The Dawn of Overseas Broadcasting

Major developments in international broadcasting The Dawn of Overseas Broadcasting

1935[International Broadcasting Begins in Japan]-1940s

Major developments in international broadcasting  1935[International Broadcasting Begins in Japan in]-1940s


Major developments in international broadcasting 1950s-70s


Major developments in international broadcasting 1980s-90s


Major developments in international broadcasting 2000-2015

1925-1934Taisho 14-Showa 9

Broadcasting Begins
Crossing BordersShort Waves Rapidly Link the World

CHRONICLE  >  1925–1934  >  Broadcasting Begins Crossing Borders  | The Dawn of Overseas Broadcasting

Tables of major events

1876Meiji 9
  • Bell invents telephone.
  • 1877. Edison invents phono-graph.
  • 1895. Marconi succeeds in radio transmission test.
  • 1897. Braun invents Braun tube.
1906 Meiji 39
  • First human voice aired on radio.
  • 1914-1918. World War I
  • 1917. Russian Revolution
  • 1920. World’s 1st radio station (KDKA in U.S.) opens.
  • 1922. BBC’s predecessor begins radio broadcasting.
  • 1923. Great Kanto Earthquake
’25 Taisho 14
  • Tokyo Broadcasting Station goes on air with 1kW from Atagoyama in Tokyo. Reactions from many places including Alaska
’26Taisho 15
the first year of the Showa era
  • 1926. NHK set up.
  • Kemigawa Transmitting Station opened in Chiba.
  • 1928. 1st nationwide network airing
  • 1929. Great Depression
’30Showa 5
  • 10/1930. 1st on-air exchange by U.S., Britain & Japan on London Navy Treaty
  • 1931. Welcome for Lindbergh aired to U.S.
  • 12/1932. BBC begins Empire Service.
  • 1933. Japan leaves League of Nations.
  • 1934. Japan begins shortwave relays of domestic broadcasts to Taiwan, Manchuria & Korea.
  • 1934. Babe Ruth on air to U.S.



The first human voice on the radio was heard on Christmas Eve of 1906. It was transmitted from near Boston. Communications technology was making revolutionary advances. The global race to harness it was on. After World War I, in the 1920s, major powers began broadcasting to their colonies in Asia.

The Radio Age Has Arrived

8/19/29. A German Zeppelin landed. Japan tried to air the news to Germany.

8/19/29. A German Zeppelin landed. Japan tried to air the news to Germany.

In the 19th century, man discovered electricity and electric (radio) waves. In 1876, Bell invented the telephone, which turned the human voice into electricity and transmitted it. In 1887, Edison developed the phonograph. In 1895, Marconi invented wireless (radio) telegraphy.

On Christmas Eve of 1906, Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden transmitted a human voice on radio waves for the first time from a suburb of Boston.

The world learned the power of radio when the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank on the night of April 14, 1912. All the world knew about the tragedy the next morning. Before World War I (’14-’18), the race for radio technology heated up with Japan taking part.

Japan Begins Radio Broadcasting in 1925, Then, Letters from Alaska

7/12/25. Japan begins broadcasting from Atagoyama, a 26-m-high hill in Tokyo, with 1kW.

7/12/25. Japan begins broadcasting from Atagoyama, a 26-m-high hill in Tokyo, with 1kW.

On March 22, 1925, Japan began provisional radio broadcasting with 220-watts. Two years had passed since the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.

Three months later, on July 12, Tokyo Broadcasting Station began full operation with one kW. Then, a miracle occurred. In September, letters from listeners began arriving from Alaska, Australia and the U.S. West Coast. The broadcasting was meant to be domestic. But radio waves were unexpectedly traveling across the Pacific.

A Global Race for Shortwave Tech

Also in 1925, RAVAG, the predecessor of Austrian broadcasting corporation, ORF, relayed coverage of the Salzburger music festival to various places in Europe. In Japan, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Transportation began shortwave broadcasting tests. On August 19, 1929, when the German airship Zeppelin LZ127 landed in Kasumigaura, Japan aired an on-the-spot broadcast and news in German. It transmitted them as far as the Netherlands by way of Kota Bandung in Indonesia, using short-wave testing facilities at the ministry’s training center at Shiba and NHK’s station at Atagoyama both in Tokyo. From there, Japan had planned to transmit the broadcasts to Germany by cable. But this step failed to take place.

First On-Air International Exchange in 1930

’30. PM Hamaguchi speaking in the first international on-air exchange to celebrate the London Navy Treaty (Left: Chief Delegate Wakatsuki giving a speech in London).

’30. PM Hamaguchi speaking in the first international on-air exchange to celebrate the London Navy Treaty (Left: Chief Delegate Wakatsuki giving a speech in London).

After World War I (’14-’18), nations built up their militaries. To restrain this, five naval powers - the U.S., Britain, Japan, France and Italy - discussed limiting warships. In 1930, they signed the London Navy Treaty. At midnight of October 27, the leaders of Japan, the U.S. and Britain celebrated its ratification on radio. Prime Minister (PM) Hamaguchi in Tokyo, President Hoover in Washington and PM MacDonald in London spoke to the world on the air. From the studio in Atagoyama, Hamaguchi said, “An age of adventure was over when we looked at each other as enemies and claimed our interests. We are in the age of stability when we trust each other and work for mutual prosperity.”

