Thursday, September 09, 2010

On the air in Pakistan

The Complete Story of Radio Broadcasting in Karachi

The city of Karachi in Pakistan traces its earliest origins way back to the Indus Valley Civilization anywhere up to four thousand years ago. The area was known to the Greeks as Krokola, and it was a staging point in the travels of Alexander the Great during the time he traversed what was then known as western India back in the year 325 BC.
The Karachi locality itself was founded by a Baluchi fisherwoman who first settled in the area. The new village became known as Kolachi jo Goth, memorializing the first settler, Mai Kolachi. Descendants of these original inhabitants still live in the area, on Abdullah Goth Island in Karachi Harbor.
The city of Karachi now has a population approaching 20 million and it is listed as the forth largest metropolis in the world. In many ways, it is quite a modern city, but it suffers from overcrowding, a shortage of fresh water, and a major air pollution problem. Karachi was the interim capital city of Pakistan for a period of some fifteen years or more after “Freedom at Midnight” on August 14/15 1947.
A little over a year ago, we presented here in Wavescan the story of early wireless stations in the territory that is now Pakistan, and you heard about the early communication stations under the callsigns WKR, VWK VVK & VVU. That was back in the era running from 1913 - 1933.
Now, after Partition in 1947, the interim headquarters for Radio Pakistan were originally located at the mediumwave radio station in Lahore. A few months after Partition, it was announced that the headquarters would be moved to Karachi, and this occurred initially at the Bunder Road address, and subsequently at the new Broadcasting House on Garden Road which was taken into usage in 1950. The head office remained in Karachi for some sixteen years, until another temporary facility was opened in Rawalpindi in the north of the country in 1967.
The first radio broadcasting transmitter in Karachi operated not on mediumwave as originally thought, but on shortwave. It was a small transmitter, locally contrived, and housed in a tent on Queens Road, Azad Nagar. This new, and very temporary radio broadcasting station, adopted the callsign APK, under the newly issued block of callsigns allocated to Pakistan.
Station APK was officially inaugurated on the first anniversary of Pakistan’s independence, August 14, 1948. It is stated that the transmitter had an input of 250 watts and an output of just 100 watts. It was heard in Australia a few weeks later on 6060 kHz and QSL letters were issued to several international radio monitors during this early period of on air activity.
In the meantime, a substantial shortwave transmitter base was under construction at Landhi, an open countryside area about fifteen miles east and a little south from Karachi itself. Initial planning called for two transmitters at 100 kW each, and a subsidiary transmitter at 7½ kW.
However, as events turned out, the two RCA shortwave transmitters installed at Landhi were instead rated at 50 kW each, and the two subsequent units were rated at 10 kW each. The first 50 kW unit was inaugurated as APK2 on the second anniversary of national independence, August 14, 1949, and the second 50 kW unit was inaugurated as APK3 during the following year.
At this stage, station APK1 was a mediumwave unit located in Karachi itself and operating with 10 kW on 825 kHz. There was also an additional lower powered mediumwave station on 1452 kHz and it would be presumed that this was on the air at about 1 kW with what we would call local programming, rather than the regional programming from APK1.
On mediumwave, the second service in Karachi was transferred around 1969 to a 10 kW transmitter on 1450 kHz, and the main service was transferred soon afterwards to a 100 kW unit on 790 kHz. Over the years, occasional changes of frequency and equipment occurred, though it was usual for three mediumwave stations to be on the air simultaneously in their city.
On shortwave, the two additional transmitters were installed at the Landhi facility, Gates units at 10 kW each. The first of these was noted in New Zealand with test broadcasts in May 1954. Both units were officially inaugurated during the following year 1955 as APK4 & APK5.
The Radio Pakistan External Service on shortwave was launched with the usage of the two 50 kW transmitters in 1949, just two years after independence, and the Commercial Service on shortwave was inaugurated in 1962 with programming from Karachi in the Urdu language.
In more recent events, the two shortwave transmitters at 10 kW were withdrawn from service somewhere around the year 2000, and the two 50 kW units were closed soon afterwards.
However, the Landhi radio station itself has not been abandoned. Instead, two mediumwave transmitters have been installed here, 100 kW on 639 kHz and 10 kW on 612 kHz. In addition, it was announced in the year 2008 that two shortwave transmitters at 100 kW were under installation at Landhi. However, it is not known at this stage whether Karachi will return to the air on analog shortwave, or whether the recent emphasis worldwide on digitalization will produce a change of plans in Pakistan.
Over the years, several different QSL cards have been issued verifying the reception of Karachi on both mediumwave and shortwave. In earlier years, these QSLs were issued from Karachi, though in subsequent times, all QSLs have been issued from the national headquarters office in Islamabad.
These days the early QSL cards issued by Radio Pakistan are quite exotic. The earliest known QSL card from Radio Pakistan was printed in the year 1949, or perhaps even 1948. The design is quite simple, with the Pakistan motif of a star and the moon and a wreath printed in green. All subsequent QSL cards from Pakistan have incorporated variations of this original motif.
So, what is on the air in Karachi these days? Available documents show at least three mediumwave stations; 639 & 828 kHz with 100 kW each, and 612 kHz with 10 kW. In addition, there are at least ten FM stations; and of course, several TV stations with their local relay units.
And shortwave? No, Karachi shortwave is currently silent. Will it ever be revived, analog or digital? Who knows; only time will tell!
(AWR Wavescan NWS870 via Adrian Peterson)