—Harjap Singh Aujla—
There is very little available information on the efforts of a single enthusiast of amateur radio in Punjab, who set up an improvised version of a radio station in Lahore in 1928. I tried to dig up information about this individual, but could not. The only story that was told to me by my father (Late Sardar Sochet Singh) mentions that a crude un-calibrated radio transmitter was set up in a residential building in an upscale neighborhood of Lahore and the transmitting antenna was welded to a galvanized steel pipe erected on the roof of the house. A gramophone was used as a turntable for the purpose of broadcasting music and a microphone was used for making announcements and for reading the news. The news was gathered from the local newspapers including “The Tribune”. And in a few years time this experimental radio station folded up, un-honored, unwept and unsung. Such efforts took place earlier on also in Madras, Calcutta and Bombay. Each one met a similar fate. A private company, Indian Union Broadcasting Service, also tried its hand at organized broadcasting during the early thirties, but could not make any headway. Lahore was quite a modern city, even during those conservative days.
Finally in 1936, the imperial government of India decided to take over the sole responsibility of establishing a nationwide network of medium-wave radio stations for broadcasting. The importance of Punjab to the Imperial British rulers can be gauged from the fact that after the four metropolitan cities of Calcutta, Bombay, New Delhi and Madras, the fifth station of the newly created organization named All India Radio was established in Lahore the capital of Punjab in 1936-37. Because of Peshawar’s location on the border with the turbulent and hostile nation of Afghanistan, the sixth public sector radio station was set up at Peshawar in North West Frontier Province. Peshawar, in the beginning, was not an originating station, it was just a relay facility.
AIR Lahore started with a 5 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter in 1936-37. Soon its radiated power was increased to 10 kilowatts, which enhanced its day time range to include the entire Lahore Division including the districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Sialkot, Gujjranwala, Sheikhupura and the Jullundur Division’s city of Ferozepore. For achieving long range domestic coverage and for relaying the war time messages originating from the studios of the BBC in London, some short-wave transmitters were also added to the existing six stations from 1939 to 1945. For a short-while even Lahore station of All India Radio did get a short-wave transmitter, which increased its day time range manifolds, but was found unnecessary later on.
Lahore could pride itself in having some very good male singers of light and classical music included Bhai Chhaila Patialewala, Dina Qawwal of Jullundur, Mubarik Ali Fateh Ali Khan of Jullundur, Dalip Singh Bedi, Budh Singh Taan, Ali Bakhsh Zahoor and Agha Faiz of Amritsar. The female light singers included all the famous names like Umrao-zia Begun, Nawab Bai, Dilshad Begum, Mukhtar Begum, Shamshad Begun, Zeenat Begum, Parkash Kaur and Noorjehan Just like the mega cities of Calcutta and Bombay, Lahore was also a film city. It was also the educational and cultural capital of Punjab. It attracted the best known artists and orators of the region. The film and the theatre industries of Lahore were helpful in scouting talent for All India Radio Lahore.
The best known classical vocalists performing at All India Radio Lahore included the legendry maestro Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the well known Dhrupad exponent Dalip Chander Vedi, Master Rattan of Phagwara, Master Madan, Barqat Ali Khan, Harish Chander Bali and Nazaqat Ali Salamat Ali Khan of Shamchaurasi Hoshiarpur. The finest exponents of Sikh religious music included Bhai Santa Singh of the Golden Temple Amritsar, Bhai Gurmukh Singh Sarmukh Singh and Bhai Samund Singh of Gurdwara Janam Asthan Nankana Sahib. The Qawwals included Dina Qawwal of Jullundur and his younger brothers Mubarik Ali Fateh Ali Khan and the party of Rehmat Qawwal and family of Malerkotla.
In 1943, both Mohammad Rafi and Surinder Kaur also joined the ranks of light and folk singers. Some of the artists of the film industry joined AIR Lahore as drama artists. They included Jagdish Sethi, Manmohan Krishan, Om Parkash, Wasti, Sapru, Sunder, Majnu, Pyare Lal Sood, Dina Nath Zutshi, Tara Chand and Bhag Singh. Kamini Kaushal, Veena, Meena and Mohini Hameed were among the famous female artists of the drama division.
