SRG SSR is the Swiss public broadcasting organisation, founded in 1931. Headquartered in Bern, SRG SSR is a non-profit organisation, funded mainly through radio and television licence fees (70%) and making the remaining income from advertising and sponsorship.
Switzerland’s system of direct democracy and the fact that the country has four official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh) mean that the structure of Swiss public service broadcasting is rather complicated. The actual holders of the broadcasting licences that enable SRG SSR to operate are four regional associations: SRG idée suisse Deutschschweiz (SRG.D), SSR idée suisse Romande (RTSR), Società cooperativa per la radiotelevisione nella Svizzera italiana (CORSI), and SRG SSR idée suisse Svizra Rumantscha (SRG.R). These four associations, which are to a large part run by the listeners and viewers in each region, maintain SRG SSR as a joint central production and broadcasting company.
SRG SSR idée suisse logo used until 2010
SRG SSR is the business name of the association, while its official name is Schweizerische Radio- und Fernsehgesellschaft (SRG, formerly “Schweizerische Rundspruchgesellschaft”) in German, Société suisse de radiodiffusion et télévision (SSR, formerly “Société suisse de radiodiffusion”) in French, Società svizzera di radiotelevisione (SSR, formerly “Società svizzera di radiodiffusione”) in Italian, and Societad svizra da radio e televisiun (SSR, formerly “Societad svizra da radio”) in Romansh. The names altogether are shortened to SRG SSR. In English, the organisation is known as the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation; it often uses the abbreviation “SBC”. The moniker “idée suisse” (French: Swiss idea), which refers to the public service mission of the organisation, was adopted in 1999 and was removed from the name in May 2011.
Europe’s third public radio station started broadcasting from Lausanne in 1922, from the start based on a licence fee system. 980 licences were bought in 1923. Within a few years radio cooperatives working along the same principles had started throughout the country. In 1930 it was decided that radio was an important public service that should not be allowed to become a money maker for private interests, and that it needed to be structured on a federal basis. In 1931 SRG-SSR was founded (see original names above), as a co-ordination organisation for the regional broadcast associations, and received the only licence to broadcast from the Federal Council. The same year it was agreed that all news reports in the new medium had to be provided by the Swiss news agency SDA, a decision that remained unchanged until 1971.
The first national transmitters began operating in 1931: Radio Sottens for French, Radio Beromünster for German, and 1933 (Radio Monte Ceneri for Italian. In 1938 Romansh was recognised as the country’s fourth national language, and the Zürich studios began broadcasting programmes in Romansh in between those in German. During the Second World War, SRG-SSR filled an important function as a neutral, unbiased supplier of news, reaching far outside Switzerland’s borders through shortwave transmissions. Radio Beromünster became known as the only free German-language radio station in Europe.
In 1950 SRG-SSR was one of 23 founding broadcasting organisations of the European Broadcasting Union. In 1953 television test transmissions started in Zürich – one hour per evening, five days a week – immediately attracting 920 early TV licence buyers. In 1958 regular TV transmissions started in German (from Zürich) and French (from Geneva). For the Italian-speaking region, the programmes were re-transmitted with Italian subtitles. 50,000 TV licences were bought the first year.
In 1960 the company was renamed Schweizerische Radio- und Fernsehgesellschaft (and the equivalent names in the other languages – see above) to reflect the addition of television services. In 1964 the Federal Council allowed television advertising, as a means of keeping licence fees down. In 1966 the three main languages were each given a second radio channel, in order to counter the effects of new commercial broadcasters outside the country, whose strong signals were reaching the Swiss population. In the same year a dedicated Romansh broadcasting unit was created in Chur, using some of the new German-language second channel’s broadcasting time. In 1968 colour television was introduced, and the number of licence fee payers passed one million.
In 1978 the radio channels started stereo transmissions. In 1983 the Federal Council relaxed the Swiss media legislation to permit local private and commercial radio channels. SRG-SSR countered this threat by launching its third set of channels, aimed at a younger audience. In 1991 SRG-SSR underwent a wide-ranging restructuring. The enterprise organised itself as a private industry association, structured as a holding company under Swiss company law. The current name, SRG SSR idée suisse, was introduced. In 1992 Radio Rumantsch was separated from the German-language radio broadcaster, that had housed the Romansh broadcasting activities since 1938, and in 1994 the Romansh TV activities were moved over as well and the Romansh company renamed itself Radio e Televisiun Rumantscha.