Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I suppose soon in the near future the national broadcaster RTM and the Ministry of Information, Communication, Culture and Arts will declare April 1st as "HARI PENYIARAN" (Broadcasters Day) in line with the other "Hari" that are celebrated annually by certain sectors in the country as a landmark. Knowing the penchant of the current Minister of Information, Communication, Culture and Arts, Dato Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim for grandiose occasion where he can eloquent his prowess in delivering beautifully worded oratory lace with legalistic terminology, the occasion should be on the horizon before he move on.

Some mischievous people might smile on hearing the date chosen, being "Fool Day". I suppose when the colonial power of that time decided to set up the Department of Broadcasting in the then Malaya on April 1st 1946, they must have given a long thought on the significant. One can assume they may think the end users were not as "masterful" as them. I will take it positively and assume they wanted to erase the connotation associated with the date as the Department's main role was to disseminate credible news and information beside providing entertainment.

That was in Malaya which included Singapore. Being a bustling city and a key entrepot Singapore was naturally made the centre of broadcasting in the pan-Malayan department administered from there. The staff was small and the equipment, most of it ex-British Services surplus, was limited.

Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Melaka were only in insignificant support with small outfit to take care of the daily business. The technical staff far outnumbered the front broadcasters. The east coast was neglected. Radio broadcast then was mostly on shortwave bands which the power that be at that time thought was sufficient for the "hungry" listeners. Anyway the infrastructure was still at its infancy and concentrated mostly in the urban areas. So for those who can afford it, its the battery (car) powered radio that became the star attraction in the houses. Community listening was the order of the day. So relationships were very cordial among the people.


Meanwhile on the island of Borneo radio broadcasting was brought in quite early by the British to its colonial territories there. In 1952 experimental broadcasting was introduced to the then British North Borneo (present day Sabah) by their Departments of Information and Broadcasting and Posts and Telegraphs, with broadcasts mainly of news and announcements. The station broadcast in short wave and medium wave bands using 5 KW and 250 W transmitters respectively. The programmes were in English, Malay and Chinese. By November 1955 Radio Sabah was officially inaugurated, and the following November it introduced the Kadazan Programmes. Six years later the broadcasts in Murut went on the air on 5th November 1962. Broadcasting hours have increased from just 40 hours a week in 1955 to 126 hours in 1970. Programmes are now broadcast in seven languages including English, Malay , Chinese, Kadazan, Murut, Bajau (introduced on 3rd March 1967) and Indonesian. In Jun 1963 Radio Sabah moved into Radio House in Tuaran Road, leaving behind its operations in Bruce Hill, Kota Kinabalu. It began its broadcast of the Armed Forces programme on 3rd August 1969.

Radio Sabah changed its name to Radio Malaysia Sabah when Malaysia came into being in September, 1963. The Department then became federalised and came under the  Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. On August 11th 1968 a receiving station with rhombic aerials beamed towards the Kajang transmitters were brought into operation to improve the reception of the news relays from Kuala Lumpur. Tenom Relay Station became operational on 27th December, 1 on Mt. Kinabalu in January 1963, followed by Tawau on 15th February 1964. The VHF (FM) transmitting station was completed on Mt. Kinabalu in January 1965 and became the first station to broadcast FM  on experimental basis in Malaysia in April 1965. The FM broadcast was officially launched on 17th January 1966.


Radio Sarawak officially began broadcasts on June 7th 1954. It began its career with one medium-wave and one short-wave transmitters broadcasting programmes in English, Malay, Chinese and Iban  Planning for the establishment of the service actually began in 1951 based upon  a technical survey and much assistance and advice from the British Broadcasting Corporation BBC, and the service got off to a good start with what were than the most modern of Studios and equipment. Broadcasting in Sarawak literally started from scratch. There was no experience of broadcasting in the State and no pool of experienced engineers and programme producers which could be tapped. Staff had either to be recruited in small numbers from overseas or, for the most part, found locally and trained on the spot.

Since those days great progress has been made. In April 1958, the Station's twin-network service was inaugurated broadcasting 12 hours on two simultaneous transmission, each radiating on medium and short wave bands. In the same year, the School Broadcasting Service, under the Education Department successfully concluded its pilot scheme. It was officially inaugurated in January 1959. In June 1963 Radio Sarawak open its third network to cater for members of the Land Dayak community, who speak Biatah, Bau-Jagoi and Bukar-Sadong. This brought the number of languages and dialects the Station was broadcasting to 15. With the formation of Malaysia on 16th September 1963, Radio Sarawak became known as Radio Malaysia Sarawak. By the end of 1963 the daily programme output was 16 hours (19 hours at weekends). January 1965 brought with it longer and more extended hours of broadcasting: 22 hours daily and 24 hours during the weekends, excluding broadcasts to schools and programme for the Forces (Military and Police). The hours of broadcast were further extended as from 1st February 1970 (daily output 36 hours, 41 hours at weekends). The main objects of extension was to cater for longhouse and kampung listeners with early morning rural and farm programmes in Bahasa Melayu, Iban and Bidayuh, and to provide continuous broadcast of programmes in Bahasa Melayu daily from 6.00 a.m to 6.30 p.m.

