15 August 2010
The first transmission signal for Egyptian television was sent out exactly at 7:00pm on 21 July 1960. The box that received the signal in Egyptian living rooms opened a whole new world of culture, music, drama, sports and news stories to an enthralled audience. Yet it created no small controversy; some perceived it as a scary monster that should be sent packing, while others looked on it as the goose that lay golden eggs. In every case, however, television became an indispensable part of the family and the entire Egyptian community.
Historically, attempts to bring TV to Egyptian audiences date back to 1947 when, according to a news item printed in the French language Cairo daily Le Progrès Egyptien, the Egyptian government announced it would allocate EGP200,000 to establish a television broadcasting studio. However, time proved that the declaration was made merely to exploit the political scene, and it never materialised.
In 1951 the French company for radio and television offered to film the celebrations for King Farouk’s second marriage to Nariman Sadeq, which included songs by major singers of the day and a fashion show. The French company erected a television transmission station in Cairo and placed receivers in several public places in the city. Journalists were invited to a special viewing, but it was only those members of the public who had access to places where the screens were placed who viewed the event.
The French company was hoping to promote itself in order to secure the contract for TV transmission inside Egypt, which appeared to be imminent. Ironically, however, Egyptian TV was only born some nine years later, and it was the American company RCA which won the tender to provide all the equipment needed for the transmission. A team of Egyptian technicians was sent to the company’s plants in the US for training. To promote the sale of receiver sets and increase the number of viewers, the cost of receivers was subsidised by the government until, a couple of years later, TV sets were manufactured in Egypt.
In the meantime, work was ongoing to establish a television building on the eastern bank of the Nile in Cairo. It was built in a 12-floor semi circlular shape topped by a 29-floor tower which carried on its roof antennae for sending and receiving signals. Twenty-three elevators served the visitors to the building, which housed studios, administration, and everything necessary for TV production. Until its official opening, then the broadcasters used the production studios at Studio Misr in Giza and transmission was conducted from a station on the top of Muqattam, east of Cairo.
It was thus that the first TV transmission came out on 21 July 1960, the eighth anniversary of the July Revolution. The five-hour broadcast began with a recitation of verses from the Qur’an, followed by the opening ceremony of the National Assembly, the Egyptian parliament; a speech by the then President Gamal Abdel-Nasser; the patriotic song Watani al-Akbar (My Great Homeland); a newscast; and ending with more verses from the Qur’an.
In administrative terms television began as part of the radio authority, but in 1966 it became a separate entity in its own right. The first TV drama, recorded on “Tape number 1”, was Master Shehata’s Device, a contemporary social drama that lasted for 16 minutes. The first instalment, Something in my Heart, directed by Nour al-Demerdash and written by the novelist Ihsan Abdel-Qodous, was shown on 13 February 1962.
The dollar project
Television commercials took off in August 1960 and cost a minimum of EGP10 and maximum of EGP60 per minute. The first international TV festival was held in Alexandria from 1 till 10 September 1962. Some 21 channels from 18 countries took part.
The following year, while representatives of 34 channels from 23 countries participated in the second international festival, the then Culture Minister Abdel-Qader Hatem announced the “dollar project” to save the Abu Simbel temples in Nubia from drowning under the waters of Lake Nasser, which would soon expand rapidly behind the Aswan High Dam then under construction. The project was a fundraising effort aimed at saving the ancient monuments of Nubia; the first prize in a draw was a two-week holiday in Egypt. The proceeds from this project reached a million US dollars.
Today Egyptian TV boasts 490 hours of daily transmission via some 20 channels.