Never in my wildest dream that my future would be in broadcasting when I was in school. I never thought of being an announcer and commentator. I didn’t even realise the existence of such career then. When I applied for the post in Radio Malaysia it was merely a job that gave better salary according to the standard of the day.
It was a new challenge, culture and way of life I have to face. I was a laid back fellow with few friends whom I move around with around the area between Sentul and Chow Kit. I never look at the religious and ethnic differences of fellow beings as espoused by the founding father of the country Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. I was a believer in him on that. In fact I was renting a room in a flat of a loving Chinese couple in the then Circular Road (now Jalan Tun Razak), near the then round-about a stone throw from the Maxwell School where I was a temporary teacher prior to my new job. My live revolve around the area, I was getting familiar with the people and surrounding.
All that come to an abrupt end the moment I reported for duty at the then Malay Service of Radio Malaysia in December 1963. Many were puzzled as to my choice of residence as most of my new colleagues were staying in the Malay majority area of Kampong Baru, mostly at Encik Aziz Abu Hassan’s rented rooms. Another puzzled to them were my acquaintances with our English Service colleagues Yeap Swee Choon and Tan Jin Chor whom many considered as elitist being in the higher bracket of service. It just so happened they were my closed friends in our Pantai days. Surely we could not be ignoring each other. Like my colleagues in the Malay Service they helped me a great deal to get familiar with the job and life at hand.
My table position in the open concept office at the 6th floor of the Federal House was strategic. It was bordering the English Service and quite close to the Chinese and Indian Services. So it was not a strange coincident that I was frequently in close contact with the English Service announcers.
I worked hard and diligently to acclimatised and familiarised myself with the job at hand. My basic main task was to write scripts for feature and documentary radio programmes, including translating and adapting into Malay scripts, documents and manuscripts from English. I also have to produce such programmes, besides being the announcer and compere of the show. There was no proper and official training like today where new staffs have the benefit of getting to know the job at the training centre. It was hands on then, learning the job while working. I find that interesting as there was no room for error or trial. We have to be alert and on the go at all time. Sometime we have to be on the air live, while at other time we have the pleasure of pre recording. We were advised not to waste materials (tapes) and to save time.
I also like the system of introducing new voices over the air in those early times. No new voices were allowed on the air direct (live). The owner of the new voices have to go through weeks, may be months of practice and trial before being “certified” fit. Some were lucky to find their voices on the air through recorded programmes. That can be considered as being close to the verge of going “live” as announcer.
There was another category of announcer, the News Readers. They were considered special people. Not everyone is allowed to read the news, especially on the so called “primetime”. They must have special voice quality with flawless reading ability. They go through rigorous training and vetting. So those new voices could only be found on the fringe and insignificant hours unless an emergency arise, which could be a ticket into “stardom” (the higher bracket).
The elitists among the announcers were those who handle live commentary of events, ceremonies and of course sporting matches. They have to have the ability and knack to describe scenes as they come into view. I must add they must have good memories and read widely on various subjects especially the one at hand.
I consider myself a fast learner. Within a month I was left on my own to produce programmes with my own writings. I was also allowed to voice the programmes. That was very fast and advance. I read the fringe news within 2 months. Within 3 months I was assisting my colleagues in live commentary of events. I have to thanks Encik Tahir Ramli for that as he gave me a free hand in producing documentary programmes with actual effects and interviews that I handle myself with minimum supervision by him. That was a valuable lesson we cannot learn anywhere. Being a proficient and experienced broadcaster, Encik Tahir was a good teacher, friend and mentor. He was the most senior of the staff next to our Head of Service and Programme Organiser. I was sad and missed his company when he left RTM years later. I have no knowledge or reason of his decision except to go for greener pasture. I have many fond memories of those good old days when we moved around together.
As my circle of friends widen in the office I found that my abode became an oddity, as I could not give proper explanation to my choice of residence. I was sad to make the sad decision of leaving the place, the people and surrounding that I was so familiar with. Anyway, life has got to move on. It was just another changing phase.
When I was approached by my colleague in the Agriculture Broadcast Service Majid Kayat who is in the same bracket post as I, I found the idea of sharing a flat attractive. So we settled for the Blue Boy Mansion along the busy Jalan Pudu, opposite the old Straits Times centre. The place is still there. It’s a two rooms flat rented at a princely sum of $150.00, about the basic initial pay of a public sector staff with a School Certificate qualification. Most of our colleague started in that category.
We split up the rent. I paid up front the one month deposit, power and water deposits, took care of the furnishing and fridge instalments, and bought an oil stove for cooking (there was no gas those days). The telephone line was fixed up. We even had a Mak Chik from Kampong Baru to clean up the place on a daily basis during the daY except the week-end at $50.00 monthly. To top it she cooked our lunch and dinner. As for the washing of our clothing we decided the dhobi or “do it yourself” (DIY) service would be a better choice for obvious reason.
Words went around like wild fire in the office about the new residence. Soon we have droves of friends and colleagues visiting us even at odd hours of the night. It became sort of a “journeymen inn”. I feel the location of the place was convenient. It’s very near the then Pudu Bus Centre (now Pudu Raya) and quite close to the entertainment centre of the bygone days, Bukit Bintang Park. Being young and thrifty we did brisk walking to and from the office except on the occasional “emergency” situation it was the rare efficient and friendly taxi service which was quite cheap became the top choice. So much for the place being centrally located and within reached we became popular and well known among our private circle.