Construction of the extension building to the Broadcasting House, Kuching, started in late June 1968, and was completed towards the end of September 1969 with additional facilities provided therein include two continuity suites, a general purpose studio, two editting and dubbing suites, and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 250 person. The expansion of the Stapok Transmitting Station completed in December 1969 enabled the station to broadcast four network simultaneously.

The regional Broadcasting Station at Limbang, about 650 kilometers away from Kuching was  the first of many satellite broadcasting stations to be established in Sarawak. It went on the air officially on 31st August 1969, relaying daily programmes from Kuching Studios. On completion of various ancillary the station originated programmes in the local dialects to suit the local populace.


Persekutuan Tanah Melayu (the Malay Peninsular) gained its Merdeka (Independent) on 31st August 1957. The country came to be known as sovereign independent Federation of Malaya. The occasion was given extensive coverage by the small outfit in Kuala Lumpur with full gusto to inspire the rakyat. As an Independent nation it was natural for Malaya to clamour for its own national Radio broadcast from its own Capital city. It was only 2 years after Merdeka, the anachronism Pan-Malaya broadcasting came to an end. On 1st January 1959 the new radio service was inaugurated in Kuala Lumpur designed to serve the Federation exclusively. Radio Malaya was separated from Radio Singapore.

Rapid development came to the radio services in the country. Kuala Lumpur became the headquarters and the hub. The west coast was considered to be well covered with studios and stations in Penang and Melaka. Finally radio broadcasts came to the east coast in Kota Bharu, Kelantan when it began operations in 1960. By 1962 the present day studios and transmitting stations of Radio Malaya, Kota Bharu was built in Wakaf Che' Yeh. It was officially opened by DYMM Sultan Kelantan on November 6th 1964. Kota Bharu has the distinction of being the pioneer of Regional Broadcast in Peninsular Malaysia when it began the broadcasts on 16th November 1963

With that, the regional structure of Radio Malaya in the peninsular took shape. The Northern Region has its headquarters in Penang covering the 4 states of Penang, Perak, Kedah and Perlis. The Southern region's headquarters was in Melaka covering the 2 states of Melaka and Johore. Kota Bharu naturally became the headquarters for the east coast covering the 3 states of Kelantan, Trengganu and Pahang. The headquarters of Radio Malaya in Kuala Lumpur took in the Central Region of the 2 states Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.

As a developing economy began to take shape, the demand to promote products and brands to the masses were extended to radio broadcasts which were considered to be having captivated audience. With that on 1st January 1962 Radio Malaya began its Commercial broadcasts. The support from the commercial sector was encouraging. It became the forefather of the present day thriving commercial radio broadcasts.

Rapid developements came fast and furious to Radio Malaya as the country was looking forward to the formation of a newly created entity MALAYSIA which was not well received by neighbouring Indonesia and the Philippines. To counter malicious attacks on the formation  the "Suara Malaya" (Voice of Malaya) goes on the air on 15 February 1962 in three languages, English, Indonesian and Mandarin. To this day the main aim of the Service is to project the image of Malaysia from its political, economic and social viewpoint; the Malaysian way of life, the music and culture, to entertainment, and of course finally to foster friendly ties with all peace-loving countries of the world.


The big day finally arrived on September 16th 1963, MALAYSIA was proclaimed. Its a landmark date for the country and the national broadcaster. Radio Malaysia (and "Suara Malaysia") came into existence as it is known today with Stations in Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joining Radio Malaya under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, with  its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. On August 9th 1965 Singapore left Malaysia and with it Radio Singapore.

These are some of the developement that came to broadcasting before its Silver Jubilee in 1971:

> 28th December 1963: TV Malaysia was launched and began its broadcasts (More of this in another post).
> 15th March 1965: Ipoh transmitting station became operational.
>17th August 1965: Radio Malaysia Melaka was officially opened by the Yang DiPertua Negeri.
> 30th October 1965: Radio Malaysia Penang was officially opened by the Yang DiPertua Negeri
> May 1966: Radio Malaysia initiated School Broadcasts for primary schools in Semenanjung Malaysia

> May 1966: Transmitting station at Kuala Trengganu became operational
> 4th June 1966: Radio Malaysia Johor Bahru was officially opened by the Suiltan of Johor
> Jun 1966: Transmitting station at Kuantan became operational. It was officially opened by the Sultan of Pahang on 10th February 1968.

