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New book traces evolution of Swiss broadcasting

A 1936 radio receiver.

(SBC)

The first two volumes of a comprehensive history of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation have just been published, tracing its origins in the 1920s up to the introduction of television in 1958.

"Radio and Television in Switzerland" describes how radio began, with small stations run by local committees cooperating to exploit the then new technology. They were dependent on transmitters used for commercial aviation, so had to be based near airports.

Financing was a constant problem in those early days of sound broadcasting, and towards the end of the 1920s a national political debate was started on setting up a nationwide radio organisation.

A system based on that in the United States - financed by advertising - was considered, but after advice from a BBC executive, the Swiss decided to follow the British example, and opted for public service broadcasting.

Markus Drack, a retired senior member of the SBC staff, was commissioned to coordinate the written history, the first part of which runs to over 600 pages of text and photographs.

As a trained historian, he knew from the start that it would be a mammoth task, so he recruited a team of young historians from all of Switzerland's universities. They will also work on the next stage of the project - the SBC since 1958.

"The Swiss situation is more complicated than in other countries because we have four national languages, and over 12 studio archives," said Drack.

Similar complications faced the SBC's founders. But when it went on the air in 1931, Drack says the media scene suddenly became less parochial.

"Previously reliant on local newspapers, people in one cultural region learned about people and events in others, and also even in their own region."

by Richard Dawson


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