The town is often called "media city" since it is the principal centre for radio and television broadcasting in the Netherlands. Radio Netherlands, heard worldwide via shortwave radio since the 1920s, is based here. Hilversum is home to an extensive complex of audio and television studios belonging to the national broadcast production company NOB, as well as to the studios and offices of all the Dutch public broadcasting organizations and many commercial TV production companies too.
Hilversum has one library (it used to have three but two were closed due to financial problems), two swimming pools (Hellemond Sport and De Lieberg), a number of sporting halls and several shopping centres (such as Hilvertshof, Kerkelanden, Riebeeck-Galerij, Severijn, Seinhorst and Chatham). In the region the city centre is known as 'het dorp' which means 'the village'.
Farming, raising sheep and some wool manufacturing were the means of life for the Gooi in the Middle Ages. In March 1424, Hilversum received its most coveted official independent status. This made further growth in the town possible as permission from Naarden was no longer needed for new industrial development. More growth came in the 17th century with the general lift in the Dutch economy and the town got a canal connecting it indirectly to Amsterdam. In 1725 and 1766, big fires destroyed most of the town, levelling parts of the old townhouse and the church next to it. The town overcame this, and the textile industry continued to develop, among other ways by devising a way to weave cow's hair. In the 19th century a substantial textile and tapestry industry emerged, aided by a railway link to Amsterdam in 1874 and from that time on the town started growing really fast with rich commuters from Amsterdam moving in, building themselves large villas in the wooded surroundings and gradually starting to live in Hilversum permanently.
Development came at the usual price, though, with poverty, underdeveloped children, child labour and alcoholism rampant. These were remedied at a somewhat slower pace than in larger cities with more socialist input, as Hilversum was and still is predominantly Roman Catholic.
Hilversum became a media city when the Nederlandse Seintoestellen Fabriek (NSF) company established a professional transmitter and radio factory there in the early 1920s, growing into the largest of its kind in the Netherlands, and in 1948 being taken over by Philips. By then the textile industry had started its decline, and only one factory, Veneta, managed to continue into the 1960s, when it had to close too. Another major industry, the chemicals factory IFF, also closed by the end of the 1960s. In the meantime, almost all Dutch radio broadcasting organisations (in the 1950s followed by television) settled their headquarters in Hilversum and proved to be the continuing growth factor for years to come. In 1964, the inhabitant count reached a record high - over 103,000 people were living there. At the moment it fluctuates around 84,000, caused by the fact that the average family nowadays consists of fewer people, so fewer people live in each house, and Hilversum is virtually unable to expand because the surrounding lands have been sold to the Gooisch Natuurreservaat by city architect W.M. Dudok. Through connections in the television world, Hilversum has attracted a lot of crime, even international, and has to cope with mounting drugs-related problems in a community with more than average unemployment and not much positive outlook for the local youth, who also encounter an ongoing housing shortage.
Added to that, Hilversum was one of the first towns to have a local party of the populist movement called 'Leefbaar' ('liveable'). Founded by former social-democrat party strongman Jan Nagel, it was initially held at bay for alderman positions. In 2001 Nagel from 'Leefbaar Hilversum' teamed up with 'Leefbaar Utrecht' leaders to found a national 'Leefbaar Nederland' party. By strange coincidence, in 2002, the most vocal and controversial Dutch 'Leefbaar Rotterdam' politician Pim Fortuyn was shot and killed by an animal rights activist at Hilversum Media Park, after having just finished a radio interview. This however happened after a break between Fortuyn and Nagel during a Leefbaar Nederland board meeting in Hilversum on Fortuyn's anti-Islamic viewpoints. In 2006 Leefbaar Hilversum, after a term with Leefbaar aldermen, took a substantive set back in votes.