I find the attention to our place very helpful in my widening of knowledge of the broadcasting world through interaction. Those who came were the luminaries of the Malaysian radio broadcasts of the day. Colleagues from the Malay Service were always there. From the English broadcasts we had the late Manaf Abdullah, Leslie Dawson, Syed Alwi (later Dato) and Tan Jin Chor. They came to play their favourite game of “Scrabble” in their free time. They know I have a scrabble set in the house, and they wanted to beat me at the game all the time as they were intrigue as to how I mastered the game. They always teased me “How can we allow this Malay broadcaster to beat us at this game of our language”. It was a friendly banter. The final “loser” was always me as I have to supply coffee and juices for the guests. The Mak Chik was always at hand to prepare the drinks. I find that kind of meeting kept our bond closer and the esprit de corps alive.
The nocturnal activity was mainly concentrated at the then Bukit Bintang BB Park where the main entertainment centre of KL was located. Good music and dancing was at the Cabaret. For the consummate of Malay equivalent it was the Joget Centre. The Chinese Opera was always crowded. Bangsawan was in its dying days as the support was waning especially with the coming of television. The occasional strip tease show by its queen Rose Chan and her contemporaries were forever full house. For the young and boisterous there was the dodgem car centre where one drove the machine at will to bang into each others’. It was fun as normally young couple sat beside each other in one car as if driving into the beyond.
The “star” attraction of the place that attracted our attention was placed at one isolated corner of the Park where some sort of gaming drew big enthusiasts. It was given the name “bola golek” where a ping-pong ball was rolled by one of the participant onto a board that contained the 10 numerals, roulette style. Bets using chips were placed at the odd of one to eight. Closing time was sharp midnight. Some came out smiling but most looked grim at the end. There was consolation for the clean-out loser; the betting master would refund $1.00 for taxi fare. It was noticeable that majority would rather placed that on the betting table again at different stall hoping for a windfall or ending up walking home. When there was a knock on the door slightly past midnight we knew it must be someone who had a bad spell at the stall.
When young men get together they went for some kind of card game called “Terup Keling” to while the time. I suppose the name derived from the card game that the Indians played. To add thrill participants would take bet like the loser paying for tea or dinner. Eventually a smart guy came around and proposed a bet to add thrill and excitement. This was what happened at our place. The card game eventually ended with the game of Poker and a few got addicted to it. I can proudly say in this case that I came clean with my principle of not teaching anything that will cause eventual hardship in later life to people. Neither did I encourage borrowings to those addicted. It was a matter of each to one’s own self. My only fault was allowing the activity to go on in our place and I myself sometime got involved with some session just to pass the time and “keep the quorum”.
As the famous saying goes, all good thing has got to end, and the end came when Majid decided to get married at the end of 1964. He wanted to have the place to himself. As goodwill gesture for the newly wedded couple’s happiness I withdrew myself and move on.
I found a more spacious place in a three rooms flat at the 6th floor of the Malayan Mansion beside the Mesjid India in the once notorious area known as “Belakang Mati”. It is now known by a much holier name of Jalan Mesjid India. I took the master bedroom with bathroom attached, and shared it my good friend Ramli Samad. The other room was taken by Salleh Bakar who was in the then Malay Administrative Service MAS which was eventually integrated into the Administrative and Diplomatic Service better known as PTD. Salleh eventually was Secretary to the Senate before he retired. He now prefers to be known by his full name of Haji Mohd Salleh bin Abu Bakar or his pen name of HMS Abu Bakar. He now resides in Ipoh and passes his time writing the “sajak” (poetry) his outlook of current affairs to be impart to friends via the post. The last room was taken by one by the name of Hassan who worked in the private sector dealing with agriculture. The last time we talked to each other was over the phone about 3 years back. He said he was staying in Kajang.
Ramli was then transferred to Ipoh to become the pioneer broadcaster of Perak state. As he was reluctant to leave behind his growing fans, I have quite a time convincing him that he would be contributing great service to the people of the state and he would find his eventual happiness there. Yes he did. He found the girl of his life in Azian. They got married and live happily ever after in Ipoh until her demise last year.
When Ramli left, Kamal Baharin Nan Abidin volunteered to take over his place. I took him in. Kamal eventually left Radio Malaysia to join the Malaysian Airline System MAS. The last time I enjoyed his company was in Madras (now Chennai) in the 1980s when he was the MAS operation manager there. I had an interline stopover in Madras after attending the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) Sports Study Group (SSG) meeting in New Delhi. After a night sojourn at the lavish Savira Hotel at MAS expense, I spent another three days at Kamal’s posh residence. I was taken around the expanse city. I found the crowded Bazaar very intriguing as almost get everything in life was to be found there. The lonely beach facing the India Ocean towards the east and eventually Malaysia was fantastic.
Life at Malayan Mansion was more sedate compared to Blue Boy Mansion. Most of the guys have moved on in life. Some got married while others were busy on the verged of one. I suppose the work load and responsibility were getting heavier for many. Perhaps the new company I was having was not compatible to most. Furthermore the place was not centrally located and out of the way of the entertainment outlet such as BB Park though much nearer to our working place at the Federal House. It could be the call of the muezzin next to the flat discouraged the “sinners” from coming over.
Eventually all came to an end. At the end of 1965 I received my transfer order. I reported to be the Malay Programme Organiser MPO of the Northern region based in Penang commencing January 1, 1966. I left the familiarity of Kuala Lumpur with a tinge of sadness but looking forward to the beginning of a new phase in life optimistically.