> 13th May 1967: Radio Malaysia Ipoh was officially opened by the Sultan of Perak

1st October 1969 began a new chapter in the history of Malaysian broadcasting - the integration of Radio and Television services into a single Department      



Friday, January 1, 2010


What a strange coincident. I am posting this from "Tanjung" the city of Georgetown in Penang where I have many fond and memorable memories in my younger days. It was 44 years ago to this date on 31st December 1965 that I arrived here to serve as the "Pengelola Rancangan Melayu Kawasan Utara" (Organiser of Malay Service, Northern Region) Radio Malaysia. Of course I have been here many times earlier.

Those were heady times. Penang was a free port and the largest in Malaya then. It was quite a small city compared to today. Roads were narrow and traffic was pleasant with very few cars on the roads. Public  transportation was ruled by the defunct trolleys or trams. Buses were meant for the outskirts and rural areas of the Island. Taxi was none existence. Main mode of transport in the city was the "becha" (trishaws) which now are novelty for the tourists. 

Come the Haj season, the port would be clogged by the pilgrims and  their families and friends, and Tanjung became the hub of haj in the country. When the airlines took over, the city became subdued. Today nobody associate Penang with the pilgrimage except the occasional flights that depart from Bayan Lepas International Airport.

Penang got its city status in the colonial days, granted by Queen Elizabeth II, the only one in the then Malaya. The island was synonimous with tourism. Everyone talk about the ferry ride.  The ferry service was so popular they have to build a double deck terminal to cater for the increasing no of vehicles and passengers when the ferries were modified to be larger in size. Nobody imagine there would be a bridge spanning the channel between the mainland and the island.  Now they are talking about having another bridge as the present one could not bear the load of vehicles using it. The ferry took a tumble with the existence of the bridge. There is even talk of dispensing with its service.

The free port status made the Customs Department very busy in Butterworth. Today it look after the shipments of cargo at the port and airport among other thing. 

The surprise of yesteryears was the existence of a railway station without trains near the ferry terminal. Even the popular radio quiz has a question on that to the bewilderment of non-Penang contestants. It was a novelty question. Today that building is still in existence but no longer a "railway station". Keretapi Tanah Melayu KTM extended the railway line to Butterworth making Prai terminal and the station on the island redundant, together with the railway ferry which we boarded from its portside.

The tourist attractions then still remain the same today. Going up Penang Hill by the funicular train was a must. Judging by the number of visitors and facilities on the Hill, certainly it has seen better days. Of course the beach in Tanjung Bungah and Batu Feringgi without the present day hotels and apartments is a must for those seeking a dip in the sea. There is the Botanical Gardens with its tame monkeys and the Snake Temple. The other popular sight is the Fort Cornwalis which the Malays called "Kota Lama". "Kota Baru" (Gurney Drive) was a short one when I first came here and most of the houses were private residences. Today Gurney Drive is a metropolis on its own, extended till Bagan Jermal, the end point of the bygone days trams. Most of the private dwellings emerged as  business centres, restaurants and food courts. Hotels and shopping complexes are also in existence today. The Catholic college and seminary located at the quite end of the Drive also disappeared to make way for the developement. In those days night life without going to the "Green Parrot" was meaningless for those seeking live music and watering place.

The view from Gurney Drive across the northern part of the island has changed tremendously. It was crowded with fishing villages. Now apartments and condos rule the skyline. The beach front at Tanjong Tokong has been reclaimed and turned fishing village into modern residences.

Of course, the evergreen E&O Hotel on the beachfront of the city is getting stronger by the day now with new management. They use to have Ballroom dancing every night but it seems it is now limited to Thursday night. Tea Dances on weekend afternoons was the vogue then. There were many popular  entertainment and culinary spots of yesteryears that gave way to modern developements, like the Chusan and Springtide among others.

Today the city and its surroundings are shrouded by tall buildings, apartments and condomaniums, beside office blocks, the pioneer being "Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak" KOMTAR which could be seen from a distance, especially when you cross the channel either by bridge or ferry. It is a landmark of Penang, beside the Penang Bridge, the longest in the country.

I spent my first night before reporting for duty at the Cathay Hotel, one of the comfortable hotel then. It  is still there but has become a low budget hotel. I like it because it is walking distance to everything in Penang Road. The only high end hotel then was the E&O. As New Year Day was a public holiday in Penang, I reported for duty on 2nd January 1966, and I stayed in Penang for a good 6 years till 31st January 1972. It was my longest posting outside Kuala Lumpur. The Director then was the ever popular  and versatile broadcaster, Zainal Alam. After his retirement the state conferred him the Datukship.