At the time of India’s independence AIR Lahore, in terms of the quality of its programming, had established itself as one of the finest radio stations in the country. The partition of Punjab dealt a severe blow to the quality of programming of AIR Lahore also. Its fine lineup of Hindu and Sikh artists had to leave for Amritsar and then for farther away destinations all over Northern India. This radio station, which was hitherto known as the cradle of communal harmony, became a politically vocal station. Anti India propaganda started being churned out of its air-waves. As the days passed, the refugee problem in Indian Punjab was becoming more and more difficult to handle. Members of close knit families were separated from their loved ones.
Radio was considered by the new government of independent India as a credible and relatively inexpensive means to unite the separated members of families. The Government of India took no time to decide about opening of two outlets of All India Radio in Amritsar and Jalandhar in 1947. To start with only some low powered transmitters were available in the stores. Two medium-wave transmitters of 1 kilowatt each were installed in Amritsar and Jalandhar in 1948. These two radio stations, in addition to carrying announcements for uniting the divided families, also were made to counter the messages coming out of Radio Pakistan Lahore. This arrangement continued for five years after the division of Punjab. Due to the low power of the transmitters, the day time effective range of each radio station was confined to only 15 mile radius around these cities. These technical limitations of low radiated power confined the service to only two hours in the mornings and four and a half hours in the evenings. The night service, after sunset, had a much longer range covering most of the Punjabi region in India and the hill areas of the then East Punjab. In the meanwhile Radio Pakistan increased the power of its medium-wave transmitter in Lahore to reach more than half of Eastern Punjab’s population even during day light hours.
Ironically most of the artists of former All India Radio Lahore did not stay in Punjab. Mohammad Rafi and Shamshad Begum left for Lahore in 1946 and 1944 respectively. Parkash Kaur left for New Delhi in 1948. Surinder Kaur left for Bombay in 1948, only to return not to Punjab but to New Delhi in 1952. But both sisters Parkash Kaur and Surinder Kaur kept visiting Punjab quite often to sing at All India Radio Jullundur-Amritsar. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan settled in Bombay, but he used to perform regularly at All India Radio Jalandhar – Amritsar. Master Madan died before partition. Dalip Chander Vedi settled in Delhi. Master Rattan and Professor Sohan Singh were the only reputed classical musicians left in East Punjab All the drama artists, with the exception of Dina Nath Zutshi settled in Bombay. Among Sikh Religious Classical musicians, AIR Jalandhar-Amritsar was left with Bhai Samund Singh and Bhai Santa Singh (moved to New Delhi later on). Among the Qawwals, AIR Jalandhar-Amritsar was left with only Rehmat Qawwal of Malerkotla.
The longest serving India’s Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Dr. B.V. Keskar (1952 – 1962) had a dream to make sweeping changes to broadcasting services throughout India. It was realized that two 1 kilowatt medium-wave transmitters were incapable of reaching all parts of East Punjab even at night. Although India at the time of partition, got only 40% of land area of Punjab but it still was substantial compared to present day Punjab. It included, in addition to the present Punjab, more than half of present day Himachal Pradesh and entire state of Haryana.
Although Amritsar in addition to being the largest city of Indian Punjab was the commercial and industrial capital of the province too, Jalandhar, from the point of view of location, was more central. It was decided that the studios of the mother station of All India Radio in East Punjab will be located in Jalandhar, but the transmitter will be located at Goraya, right in the middle of Ludhiana and Jalandhar. The power of the new medium-wave station was increased to 50 kilowatts. This was enough to cover during day time Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana, the three largest cities of Punjab. Even the enhanced power of East Punjab’s medium-wave transmitter was in no way near the increased power of Radio Pakistan Lahore. It was also decided that due to more power of the new transmitter at Jalandhar station, the Amritsar transmitter should be rendered redundant and shut down permanently. In 1953, a high powered transmitter was commissioned at Goraya (Jalandhar district) and simultaneously the Amritsar station of All India Radio was shut down, at least for the next 55 years.
