there, one working on 300 metres for broadcasting musical programmes, weather reports, news bulletins etc. and when not in use for broadcasting working on 850 metres for commercial services, and the other one working on 49 metres for communication with points in South China and French Indo-China. The station which is still in course of erection will, when completed, accommodate high power short wave long distance transmitters for commercial working with practically all parts of the world. The call signal of Victoria Peak Wireless Station is ZBW and its position is Lat. 22°16' 38".56 N., Long. 114°08' 31".95 


Hong Kong's first radio studio was finally ready in July 1929, and was located in the Post Office Building:





Hongkong now possesses, for the first time in its history, a fully-equipped broadcasting studio which makes possible the transmission of concerts, etc., without recourse to relaying from a concert hall or theatre.

The completion of the studio, which is located in the Post Office Building,  marks a further important step in the development of radio broadcasting in Hongkong, enabling better and more varied programmes to be transmitted via ZBW.

It follows closely on the lines of the studios of the British Broadcasting Company when wireless first took its grip on England. In those days the studios at even the main stations were comparatively small, for the programmes had not been developed and there was no need at that time for accommodation for huge orchestra, musical comedy companies, big choirs, etc. The present studios in the Home radio stations are huge rooms permitting almost any kind of entertainment to be broadcast.

[The article continues on page 1 of The Hong Kong Telegraph, 1929-07-30]

One of the older QSL (Q Code for Acknowledgement of Radio Reception) Cards issued by ZBW in 1934 can be viewed here Shows the main studio, transmitter building and technical facilities.

A search for ZBW on Gwulo shows how it bracketed the war in Hong Kong:

  • 1941, Aug: Harrison Forman's broadcast is heard in Hong Kong, but is really meant for the American audience, who will hear it on NBC. He talks about the contradictions, saying that on one hand civilian Hong Kong denied any chance of war ("an ostrich with its head buried in the sand") but then goes on to talk about all the prepartions for war that were being undertaken.
  • 1941, Dec 19: The last broadcast: "John Stericker is keeping Radio ZBW on the air. Today he introduces the Governor, Sir Mark Young, who tells the listeners that the defenders have now retired within their 'island fortress' and bids them 'hold fast'. ZBW will be off the air for the rest of the hostilities."
  • 1942, Apr 14: The ZBW staff enter Stanley Camp to begin their internment. This is around ten weeks later than the bulk of the internees.
  • 1942, Jun 27: Though there's no longer any radio, Eric Macnider's diary suggests the radio presenters in Stanley Camp were still keeping in practice: "ZBW concert {Wynne-Jones, Talbot, A.T. Lay, A. Hirst, J. Graham-Burrow, T.V.N. Fortescue + others}"
  • 1945, Aug 24: Barbara Anslow gets a clear signal that life will slowly be getting back to normal: "Heard radio in Clifton's room - gramophone records from Radio (ZBW) Hong Kong!"
  • 1945, Aug 28: Franklin Gimson broadcasts over the old Z.B.W. radio station on the top of the Gloucester Building: "As the chief representative of the British Government now resident in Hong Kong, I have already established an office in the City of Victoria, with the concurrence of the Japanese, and have in preparation the essential steps towards resuming the British administration on the arrival - which I trust will not be much longer deferred - of the British Forces to take the surrender of the Colony."