More than six and a half decades ago, two pieces of what looked like decorative furniture graced our home in Lahore. These items were beautifully made wooden cabinets, each with a round dial, some knobs and a rectangular piece of silk upholstery that covered a loud speaker. They were the pride and joy of our family – our radio receivers manufactured by the world famous company called Marconi. One of these sets was located in my grandfather’s bedroom, while the other was (according to the fashion of the day) in our sitting room.
This was a time when television had not yet arrived in the sub-continent and AM Radio ruled the air waves. My family members huddled around either of the sets to listen to their favorite programs. My grandfather listened to the news from Radio Pakistan and sometimes BBC, while the females of the family favored featured plays and music programs. My eldest male sibling got his wake up call by listening to Radio Ceylon, which broadcasted popular songs and ‘hit parades’ from a transmitter located in Bombay (Mumbai). As far as I was concerned, my favorites were the Sunday Morning Children’s Program, the Evening Story Time and years later, the Western Music Request Show hosted by Yasmin Tahir.
It was during the summer vacation of 1959 that I accompanied my father, knowing little what awaited me, to a yellow house inside a spacious compound near Lahore’s Shimla Pahari. This was my first view of Radio Pakistan Lahore, an experience that would become a lasting passion, and which continues to date- little affected by an interim career lasting more than three decades. It was on that hot summer’s day that I became part of a family consisting of some great names including Rafi Peer, Mohini Hameed (known to Pakistani children as Apa Shamim), Aqeel Ahmed, Khurshid Shahid, Mirza Sultan Beg, Sultan Khoosat and many others – all icons in the world of radio broadcasting.
It was during the early sixties that the ‘transistor radio’ came to Pakistan. I remember the excitement, when our sports coach brought his transistor radio to school. This latest piece of technology was a 12 inch by 4 inch plastic box encased in leather. It had a dial, knobs and telescopic antenna that could be pulled out for better reception and then retracted. We crowded around to listen to the hockey final being played between Pakistan and India in the Rome Summer Olympics and let loose a full throated yell as Nasir Bunda netted the ball to win the gold.
Then there occurred a revolution in the radio broadcasting industry – the advent of FM Radio. The first commercial FM station in Pakistan was launched by Radio Pakistan in October 1998 under the name of FM 101 followed by a spate of other channels. FM Radio, unlike the old AM, was characterized by fast paced, upbeat content bridged by lively and snappy links delivered by a young generation of men and women known as Radio Jockeys or RJs. The FM revolution took the country by storm as its broadcasts could be enjoyed while driving or doing whatever one did for a living. Today FM Radio is one of the most popular means of entertainment in the world.
When viewed in historical perspective, almost all great television and film superstars began their careers on radio. It was here that they learnt how to control and manage their voices. There can in this perspective, be no better way to conclude this week’s piece than to quote my mentor (who was none other than the great Rafi Peer Sahib) at Radio Pakistan Lahore – “A successful radio broadcaster is one who can, with the pitch, timbre and control of his voice, create a visual for the listener.” I have always passed on my mentor’s message to young RJs who walk through my hands – for herein lies the real magic of radio.
The writer is a historian.