Most of the musicians who migrated from Lahore left for Bombay in search of greener pastures in the film capital of India. Jalandhar had to discover new talent for itself. Sardar Kartar Singh Duggal, who before 1947 served both at Lahore and Peshawar radio stations as a senior official, served All India Radio Jalandhar for a short while. Sardar Jodh Singh, originally from Gujjranwala, was recruited as a producer at All India Radio Jalandhar. He was a very able hardworking and conscientious official. He eventually rose to the title of Assistant Station Director of AIR. For most of the time, he served at AIR Jalandhar. The programmes for the rural audiences at both Lahore and Jalandhar used to compete with each other. Jalandhar’s programme for the rural folks was headed by S. Jodh Singh, who competed effectively with Radio Pakistan Lahore in quality and audience share.
As said earlier also, Lahore’s film industry got a severe blow due to the exodus of Hindu and Sikh film personalities to India. In the post partition Lahore, fewer and fewer films were produced. As a result made in Pakistan film music was produced on a much smaller scale and its technical quality also went down significantly. Film music used to be played a lot at the radio stations in India and Pakistan. Since most of the Hindi and Urdu movies were made in Bombay, Radio Pakistan’s stations were playing majority of songs from the Indian movies. On the other hand Dr. B.V. Keskar, India’s Minister for Broadcasting and Information in India had a desire to purge foreign influence from All India Radio. Round about in 1952, he introduced folk, semi-classical and pure classical music at all stations of AIR and by branding the film music as Western influenced hybrid music, he banned the broadcasting of film music. This ban on broadcasting of film music by India’s radio stations became the main instrument in the hands of Radio Pakistan to capture a big share of the audiences in India.
Radio Ceylon also launched its commercial service in Hindi and built a big library of Hindi Film Music. All India Radio Jalandhar also lost a substantial film music loving audience to Radio Pakistan Lahore and Radio Ceylon.
Further expansion of All India Radio in Indian Punjab was virtually stopped in 1953. Only an auxiliary radio station linked to New Delhi and Jalandhar stations of AIR was opened in Simla to cater to the needs of the hill areas of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. It started with a low powered short-wave transmitter, a low powered medium-wave transmitter was added subsequently. However, in Pakistan’s Punjab, the government kept expanding its broadcasting network. Rawalpindi station of Radio Pakistan was inaugurated in 1948 with a short-wave transmitter. A medium-wave transmitter was added to the Rawalpindi station in 1949. On October 15, 1960 another short-wave transmitter was added to the Rawalpindi station, which reached Indian Punjab..
During the early nineteen sixties two more radio stations were planned for East Punjab. One of these was to be set up in the state capital of Chandigarh and the second was to be reincarnated in Punjab’s industrial and commercial capital Amritsar. The Chandigarh station was to initially carry the commercial Vividh Bharati Service and eventually to serve as the mother station for regional news to be fed to Jalandhar, Amritsar and Simla stations. The initial purpose of the Amritsar station was to serve as a commercial Vividh Bharati Service station, but when needed, it was to be used for countering the propaganda of Radio Pakistan Lahore. It was experienced during the 1962 India-China War that Radio Pakistan Lahore spread a lot of Chinese information about the war in the border areas of Indian Punjab. Radio Pakistan Lahore was just like a local radio station in Amritsar District and the transmitter of All India Radio Jalandhar was at Goraya, approximately 100 miles away from Lahore and during day time it was barely audible in Lahore.
In 1965, the Second Kashmir War broke out. During the war and immediately after it, a much more powerful signal, coming from the direction of Lahore on a second medium-wave channel, was heard in Indian Punjab. For a long time Pakistan remained silent about it. Eventually, after a year, the authorities in Pakistan did actually admit that a new 100 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter has been commissioned at Lahore. Experts in India believe that in actuality the power of this transmitter can be a lot more than that. Just before the break out of the 1965 War, All India Radio did send a 1 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter to Amritsar, only to withdraw it to Jalandhar during the war. This low powered transmitter is still functioning at AIR Jalandhar and is carrying the Vividh Bharati Service. No one can understand the logic behind the withdrawl of this transmitter from Amritsar, at a time when Radio Pakistan was strengthening its own radio station.
During early sixties the Simla station of AIR was converted into a programme originating station and its transmission was strengthened to reach wider audiences in the hill areas of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. On November 1, 1966 when East Punjab was trifurcated, all the hill areas of the state from Dalhousie and Kangra district to Kulu Manali, Lahaul and Spiti, Simla and Kasauli were merged with Himachal Pradesh. Following which a 100 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter was installed near Simla. Later on a 50 kilowatt short-wave transmitter was also added to supplement the medium-wave service during the nineties.
