Broadcasting in Nigeria was the answer to the British quest for communication to her West African colonies. From Britain, radio broadcasting, which began with the Radio Distribution Service (RDS) in Nigeria spread like the harmattan wind to the other parts of the country. All the phases of the development of radio signaled the advancement of the medium.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. recount the history of broadcasting in Nigeria 
  2.  discuss NBS transformation into NBC, regional broadcasting
  3.  trace history of television broadcasting and the Nigeria Television Authority, among others. 


3.1 History of Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

The history of radio broadcasting in Nigeria dates back to the year 1932 when the British colonial administration in Lagos relayed the first British Empire service to Nigerians from Daventry, England. The establishment of radio broadcasting in Nigeria was sequel to the decision of the British government in London to link its West African colonies with the “mother country”, Britain.

Such a link, according to Ikime (1979) “was expected to serve the dual purpose of providing powerful propaganda machinery for the colonial master as well as providing a source of information about Britain and the wider world.” To achieve this, programmes from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) were relayed to other parts of the world under British Colonial administration.

The need for such a radio service had been felt for some time in Nigeria to the point that the colonial office in London resolved to take positive steps to actualise this need. To this end, the colonial secretary in London at the time decided to set up a committee to consider and recommend what steps could be taken to accelerate the provision of broadcasting service in the colonial empire, to coordinate such services with the work of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and to make them effective instrument for promoting both local and imperial interests (Ikime, 1979).

This committee recommended the introduction of radio broadcasting in Nigeria and other British non-settler colonies. It also envisaged that the programmes to be broadcast in the colonies would consist of mixture of selected BBC materials and “local (colonial) government programmes piped into homes through “wired wireless.”

The committee naturally noted the need to control such programmes to ensure that the people were not fed with objectionable and subversive information.

3.2 Broadcasting in Nigeria (1932-1950)

Broadcasting which was first introduced by colonial masters came to Nigeria in stages. To give a more lucid explanation and for better understanding of the journey of radio broadcasting in Nigeria, the history will be given in significant stages. The first stage began from 1932 when the first radio signal was received in Nigeria from England.

The Era of Radio Distribution Service or Wired Wireless
Radio broadcasting in Nigeria began in 1932 with the introduction of wired broadcasting popularly known as Radio Distribution Service, (RDS). Under this form of broadcasting, programmes were relayed or distributed using wires connected to loud speakers installed in the homes of subscribers who had paid a small subscription fee for this system and were also provided with a make shift and home apparatus (Uche,1989). The Lagos studio distributed programmes originating from the British Empire Service from Daventry, England as part of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) external service. The increasing popularity of the Radio Distribution Service in Nigeria made it to expand to other stations outside Lagos. This method of broadcasting known as “wired broadcasting” by “wired wireless” differed from the “wireless broadcasting” which is the transmission of programmes through radio waves (Electro-magnetic waves).

The need for radio stations in the colonial countries was necessitated by the desire of Britain to expand the services of the BBC, which coordinated the activities of radio broadcasting in the British empire. The British government had given approval for the establishment of broadcasting services in the colonial countries with the objective of making them a more effective instrument for promoting both local and imperial interests Ikime, 1979).
The circumstance in which broadcasting was introduced in Nigeria was not surprising. At the beginning, the broadcasting service consisted simply of re-transmission of BBC programmes on a relay system similar to the radio relay exchange system, which had been operating in Britain since the 1920s. Because of the nature of its services, it was termed Radio Distribution Service (RDS).

The RDS was introduced into Nigeria by the colonial office in London through the initiative of the engineers of the Posts and Telegraphs (P&T) Department, which, by then had established 13 stations in Nigeria, viz: Lagos, Kastina, Jos, Zaria, Sokoto, Ilorin, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Onitsha, Warri, Abeokuta and Ijebu-Ode. The P&T engineers had incidentally been involved in the monitoring of test transmissions of the BBC on short wave.

The wired broadcasting, which came to Nigeria in 1932, did not originate any programmes but simply relayed programmes from England using presenters on ground. Each subscriber was required to pay a monthly subscription fee of fifty pence after an initial payment of three months rental in advance.

By 1939, the RDS had less than 1000 subscribers and over 2000 licensed receivers. By 1944, distribution stations had been opened in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Enugu, Calabar and Port-Harcourt. Five years later (1949), a total of 9000 subscribers wired to 10 stations in the country had emerged. By that year, there were 4,562 licensed radio sets in Nigeria.

