Radio wars were waged continually across the twentieth century, with spikes of activity during the Second World War, the Cold War, and during anti-colonial struggles—including in Algeria, as documented by the anti-colonial intellectual, Franz Fanon.
It is to be expected that during the 1940s and 1950s radio propagandists would target Hong Kong people. Many of these people were escapees from China, and the Chinese Communist Party and Guomindang continued to struggle over their hearts and minds. Radio wars over the airwaves in Hong Kong were, however, surprisingly muted and, arguably, inconsequential. Moreover, despite having become an important hub for regional and international wireless electronic communications since the 1920s, Hong Kong did not become a node for radio wars.
Using local, regional and imperial scales of analysis, the paper explores radio soundscapes, that is, their forms and socio-political effects. It focuses on a period when the local state-run broadcaster, Radio Hong Kong, was being encouraged to create new forms of ‘progressive’ colonial propaganda and rebroadcast imperial messages. It investigates intra-empire competition between official Radio Hong Kong news and entertainment and the news and entertainment of a commercial wired station run by Broadcast Relay Services, a British media multinational operating in a range of British colonies, including in South East Asia. The analysis also evaluates how, dissatisfied by local radio broadcasting programming, local business elites mobilised for the establishment of a commercial wireless radio station that would cater for the everyday mass tastes of ordinary Chinese listeners.
Building on the author’s previous work on the economic history of radio broadcasting in Hong Kong, and showcasing insights from a forthcoming co-written book, The Wireless World: Global Histories of International Broadcasting (Oxford University Press), the paper also seeks to place radio in Hong Kong into global and comparative perspectives. Since the 1930s radio had been the technology of choice for propagandists, including infamously in Nazi Germany, but the paper argues that it was conventional modes of communication that provided propagandists with the capacity to alter Hong Kong hearts and minds during the early Cold War.
About the Speaker:
Dr. David Clayton
Department of History
University of York, UK