Stamp Talk by the Philatelist
Not many of us were aware that 13 February was World Radio Day. The date was proclaimed by UNESCO to celebrate the day UN Radio was launched on 13 February 1946 – 67 years ago. That was just a year after the United Nations was established – in 1945 after World War II – replacing the League of Nations.
“This is the United Nations calling the peoples of the world,” was how the broadcasts from UN Radio began in 1946 from makeshift studios and offices at the United Nations Headquarters in Lake Success, New York. That was its first call sign.
The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) issued six stamps to mark World Radio day this year. The issue had a special interactive feature where anyone using an iPhone, smartphone or tablet could download and launch the UN Radio, view the stamps and learn more about UN Radio through a link.
The stamps were printed in black and white, reminiscing the early days. For instance, one stamp had film star Audrey Hepburn checking her script before recording a UNICEF program titled ‘My most unforgettable child’ in 1953. Another featured an information officer with the UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea making a tape recording for broadcast over UN Radio, in 1953.
A microphone and a typical set of scripts dating back to 1960, a booth overlooking a Council chamber during the sessions of the General Assembly in 1954, a young Congolese boy listening to a radio, and a transmission tower in the Telecommunications Training Centre in Seoul are featured on the other stamps.
UN Radio is the voice of the United Nations, and its purpose is to promote the “... universal ideals of the United Nations, including peace, respect for human rights, gender equality, tolerance, economic and social development and the upholding of international law.”
Amidst the rise of new technologies over the years, radio remains the most accessible platform and is recognised as a – if not the – powerful communication tool. It is a low cost medium to reach the widest possible audience throughout the world.
The UN acknowledges that radio is particularly suited to reach remote communities and people who may be underprivileged, disabled or without other technological resources. Another vital fact is that radio continues to play a strong and specific role in emergency communication and disaster relief.
Since its establishment, UN Radio has used its multilingual programs to tell the story of the international communities’ efforts to meet the challenges of building a better world. The programs are carried by media around the globe. Incidentally, the UN membership has now reached 191 countries.
Going back to the early days, the International Broadcasting Division of the United States Department of State had begun transmitting the entire proceedings of the Security Council and the United Nations Economic and Social Council on shortwave to the rest of the world.
News bulletins and feature programs were broadcast in the UN’s then five official languages - Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish – for nine to 12 hours each day. Arabic was added in 1974.
Due to lack of facilities, UN Radio initially made arrangements with leading broadcasting organisations to relay its programs to different regions. Beginning in 1960, UN Radio started transmitting its own programs via short-wave transmissions. By 1984, UN Radio was producing a total of 2,000 hours of programs a year in 25 languages and serving 167 countries and territories.
Shortwave broadcasts were temporarily suspended in 1986 due to the sudden rise of transmission charges. UN Radio then sent out its programs on cassette tapes. As many as 205,000 cassettes were distributed per year by 1997. Since then, the number of cassettes delivered has decreased dramatically since electronic delivery has become possible in many areas of the world.
Today, UN Radio distributes its content and materials to hundreds of stations around the world via the internet and other electronic media.