Inder Kumar Gujral, during the nineteen sixties, used to be very close to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He persuaded the PM to start an Urdu Service of AIR, for the domestic needs of Urdu speaking population in India and for projecting India’s view point in Pakistan. Initially the service was carried over two or three short-wave transmitters only, but later on medium-wave service was also introduced by installing an additional 100 kilowatt transmitter at Goraya (District Jalandhar). This location was ideal for Indian Punjab, where very few people speak or understand Urdu, but totally unsuitable for reaching Pakistan’s Punjab, where learning of Urdu is compulsory. In order to provide local quality signal in Pakistan’s intellectual capital Lahore, no place could be better than the city of Amritsar. India took a lot of time in understanding this simple technicality.
After the carving out of Haryana from Punjab, Rohtak got a 20 kilowatt medium-wave radio station of All India Radio. During the nineties Kurukshetra and Hissar also got FM Radio Stations of All India Radio. Dharanshala, Kasauli, Hamirpur, Simla and Kulu in Himachal Pradesh also have gotten FM transmitters.
Radio Pakistan opened a new radio station in Multan (West Punjab) with a 120 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter round about in 1970. On August 18, 1975, a new radio station, with a 10 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter) was opened in Bahawalpur (West Punjab). In 1977, a super powerful radio station with a state of the art broadcasting house and equipped with a 1000 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter was inaugurated in the national capital Islamabad. The new super powered transmitter of Radio Pakistan Islamabad is available all over in East Punjab. On 15th of September 1982, the Faisalabad (former name Lyallpur) station of Radio Pakistan was inaugurated in West Punjab. In October 1998, the FM Service of Radio Pakistan started, under which six radio stations located at Islamabad, Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Sargodha and Mianwali were opened in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. Scores of low powered FM radio stations are planned all over the Punjab province of Pakistan.
In Indian Punjab, during the eighties and nineties two FM radio stations were opened at Bathinda and Patiala. In 2004, a 170 kilometer range FM transmitter was installed at Kasauli to serve the needs of AIR Chandigarh. This transmitter, in addition to the city of Chandigarh, is serving more than three crore population in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. This station has more range in terms of miles and population than any FM station in Pakistan’s Punjab. Prior to that, the low powered 1 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter at Chandigarh was shut down.
During the nineties Jalandhar station of AIR got two of its transmitters upgraded to 200 and 300 kilowatt power respectively. Even these powerful transmitters, during the day light hours, do not penetrate full depth of Pakistan’s Punjab, where as Radio Pakistan Islamabad, due to 1000 kilowatt power, can reach every nook and corner of Indian Punjab. But using so much power for achieving day time coverage is a highly wasteful exercise. Short-wave transmission, using much less power, can be a much cheaper alternative. Both countries are not using this option.
Sushma Swaraj, during her tenure as India’s Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting in 2002, decided to reach Lahore by FM via its nearest Indian location in Amritsar. Consequently construction of a new FM Stereo Radio Station of All India Radio in Amritsar was included in the 10th Five Year Plan of India, but due to lack of funds actual work on this project did not start even four years after its sanction. A 1000 foot high tower shall be required for a 20 kilowatt transmitter to reach every suburb of Lahore. This is very important, but no one had paid attention towards it. The total power of all the medium-wave transmitters in Pakistan’s Punjab is upwards of 1400 kilowatts. In Indian Punjab, it is 501 kilowatts. Same is true of the FM. This is true when India’s economy is at least five times larger than Pakistan’s. The new under construction FM radio station in Amritsar may eventually cover the old Lahore Division in entirety. Since the language of Amritsar is standard Punjabi, this station will be able to propagate standard spoken Punjabi in the districts of Gujjranwala, Sheikhupura, Nankana Sahib, Narowal, Sialkot, Kasur and Lahore. This station will help in postponing the demise of Punjabi language in the original heartland of Punjabi language. Eventually an FM station in Fazilka will also complement AIR Amritsar.
Let us hope the proliferation of radio stations in Punjab will help in prolonging the life of Punjabi language in the Worl