Mohammed Iqbal Khan Asadi painfully recreates Radio Pakistan Karachi’s glorious past
Radio Pakistan Karachi Ki Pachas Sala Ilmi Aur Adabi Khidmaat
By Dr.Mohammed Iqbal Khan Asadi
One of the most momentous inventions to have impacted society in the 20th century was the radio. Its introduction was made controversial by the predictable response of the conservative section of the population. As always, by calling it an instrument of vulgarity and obscenity not fit to be made part of the household culture, it was vociferously opposed.
Its introduction was far too important to be stalled despite all these objections and very soon it became part of the social and political landscape of India.
The conservative section of the population came to terms with the new “monster” after it lost the battle to resist it. Radio sets were installed in one place, which was central to the community or the extended family and gradually as radio sets increased it was made part of the mardana, the section of the house where only men were entertained, socialised, ate and drank.
It was much later, that radio sets were permitted into the zannana and that too strictly for the purpose of listening women specific programmes. Entertainment, music and plays were strictly prohibited and many a family feud originated from varying positions held by members of the extended family on role of radio.
All new inventions especially if they happen to have a more direct social role are greeted with disdain and suspicion but, very soon, sensing their overpowering impact these very sections use it for the propagation of their ideas, views and values. The same happened to the radio as well and it was not long before it was able to make a room for itself and the listeners adjusted their moral, political and social stances accordingly. In the end very few stood firmly on not letting the radio become part of the family and household culture.
The musicians too were very wary of this new invention for they had to limit themselves to a time frame and also modulate their voice in accordance with the requirements of broadcasting techniques. They had to adjust to the peculiarities of the microphone, but still they took to radio with lesser reservation than they took to recording and marketing of discs especially the 78 rpm records.
The early stages that radio went through and its successful setting up have been dealt with in some detail by Iqbal Khan Asadi who had been associated with the Radio particularly Karachi Radio in various capacities and spent the better part of his life there. Though the main thrust of the book is about the contribution of the Karachi Station, the early battles and struggles as always make a fascinating read. Very few people including Z A Bokhari have written in detail about those early days and all the impediments that had to be overcome.
All India Radio was formally set up on January 1, 1936, at Delhi though the first Radio Club in the subcontinent was set up in Madras in 1924, followed by Calcutta, Bombay and Lahore at the YMCA in 1928. Realising its significance in 1926, the government allowed Indian Broadcasting Company to set up the radio network in the private sector. Radio stations were established in Calcutta and Bombay in 1927, but the formalisation of Indian State Broadcasting Service under the government in 1932 proved to be the real booster.
Relying on the experience of BBC set up in 1922 and fully functional by 1927 under the Director Generalship of Sir John Reith, one Eric Dunstan was sent to India to set up a viable radio network in 1927, but he did not succeed and was replaced by Lionel Fielden in 1935 who proved to be the founding father of radio in India.
In the territories that became Pakistan, the radio station in Peshawar was the first to be commissioned. When Sahibzada Qayyum visited London for the Round Table Conference, he lobbied successfully with Marconi for the setting up of a radio station for his province. Marconi gifted a transmitter and thirty radio sets and it started broadcasting on March 6, 1935. The Delhi station was inaugurated on January 1, 1936, Lahore station on December 16, 1937, and Dacca in September 1939.
The station in Karachi was inaugurated on August 14, 1948. It was principally through the efforts of S.K. Haider who was a radio engineer and owned a radio shop on Frere Road. He wanted to set up a radio station in Karachi and lobbied with Chaggla, adviser T.N Adnani, Chief Minister Ayub Khoro and Governor Hidayatullah. After seeking approval, Haider and Chaglla went about scouting for equipment and came to know that the departing British soldiers in K.G Hall had left behind a transmitter. Haider purchased spare parts from the junk market and readied the transmitter at the Ak Ak School and started experimental broadcasts including the coverage of oath-taking ceremony of Jinnah as Governor General.
The station was formally inaugurated a year later by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and that one-year also saw dramatic developments. The station also became the headquarters of radio in Pakistan and made great contribution in all areas of intellectual and artistic life of the city, province and country.
Asadi has painstakingly listed the names of the people and the programmes which made all this possible. Some of these people and programmes have become landmarks in the history of broadcasting in the country.
After the advent of television, not enough attention was paid to the radio and it went into a steady decline. Radio does have a role to play and it should be bolstered and made again a medium, which contributes to the intellectual, artistic and social life of the country. New technologies need to be adopted and imaginatively used. Though there has been a revival of sorts, more needs to be done with a more thrusting presence on the national scene as it did in the past as so very evident from Asadi’s book.