Radio broadcasting in Nigeria began in 1933 with the establishment of the Empire Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Lagos. It was established as a Radio Distribution System (RDS) under the department of Post and Telegraph in Lagos. As a radio distribution service, this means that the station only relayed foreign service programmes of the BBC to listeners in Nigeria through loud speakers mounted in various places in town. There was no local content at all. You just listened to whatever programme the BBC had packaged for its foreign audiences. Nigeria was a British colony at that time.
In 1935, the Radio Distribution System was changed to Radio Diffusion System which meant that there were now licensed receivers in the country which rebroadcast the foreign programmes but with some local announcements and information emanating from Nigeria. By 1939, licensed receivers had increased to about 2000. The radio service was in Lagos at that time but in 1939, Ibadan station was established, followed by Kano station in 1949.
The National Broadcasting Service (NBS) was established in 1951, following the recommendation of the Turner/Byron committee which was set up to look into how to develop broadcasting in Nigeria with a view to recommending how to set up radio services with a national identity. The Turner/Byron report recommended among other things, that the existing re-diffusion stations should be converted into fully operational radio stations. The Firms of F.A.W. Byron and L.W. Turner, were consulted by the colonial government to advise on the feasibility of establishing a West African Broadcasting Station. The firms advised the colonial government against establishing a sub-regional station because of the multiplicity of local languages and cultures in the region. It then recommended the establishment of broadcasting stations in national and regional capitals of each country. The committee’s recommendation on Nigeria led to the establishment of the NBS.
The NBS replaced the RDS which existed before then. The NBS created autonomous stations in Enugu, and Kaduna, to add to the stations in Lagos and Ibadan. It further created provincial centers in Jos, Maiduguri, Sokoto, Kano and Ilorin.
In 1954, the McPherson Constitution sanctioned the establishment of regional broadcasting in Nigeria. This was done based on the efforts of nationalists who wanted the regions to operate their own broadcast stations, while the federal government also controlled the federal stations. What happened was that in 1953, an event took place in the Western Region parliament which began the process of establishment of regional broadcasting stations. It was reported that the leader of the former Action Group, Obafemi Awolowo, had criticized the newly introduced McPherson Constitution. The British Governor-General at that time, Sir John McPherson was not happy with that criticism so he went to the NBS and made a broadcast in defense of the Constitution. During the broadcast he referred to Awolowo’s criticisms of the constitution and accused him of being unfaithful. Awolowo thought it wise to defend himself so he demanded equal time from the NBS to react to comments of the Governor-General. The NBS denied him the right of reply and this led to agitation for the incorporation of the NBS as public property and also for the country to have autonomous (regional) broadcasting systems independent of the Federal Government control. This was then recognized in the constitution and cleared the way for the establishment of regional radio and television stations.
The McPherson constitution permitted the regions to establish their own broadcasting stations, and broadcasting moved to the concurrent list (that is, it was to be operated by both the federal and regional governments). As a result, the Western Nigeria Government established a radio station in May, 1960, after it had established the first television station in Africa, Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) in 1959. Both the radio and television stations of the Western region were established under the auspices of Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) which was launched in 1959.
Other regions followed in the development of broadcasting stations. In 1960, the Eastern Nigeria government established Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Service (ENBS) which had radio and television stations. In 1962, Northern Nigeria government established Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria (BCNN) which had radio and television stations.
The Federal parliament decided to reorganize NBS into Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in 1957. Nigeria’s independence in 1960 helped local broadcasting to develop further. In 1961, the Voice of Nigeria (VON) was established as the external service of the then Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation which later became the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in 1978. This gave a boost to production of local content in Nigeria’s radio broadcasting. As more states were created, more radio stations were established because each state wanted to establish a radio station. With the division of Nigeria into 19 states in 1973, more radio stations were established by these states.
In 1976, the federal government led by General Olusegun Obasanjo, took over all radio and television stations in the country and centrally financed and controlled them. So radio broadcasting went back to the exclusive list, as the federal government took over the control of both regional and state stations, and controlled them centrally. This continued until 1979 when broadcasting went back to the concurrent list with the arrival of a civilian government, as states were again permitted to operate radio and television stations.
Radio broadcasting in Nigeria remained the exclusive domain of government owned stations until 1992 when the broadcasting industry was deregulated in the country by the Military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida. The industry was deregulated with Decree 38 of 1992, later amended as Act of National Assembly, Act 55 of 1999. The law is now referred to as National Broadcasting Commissions Laws of the Federation 2004, CAP 11. The NBC was set up to regulate and control the broadcasting industry in Nigeria. It gave licenses to private individuals and organizations to operate both radio and television stations.
The deregulation of broadcasting in 1992 changed the face of radio landscape in Nigeria as many privately owned stations came into the scene to make it more sophisticated and competitive with top quality programmes and presentation styles captivating the audiences. The first private radio station in Nigeria was Ray Power FM which was launched in 1994. The station brought a revolution into the radio industry in Nigeria with top quality programming, 24-hour broadcast service and unique presentation style which was used by its programme anchors. Today, there are several FM stations at every nook and cranny of the country. Internet radio stations have also established presence in the industry. Nigeria’s radio industry today is among the most sophisticated and vibrant in Africa.