There was only a little change in the programme content of the RDS as most of its broadcasts were still part of the BBC external service. The colonial government’s information department produced only a few programmes, which were relayed through the service. The relay services began at 5.00am every morning and went on until 12.00 midnight with break at mid-morning for an hour or two. In 1936, the Plymouth committee set up to work out modalities for the introduction of a wireless broadcasting in Nigeria and empowered or mandated by the colonial office to come up with a plan which was endorsed to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

In 1945, the establishment of a wireless broadcasting in Nigeria received mention during the preparation of the 10-year development and welfare plan. Unfortunately, the colonial authorities did not implement this immediately, despite the fact that it was favourably considered. The colonial authorities had blamed this on what they termed “lack of resources.”

In 1948, the colonial office directed the BBC to undertake a survey of broadcasting in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia and to make recommendation for a fast establishment of effective broadcasting services. Two British engineers, L.W Turners of the BBC and F.A.W Bryon of the Telecommunications Department were appointed to carry out this assignment.

By this time, a short-wave transmitting station was already installed in Lagos to relay the Lagos RDS programme under the call sign, “Radio Nigeria”. The main function of the RDS as earlier mentioned was to relay BBC programmes while in the evenings, one hour was set aside for the broadcasting of local programmes featuring news, entertainment, and local government.

The two British engineers who were saddled with the task of working out the technical details for effective broadcasting in Nigeria were asked, among other things, to determine.

  1. Training of technical staff. 
  2. Using local language for broadcasting to the people and 
  3. Servicing limited revenue from carefully articulated use of sponsored programmes. 
In their report, they recommended the establishment and expansion of a wireless broadcasting service in Nigeria and other West African Countries under British Colonial administration.


What major difference can you identify between the RDS in England and the RDS in Nigeria between 1932 and 1950?

3.3 The Beginning of Effective Radio Broadcasting in Nigeria

The role played by radio during the Second World War also influenced the British government’s decision to set up broadcasting services that are effective in its colony. Up to the end of the 1940’s, the programme content of Radio Distribution service had very little change as most of its broadcasts were part of BBC external service.

However, as the need for effective radio broadcasting in Nigeria became very imperative as earlier mentioned, two British engineers from the BBC, Mr. F.A.W Byron and L.W Turners were charged with the task of working out the technical requirements for a more effective radio system in British West Africa. Their report provided the technical pattern for the broadcasting services that were established in Nigeria and other British West African colonies in the 1950s.

Another BBC top shot, Mr. Tom W. Chalmers was seconded to Lagos along with his counterpart; John W. Murray to prepare the ground for the setting up of a proper broadcasting service. NBS was born after the Nigerian (colonial) government decided to convert the major existing Rediffusion stations into effective broadcasting stations in accordance with the Turner-Byron’s report.
Mr. Chalmers, after completing his assignment in Nigeria was appointed the first director of broadcasting in Nigeria while his counterpart, Mr. Murray was appointed the first chief engineer. By 1952, all the existing Rediffussion stations in the country had formed the nucleus of the new NBS. The BBC assisted much by training staff for the NBS and provided the technical equipment needed for effective broadcasting.

3.4 Regional Broadcasting

The Action Group government in Western Nigeria capitalised on the NBC Ordinance or Act to translate its dream of owning a radio station into reality by setting up the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (WNBC). All the three regions of the country set up their own regional broadcasting stations. The Western regional government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which was under the control of Action Group, started it all. Chief Awolowo as the regional premier had strongly criticised the 1954 Macpherson Constitution introduced into the country. However, the last British Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson defended that constitution, using the NBS, and accusing Chief Awolowo of being unfaithful. 

When Awolowo requested for an equal airtime for the NBS to refute the Governor General’s accusation, he was not obliged. This led to increased campaign for converting the NBS to a corporation. However, its greatest effect was the establishment of regional broadcasting as evidence in the setting up of the WNBC, which had a twin product – The Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) in 1959 and the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) in 1960.

The WNBC had immediately gone into alliance with Overseas Rediffussion Limited which was to offer both radio and television services. Its television, WNTV already mentioned was commissioned on 31st October, 1959. It was the first television station in black Africa. The radio-broadcasting arm of the Western Nigerian Radio-Vision Service which controlled both television and radio broadcasting was commissioned in May, 1960.

The Eastern regional government of Dr. Michael Okpara simultaneously engaged the same overseas Rediffusion Company that set up the WNBS for the Western region to build for it the Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Service (ENBS) and Eastern Nigerian Television (ENTV) in Enugu. Both stations went on air on the day of Nigeria’s Independence, October 1, 1960. Shortly after, both the Eastern and Western governments paid off the foreign companies that were stakeholders in their broadcasting systems, and consequently assumed full control of their broadcasting system.

Broadcasting did not come to the Northern region until 1962 when the Northern regional government of Sir Ahmadu Bello engaged the services of Grand Group Limited which set up radio and television broadcasting systems, Radio Television Kaduna (RTVK) for the region. The RTVK operated under the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN). The broadcasting systems in the then three regions were fully autonomous and free of Federal Government control or interference. The situation was the same until the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967 when additional states were created by the wartime Military Head of State, Yakubu Gowon.

