With its 70th anniversary fast approaching, Melissa Heckers looks at the impact of Cyprus broadcasting corporation
On October 4, 1953, Cypriots embraced its first radio broadcast, an initiative decided by the British colonial administration. Fast forward 70 years, and that initial broadcast has matured into what we now know as CyBC radio.
“The history of CyBC was a part of the history of Cyprus and for certain things, it is only through CyBC that the history of Cyprus can be known,” said Polyvios Nikolaou, once editor in chief at the organisation and it’s poignant to realise how much truth there is in that.
By 1958-59, there were some 85,000 radios on the island which indicated how powerful the medium was.
“You had around 90,000 Cypriots who listened to the radio and if you times that by four because it’s not just one person listening, it means that you had a number of approximately 300,000 people who listened to radio,” said CyBC’s general manager, Thanasis Tsokkos.
“So beyond the information and propaganda that you initially found on air, which was the initial aim of creating a radio station, there was also a multicultural bringing together of Cypriots happening as well as a rise in culture.”
Honouring the cooperation’s trajectory over the years, CyBC is launching a publication next week, which pays tribute to its radio station, through the printing of 30 audio interviews of leading personas in the field.
Entitled 70 years of Cyprus Radio 1953-2023 – Thirty interviews with Protagonists, Tsokkos, says the publication reflects the cooperation’s growth.
“Chronologically, we included interviews from CyBC executives from the late 50s, the pioneers let’s say, the first announcers, technicians, engineers and people who are nowadays emblematic figures,” said Tsokkos.
Meticulously laid out in a 275 page edition, the interviews are conveyed in a question-answer format which bring to light the personalities behind the hand picked interviews, but more interestingly perhaps, the times and events which they witnessed.
“There are references to the Cyprus problem for example, the relationships between Greek and Turkish Cypriots at the time, how things were during the radio’s the first years of operation, the intercommunal riots,” said Tsokkos.
The testimonials include how CyBC worked to cope with the crisis of 74, the situation at the station, the coup and occupation of CyBC, as well as the period after July 20, the efforts made by executives to save CyBC as a communication means with the wider public.
“At the time there wasn’t any other means of communications that could communicate the state policy with the public. Although there are no photos in the book itself, the words speak for themselves, while the selection of interviews include women and men, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, executives working in various posts and programmes.
What also shines through, however, is CyBC’s important contribution to the culture of the island.
“Basically with the start of radio in 53, it manages to come in as a communication means of the state and breaks through the privacy of people who live in a microcosm of their home or village and instantly places them in the public sphere,” said Tsokkos. “Whatever the Paphian hears is now heard by Limassolians, people living in Famagusta and so on… and you have a communication means which up to that a point may have been one-sided, but at the same time, it began to build a relationship with audiences and eventually attempted to build an infrastructure for a cultural mechanism.”
When the station’s started, there was no content available for the radio. “There were no theatres, there wasn’t a state orchestra, there were no events, so Andreas Christoforides (general manager of CYBC at the time) said, ‘we will make a theatre, we will make a state orchestra and have content beyond what was coming in through foreign channels’.”
It also created linguistic homogeneity. “While back in the days, people would speak in the Cypriot dialect, Paphians would speak in Paphian and people in Kyrenia would speak ‘Keryniotika’, the first contact with Greek is made… it established a common network of communication between Cypriots, beyond the dialect,” explained Tsokkos. “At the same time, the same opening takes place for Turkish Cypriots, who also embrace it.”
The other important aspect was CyBC’s role in educating the public. “In a period when there wasn’t any university on the island, CyBC established programmes with subject matters that educated Cypriots and the academic community of the time.”
It established the open university, or the university through the radio, where audiences could hear high quality lectures with subject matters which are really interesting even today, from psychology, to medical issues which had more of a didactic character.
In a nutshell therefore, Cyprus’ first radio station served a number of purposes; the homogeneity of language, the propaganda of the British – as long as it was under their control – to highlight culture, to create programmes that would educate Cypriots and place them in a different reality through music, games, sketches.
“We reached a point where radio programmes were aired in schools as part of the curriculum in order to educate students,” added Tsokkos.
And Tsokkos said the future of radio remains bright.
“Radio continues to be a very powerful means of communication, there are still many people that listen to the radio for the very reason why radio was initially established: because it was easy to use, you can take it wherever you want,” he said.
“Plus you have the magic of radio, you have brilliant radio presenters, you have people that can’t live without the radio because they like the voices, they like that magic, it’s just very good company.”