The communications ministry’s Kemigawa Transmitting Station, which opened in 1926, did the important work of transmitting this speech to the United States. It built a beam antenna in two weeks, and sent radio waves to San Francisco by a transmitter with a crystal oscillator. The broadcast was a great success. It went from the U.S. to London, and even Berlin. This was the first on-air exchange across national borders.

Big Powers Begins Broadcasting to Asia

In 1928, the Netherlands’ PHOHI began regular shortwave broadcasting to Dutch East India (now Indonesia). The Soviet Union began airing from Moscow in German, French, English and other languages. In 1931, France set out to air Radio Colonial for its colonies (In 1938, it became Radio Mondiale). In 1932, the BBC began its Empire Service. Nazi Germany launched the predecessor of Deutsche Welle in 1933. And Italy started external broadcasting in 1934. (The History of Broadcasting in Japan in the 20th Century by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute)

Changing Times, Changing Names

When Japan began broadcasting abroad in the 1920s, the term used to describe the activity was “overseas broadcasting.” Before the end of World War II, “international broadcasting” was used for a specific kind of broadcasts --- those sent from Japan, received in other countries and then rebroadcast within those countries.

One example was the on-air exchange by the leaders of Japan, the U.S. and Britain on the London Naval Treaty. In the United States, it was received by NBC, which rebroadcast it around the country.

Broadcasting to Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria (all virtually under Japan’s rule and called gaichi), Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim was called “gaichi-contact broadcasting.” In ’41, it became “relays to East Asia,” and in ’42, “broadcasting to East Asia.” The 1950 Broadcast Law adopted “international broadcasting” to refer to overseas broadcasting in general.

The Dawn of Overseas BroadcastingHistoric Exchange of Japan, Britain and U.S. on the Air


Japan began radio broadcasting in 1925, and opened Kemigawa Transmitting Station in 1926. In 1930, the first on-air exchange of the U.S., Britain and Japan to celebrate the ratification of the London Navy Treaty was a success. Broadcasting gradually became influenced by war after the Manchurian Incident in 1931.

Welcome to Lindberg Aired to U.S., Then Manchurian Incident

8/31. Welcome to Lindbergh relayed to U.S. after his cross-Pacific flight.

8/31. Welcome to Lindbergh relayed to U.S. after his cross-Pacific flight.

11/34. Babe Ruth hits 13 homers in Japan. Right, Japanese pitcher Masao Date pitches well in the 11th game.

11/34. Babe Ruth hits 13 homers in Japan. Right, Japanese pitcher Masao Date pitches well in the 11th game.

On August 26, 1931, “An Evening to Welcome Col. Lindbergh” was aired to the U.S. He flew non-stop across the Pacific. Three weeks later, on September 18, 1931, the Manchurian Incident took place. The trigger was an explosion on a railway line owned by a Japanese railway firm at Liutiao Lake, in a plot by Japan’s Kanto Army.

In March 1932, the state of Manchukuo was declared. In October, the Lytton Commission of the League of Nations rejected Japan’s claim of self-defense and the legitimacy of Manchukuo. In a general assembly on February 24, 1933, the League of Nations adopted its report and upheld China’s sovereignty over Manchuria with 42 in favor and one, Japan, against. One abstained. On March 27, Japan left the league, facing an urgent need to plead its case abroad.

Japan Begins Regular Broadcasting to Taiwan, Manchuria and Korea

On June 1, 1934, Japan began regular shortwave relays of most of its domestic programs to Taiwan and Manchuria via Nazaki Transmitting Station in Ibaraki. (The broadcasts were also received by various stations in Korea.) This was first called Toa (meaning East-Asia) Relay Broadcasting. It was later renamed Toa Broadcasting. The programs were also heard in Southeast Asia and Pacific-Rim countries.

On November 10, 1934, an all-star U.S. baseball team visited Japan. Popular slugger Babe Ruth appeared on “Talking about Baseball in Japan” for a U.S. audience. Overseas broadcasting was expected not only to report news promptly but also to play a role in promoting goodwill across borders.

Kemigawa Transmitting Station Sends On-Air International Exchange
Former Kemigawa Transmitting  Station in Chiba Prefecture.

Former Kemigawa Transmitting Station in Chiba Prefecture.

It opened on April 1, 1926 in Chiba as the communications ministry’s radio transmitting station. In 1930, it transmitted the historic on-air exchange to mark the London Navy Treaty. It was Japan’s first broadcast of international exchange. The call sign was J1AA, indicating it was Japan’s first. During the Pacific War, the station functioned as a key communications point between Japan and the areas it occupied in the south. It was closed in 1979. But it is preserved as a symbol of the development of radio technology and a precious concrete structure built in the early 20th century. In 2007, “a society to know about Kemigawa Station” was formed.

*Designed by Tetsuro Yoshida, a forerunner of modernist architecture, who also designed the Tokyo Central Post Office.