3.5 History of Television Broadcasting

The Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) had no initial plans to introduce television broadcasting into the country, and indeed, it never contemplated doing so. The reason was that its resources then could not justify the establishment of television in the country. It was the high rate of illiteracy at that time and the lack of suitable communication infrastructure, which made the authorities prefer radio broadcasting which offered a quick and reliable means of reaching the amorphous population of the country.

Television was seen in the early 1950s as a luxury the government could not afford. However, its development in other countries and the possibilities it offered gradually became attractive and irresistible.

In 1950, two years before Nigeria’s Independence, there were series of discussions in favour of television service. However, the regional governments cashed in on the constitutional provision, which made broadcasting a concurrent subject to commence plans to introduce commercial television broadcasting in their regions. The Western Region in December 1958 took the lead by first indicating its intention to establish four television stations and consequently applied for four frequencies in band one. The proposed stations were to be located in Ibadan, Ikeja, Abeokuta and Ijebu-Ode.

The programmes would originate from Ibadan with other three stations transmitting stations. However, before the frequencies were allocated to the Western regional government, the Federal Ministry of Communication got the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to submit its own frequency requirements first before the Western region since it was also by law to provide radio and television services for general reception within the country.

As the Federal Government had no immediate plans for television broadcasting, it decided to allocate two frequencies in band: one to the Western regional government with some limitations in power and height of the aerials (Ladle et al, 1979).

3.6 The Birth of WNTV (1959) 

With the background given, television broadcasting eventually began in Nigeria and, indeed, the whole Africa on October, 31, 1959 at Ibadan. It was the Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) established by the Western regional government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then Premier of Western Nigeria.

The history of television broadcasting in Nigeria shows that it followed the same pattern with that of radio broadcasting but the exception is in the area of the initiators. While it was the Federal Government that started the first indigenous radio broadcasting in the country, it was the regional government that first ventured into television broadcasting (Uche, 1989).

The WNTV with the call signal, “WNTV, First in Africa” was established by an Act of the Western Regional House of Assembly, which empowered the government of Chief Awolowo to forge ahead in the venture. The WNTV now (NTA, Ibadan) was run as an arm of the then Western Nigeria Government Broadcasting Corporation initially under the trade name, Western Nigerian Radio Vision Services Limited which worked in partnership with overseas Rediffusion Limited of the United Kingdom. Two years after its inception, the government of Western Nigerian bought over the shares of the foreign partners and became the sole proprietor. WNTV Ibadan was soon to become the richest commercial television in the whole federation, even though commercialisation was not the main reason for its establishment, but formal informal education.

The proponents of its establishment had argued in the Regional House of Assembly that television broadcasting was needed as an additional means of improving the regional school systems that were handicapped to the shortage of qualified teachers in certain subject areas. Their second argument was that television would act as a “surrogate” teacher in the under-staffed schools of the Western region.
Regardless of the fact, the WNTV grew to become a big commercial television, the potential ability of television to educational objectives at both primary and secondary school levels, as well as adult education became, and remained the overriding factor for its establishment.

3.7 Television Broadcasting in Other Parts of the Country

One year after, the WNTV was set up as Africa’s first visual communication outfit by the government of Eastern Nigeria headed by Dr. Michael Okpara. The premier followed the pace set by Ibadan and established Nigeria’s second television station in Enugu known as the

“East Nigerian Television (ENTV).” The station had the slogan, “ENTV, Second to None.”

ENTV began full transmission precisely on October 1, 1960, Nigeria,s Independent day, and like WNTV, it has foreign partners at the top management- the same overseas Rediffussion that built WNTV, Ibadan like WNTV and ENTV Enugu later took full control and management of the station when the foreign companies that were engaged initially to manage it were disengaged. The need for formal and informal education also was the overriding aim in the ENTV’s establishment, although it soon abandoned this objective and went into commercial television broadcasting.

ENTV was an arm of the Eastern Nigerian/Broadcasting Corporation (ENBC), which also operated ENBC Radio in Enugu following the establishment of WNTV in Ibadan (1959) and ENTV Enugu (1960).  The Northern regional government of Sir Ahmadu Bello on March 15, 1962 established the Radio Television Kaduna (RTVK) as the service arm of the Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria (BCNN). RTVK was owned jointly by the Northern Region and two British firms-Granada Television and Pye Limited, although the Northern Region was the major shareholder.                  

3.8 The Nigerian Television Service (NTS)

As mentioned earlier, the authorities in the Federal Government did not initially see the establishment of a television station as a priority. It was for this purpose that it conceded the allocation of two standard frequencies on Band One to the WBTV, Ibadan.

