Witness History

by BBC World Service
History as told by the people who were there.

The first black music station in Europe

In 1981, Rita Marley’s brother Leroy Anderson aka Lepke launched the Dread Broadcasting Corporation (DBC), Europe’s first dedicated black music station. Frustrated by the lack of airtime for reggae music in the UK, Lepke setup a mast in his back garden and began to broadcast to a small area of West London every Sunday afternoon. DBC soon expanded to cover all styles of black music and with its unmistakable logo featuring a dread with headphones and a spliff became a …

The assassination of Burundian President Melchior Ndadaye

In July 1993, Melchior Ndadaye became Burundi’s first democratically elected president. He was also the first president to come from the country’s Hutu majority. For decades up to that point, Burundi had been ruled by a small group of individuals drawn from the among the Tutsi minority. President Ndadaye had come to power promising a new vision for Burundi. But within months he was murdered by soldiers. Rob Walker hears from Jean-Marie Ngendahayo who was Minister of Communications in President …

Tutankhamun’s tomb

On the 16th of February 1923, the tomb of ancient Egypt’s most famous pharaoh Tutankhamun was opened for the first time. Mike Gallagher takes us back to the Valley of the Kings and the discovery of the ancient Egyptian ruler king’s resting place in 1922 by the English archaeologist Howard Carter. This programme was first broadcast in 2010.

Columbia space shuttle disaster

The US space shuttle Columbia broke up on its way back to Earth on 1 February 2003. It had been in use since 1981. Iain Mackness spoke to Admiral Hal Gehman who was given the job of finding out what went wrong. The admiral’s report led to the ending of the American space shuttle programme in 2011. A Made in Manchester production for BBC World Service first broadcast in 2019. (Photo: Space shuttle Columbia. Credit: Getty Images)

Czechoslovakia's 'Velvet Divorce'

30 years ago this month, Czechoslovakia split into the separate states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was a rare instance of a state separating without a single life being lost. Thanks to this it became known as the ‘Velvet Divorce’. Rather than putting it to a vote, the country and its assets were divided behind closed doors by the Czech and Slovak leaders, Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar, who became the Prime Ministers of their newly independent states. …

Palestine Post bombing

Mordechai Chertoff was the foreign editor on the Palestine Post (precursor to the Jerusalem Post) when it was bombed on 1 February 1948. He tells Lucy Williamson how, despite the attack, the newspaper still came out the next morning. This programme was first broadcast in 2010. (Photo: Palestine Post bombing. Credit: Getty Images)

Invention of the MP3

Professor Karlheinz Brandenburg from Germany spent more than a decade developing MP3 technology, which was developed to convert audio into digital form. He had been working on it since 1982. It compressed music into a file size that made it easier to transmit, leading to the first MP3 players and fast music sharing. Laura Jones has been speaking to Professor Brandenburg. (Photo: Karlheinz Brandenburg wearing headphones, with his team. Credit: Fraunhofer IIC)

Albert Pierrepoint: Britain's executioner

Using archive recordings, Alex Last tells the story of Britain's most famous hangman. During the 1940s and 1950s, Albert Pierrepoint was responsible for the execution of some of Britain's most notorious murderers and was sent to Germany to hang more than 200 Nazi war criminals after World War Two. He said he was always determined to treat prisoners with dignity and respect whatever their crime. This programme was first broadcast in 2015. (Photo: Albert Pierrepoint. Credit: Getty Images)

Smolensk air disaster

In 2010, a plane carrying the Polish president, Lech Kaczyński, crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk, killing everyone on board. It was one of the most tragic moments in modern Polish history. The country’s minister of foreign affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski was one of the first people to hear about it. He’s been sharing his memories of the disaster with Matt Pintus. (Photo: Smolensk air crash wreckage. Credit: Getty Images)

Japanese death row guard

Yoshikuni Noguchi spent time as a guard in one of the prisons in Japan that would carry out the death penalty, and witnessed the hanging of a condemned prisoner in 1971, before going on to become a lawyer. He describes in detail what he saw. Yoshikuni began speaking out to cast light on the reality of what death row inmates go through, as Japan continues to resist the calls to ban the practice, which is no longer in use in …