100 FIRSTS THAT SHAPED BANGKOK: Turn on the television

News

On October 29, 1950, Field Marshal Por Phibunsongkhram sent a letter to the director-general of the Public Relations Department, Lt-General Sujarit Jarusareni, ordering the establishment of a television station to benefit the public, particularly in terms of education.

However, the field marshal-premier’s real motive behind the establishment of a TV station has been the cause for some speculation. Academic Sinith Sithirak in her book “Kamnoed Toratat Thai” (The Origin of Thai Television) suggested that he actually saw the new broadcasting medium as a tool for promoting his nationalist ideologies.

In that year there were already 40 newspapers, both daily and weekly, and six radio stations – all carefully controlled by the government. You could buy a radio for about Bt600, but few could afford one with the average yearly income only Bt1,150. In fact, among a population of 17,442,689, there were just 27,482 radios in use.

A Bangkok merchant eventually delivered a TV set to Government House on July 14, 1952, as the field marshal was celebrating his birthday. His interest was further piqued, and he asked General Pao Sriyanond, director-general of the Police Department, to help him build his television station.

The fact that this ambitious plan was a little premature, considering the scarcity of TV sets, wasn’t lost on the newspapers, which carried numerous articles pointing out that Thailand could ill afford the technology, estimated at a cost of Bt24 million. Added to this was the fact that hardly anyone would be able to afford a TV set to receive the broadcasts.

The field marshal was unfazed, and the Thai Television Company was founded on September 24 of 1952, with the government controlling the Public Relations Department.

While it was preparing for its first broadcasts, an outfit called the Tor Tor Tor Radio Station debuted on air on January 31, 1954, laying the groundwork for the coming television age. News and commentary were interspersed with soap operas and music from around the world – including Thai songs, especially from the popular band Suntaraporn. And with other stations providing only dry news from officialdom, Tor Tor Tor was a hit from the start.

Thailand’s first television station was finally launched on June 24, 1955. The images may have been jumpy and black and white, but viewers were delighted, and the popularity of this form of entertainment instantly took hold, with sets installed in local coffee shops so that everyone could watch the broadcasts.

By 1970, millions were taking TV sets home on instalment plans and Thai television enjoyed a boom time that didn’t fade until colour sets arrived on the market later in the same decade. Soon after, satellites started beaming down programmes from around the world.

Nowadays the government may still exercise control over broadcast schedules on Thai TV, but it lets the private sector make good commercial use of the airtime.

Nithinand Yorsaengrat

Editor’s note:

As a result of the tsunami disaster, the series ‘100 Firsts That Shaped Bangkok’ was temporarily suspended to give space for our extensive coverage of the catastrophe and its aftermath. The series is being resumed now and will continue on schedule until its completion.

Published on January 24, 2005

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