The same Federal Government was however embarrassed at the speed with which WNTV and ENTV were set up by the Western and Eastern regional governments. This not withstanding, some of its key officials were dissuading it from venturing into television broadcasting on the ground that television was a luxury and that it was more advantageous to maximise the development of radio.

After much political rancour and arguments, the Federal Executive Council finally approved the establishment of a Federal Government-owned television station to be located in Lagos. The project became realistic in April, 1962 with the take off of the Nigerian Television Service (NTS), Channel 10 at Victoria Island, Lagos. NTS was set up under agreement by management with an American network-owned NBC-International, which built the station. It was jointly owned by the

Federal Government and NBC International, which signed a five-year management contract with the provision that Nigerians would take over full management of NTS at the expiration of the contract during which the American company would also sell all its shares to the Federal Government. At the expiration of this agreement in 1962, the NTS became a full-fledged Nigerian station under the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). It was initially known as NBC-TV, Lagos and its services were confined to the then federal capital, Lagos, The NBC-Television was specifically designed to provide adequate services in education, social and economic development as well as transmit Nigerian and African cultures, tradition, politics, drama, literature and entertainment, of course these were the overriding aims of modern television broadcasting in Nigeria.

The advent of television brought in its wake a new dimension in broadcasting in Africa. For instance, within the first decade of its arrival, no fewer than 22 African countries established their own television stations. The journey started from WNTV, Ibadan (1959), and ENTV, Enugu (1960).
Internally, the creation of an additional region in 1963- the Mid West Region also led to the establishment of the fifth television station in the country, the Mid West Television (MTV) in Benin in 1973. Benue-Plateau Television (BPTV) followed in 1974 but with a difference. The station established by the then Benue-Plateau state government had emerged transmitting in colour. It is therefore a historical fact that BPTV, Jos was the first television station in Nigeria to transmit in colour.

3.9 The Era of Private Television Stations (1992-2004)

This fourth phase in the development of television broadcasting in Nigeria started with the 1992 promulgation of Decree No. 38, which authorised that National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) should issue licences for private radio and television broadcasting in Nigeria that saw the establishment of NTA stations in each of the 36 states of the federation. More will be said on this later in this unit.

Private television broadcasting started in Nigeria in 1993 and there are at present nearly a score of private television stations in different parts of the country. With Decree No. 38 of 1992, the National Broadcasting Commission, which was empowered to regulate all kinds of broadcasting in the country, removed the exclusive right to own and run a television station from the government. Among the private television stations that emerged earlier from 1993 were Minaj Systems Television

(MST) Obosi, Anambra State, African Independent Television (AIT) Lagos owned by Raymond Dokpesi, Channels Television, Clapper Board Television, Murhi International Television, Galaxy Television, DBN Television, Independent Television, and so on.

The government controls and regulates television broadcasting in Nigeria to ensure orderliness in the allocation of airwaves to the various interest groups in radio and television transmission. The NBC, which is the vehicle for this control, also has the right to withdraw licence from any of the private and public radio and television stations found guilty of flouting the law that brought it into existence.

The further phase in the history of television broadcasting in Nigeria also falls within the Fourth Republic, which took off on May 29, 1999 when General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) became Nigeria’s third civilian president. During this Fourth Republic, the Federal Government decided to open NTA stations in all the 36 states of the federation.

Consequently, many NTA stations were built all over the country. Most of all the states have two NTA stations each. The commissioning of the new stations began towards the end of 2002. One of the new NTA stations built in Owerri, the Imo State capital was commissioned by the then Minister of Aviation, Mrs Kema Chikwe in March 2003. Before then, many other stations had been commissioned in many other parts of the federation. In his valedictory address as the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Professor Jerry Gana noted that a total of 67 new NTA stations and 32 FRCN stations were established in different parts of Nigeria during Obasanjo’s first tenure of four years (NTA network news, 25th May 2003).


From the ongoing, it is pertinent to note that broadcasting in Nigeria was actually established for political purposes. The emergence of radio revolutionised information dissemination in Nigeria. Television broadcasting spread fast in Nigeria and other parts of Africa though the growth of broadcasting in Nigeria was slowed down by government intervention and ownership.


This unit has revealed so much about the history of radio broadcasting in Nigeria, phases in the history of broadcasting, the beginning of effective radio broadcasting, the NBC transformation into BBC, regional broadcasting, history of television broadcasting, television broadcasting

in other parts of the country, the Nigerian Television Service and the era of private televisions in Nigeria.


  1. Who established the first broadcasting service in Nigeria? 
  2. What year was the first radio station established in Nigeria? 
  3. Which region in Nigeria first established a television station? 
  4. What do you understand by Radio Rediffusion Service


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