When I first met him, my first impression was that he was giving me a cold shoulder. So when I went to meet my 2 officers, the late Ismail Long and Norhashimah Ismail, they relate to me the incident that led to the Director displeasure at the Malay Service. My predecessor, the ever popular "Mak Iti", Siti Hawa Zain of "Kebun Pak Awang" fame, did not see eye to eye with the Director on many issues, especially administrative and financial matters, which led to the communication breakdown between the two.  My boss in Kuala Lumpur knew of the plight but did not brief this junior guy who was still on probation. So I was left to my own design to make ammend of the situation.

The opportunity arose when we were planning for Hari Raya broadcasts schedule. The headquaters in Kuala Lumpur slotted for us in Penang an entertainment special. I gave it a long thought. Making the normal run of the mill entertainment was nothing new to Ismail Long, the producer and the late Wan Ahmad Kamal, the versatile head of entertainment. I sat with them and listen to their ideas. It was just calling the local entertainers. So I told them we have to have a real special one. I pop the question, "How about the Pengarah taking the lead?". They were dumbfounded knowing the background we were in. So I told them this is Hari Raya, season for forgiveness. I will approach the Pengarah myself. They gave me their blessing.

I made an appointment to see him in his office on the second floor of the RTM headquarters at Burmah Road. He was quite cordial, perhaps he was in good mood. I thought this is my lucky day to have a chat with him. After some pleasantaries he asked me about my background and work experience.  Then came the real business. I gave a direct proposition, "we plan to have a Hari Raya Special in Malay" with him in the lead. He was surprise and modest about it, saying it has been a long time that he has done a programme, and never in Malay. I told him he still has his "peminat" (fan). He look at me for assurance, and I told him there was no difference whether the programme is in English, Chinese, Tamil or Malay. So why not give it a try. He agreed and his condition was simple. He will do everything from writing the script and choosing the personnel in the programme. That answer was expected. So I said thats not a problem and we shook hand. He wanted Ismail and Wan Ahmad Kamal to be his special assistant for the production. That make our work simple.

So we worked hard for well over six weeks on that. The cream of artistes and performers from the Northern Region were included. The legendary and well known composer Jimmy Boyle and his trio was the main musical accompaniment. There was the asli group led by a Pak Ya (I just Met a Pak Mat who said he was one of the group member; he said the real name of Pak Ya  was Yahaya Ibrahim, and the group could possibly be "Dendang Sukma"), the Bintang Radio Champions  of the Northern Region consisting of S.Ahmad and Suria Mohd Nor (Langgam Section), Nazri (Asli), M.Harris (Sariosa) and the comedian group consisting of Zainal Abidin Zain and  Zainuddin Arshad. There were other well known personalities of the bygone days taking part including A.R.Sinwan, the first National Bintang Radio Champion. S.Ahmad, M.Harris and the comedian group did us proud by winning the National Contest in Kuala Lumpur later. Suria and Nazri were runner-up. The winnings made the Director proud of the Malay Service. Special thanks must go to Jimmy Boyle for coaching the singers in his spare time. The comedian was coach by the Director himself. Zainal Abidin Zain later entered politic ending as Deputy Minister of Defence and later Home Affairs. He was conferred the Datukship for his contribution to the public in Bagan Serai.

For the recording at the Penang Chinese Girls High School, PCGHS, Gottlieb Road Hall, a stone throw from our headquarters, the acting Head of Malay Service, Haji Dol Baharim was a guest, beside local dignitaries. Haji Dol Baharim at one time serve in Penang and his wife's house was a few doors away from the school. Later I was informed he did not get along too well with the Director when he was here. I did not see sign of unpleasantaries between the two. They talked happily like old friends.

The demand for the free passes to see the recording and the rehearsal was overwhelming. We had a full capacity for both. Of course, the full dress was recorded just in case. We did not utilised that as the real show went smoothly and was a success to the delight of all especially the audience. Everyone was patting each others back. We had a good night sleep. The Penang newspapers review later made us proud. Of course from that day the Malay Service became the blue eyed of Zainal Alam, the Director. We had an easy passage.

When I was approached by Encik Aziz Abu Hassan, my Head in Kuala Lumpur to take charge of the Kota Bharu Station, the Director was unhappy and wanted to intervene. I told him its not necessary. Actually prior to my posting I already had an agreement with Encik Aziz, being the most junior officer and on probation at that, should I find my position in Penang difficult he can always recalled me back to Kuala Lumpur, and if its to my liking I can stay on as long as he was the Head. He remembered that agreement. Hence my prolong stay in Penang.