Plays were usually broadcast live in those days and there was no margin for error. It was, therefore, a common practice for the cast to rehearse their scripts many times in a small room next to the studio before the producer was fully satisfied. This was done with a constant supply of tea and pan for the actors and good-natured bantering, with the likes of me acting as a respectful spectator.
It was a memorable day when I first stood nervously under a boom microphone in the company of some of the greatest icons in radio history and the light announced that we were ‘on air’. A great feeling of relief spread over me as I uttered six words, “kaun hai, kaun hai - who larka?”, and so began an unforgettable experience that I cherish to this day. I also remember the thrill when I walked into the accounts office housed in a small set of rooms linked to the main building by a porch and received my first payment of Rs 10.
The people at Radio Pakistan, Lahore, lived and worked like a family. I remember with great fondness, the tall and bespectacled figure of Sultan Ahmed Khan, whose radio name of Nizam Din became a household world in the 50s. Then there was the great Sultan Khoosat, who portrayed Nizam Din’s partner and brought smiles to even the most sombre of faces.
Years later, I returned to the building to do a series of English language programmes for the British Council. As I walked into the front porch that led to the corridor, a familiar voice hailed me, forcing me to stop. Tears sprang to my eyes, as a figure now lined with age walked up to me and embraced me. The chowkidar at the gate had somehow recognised me, taking me back to the time when my father never failed to pause at the entrance and enquire about his health and his family.
Then came television in 1964. One of my dear friends and classmates, who belonged to a well known minority family of Lahore, was amongst the first to acquire an NEC television set. This piece of technology was more like a piece of furniture. The proportionately very small screen was enclosed in a polished wooden cabinet with speakers installed at the bottom end. These speakers were, in turn, covered with decorative upholstery cloth. I would often spend the evening with this family watching the pilot transmission, which began by airing Japanese documentaries. It was a momentous day when Pakistan Television was formally inaugurated by President Ayub Khan and our group of friends huddled before the set, little realising that we were witnessing a milestone in our national history.
In its infancy, the television studio was housed in a shed-like building on Empress Road just across the Simla Pahari. There was only one studio floor, while the remaining space accommodated the control room and other facilities that are associated with television broadcasts. Most early transmissions went live with announcers introducing programmes as was the practice on radio. Outdoor recordings were done from OB Vans that looked like a huge mobile homes and the area that formed the compound of the premises was often used as an outdoor set. I can still see people dressed in costumes running around the hedges in a simulated chase across a ‘wooded’ setting.
I recently visited the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation setup and a private television studio in Islamabad, and was struck with the technology and the ambiance within the facilities. A wave of nostalgia swept over me as I remembered the old yellow building and the shed in Lahore, inspiring me to dedicate this column to the memory of all those, who helped open the world to us!
n The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.