Friday, November 25, 2011

Radio Afghanistan Returns to Shortwave

Radio Afghanistan Returns to the Air on Shortwave - 1: Early Mediumwave

Recent reports from international radio monitors living in Asia, Europe, North America and the South Pacific indicate that Radio Afghanistan has returned to the air on shortwave. This is an
interesting new development, and so today we take a look once again at the radio scene in this western Asian country of Afghanistan. Since we last wrote about the radio scene in Afghanistan, lots of information about which we were previously unaware has become available, and so here in Part 1, we take a look at the very early mediumwave scene in that part of the world.
The encyclopedia tells us that Afghanistan, the “Land of the Afghan” as the name means, is a landlocked country of great mountains, scorching deserts, fertile valleys and rolling plains in western Asia. It is an ancient country 1,000 miles long and 500 miles wide, bordered by six other countries, with a total population around 30 million made up of 20 ethnic groups and tribes.
Old Afghanistan was an important trading point on the ancient Silk Road leading from China to the Middle East & Europe. During that era, the city of Balkh in northern Afghanistan was the capital of the territory, Bactria and the city was so large that a traveler from China stated that its habitations extended for 20 miles. The massive, impressive ruins of Balkh show a huge, grand almost circular mud wall many miles in length. This city was destroyed a thousand years ago in an orgy of death and destruction perpetrated by 100,000 horsemen under the leadership of Genghis Khan from Mongolia.
Among the places of tourist interest in times past were the huge Buddhist statues carved into the mountain side at Bamiyan, the timeless ruins of once inhabited cities, and museum displays of relics from old societies. The 1½ mile long Salang Tunnel running between the capital city Kabul and the northern border is so high and the air so rarified at more than 12,000 ft altitude, that motor car engines do not run properly.
Many of the semi-precious jewels that embroider the Taj Mahal at Agra in India were mined in the eastern mountains of Afghanistan. The Buzkashi games in Kabul are a form of polo played on horse back using the head of a calf, instead of a sports ball.
Religion has always played an important part in the life cycle of the Afghan people, and many and varied have been the forms of their religions. Historians tell us that Zoroaster, the founder of the Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, was actually born in Balkh in Afghanistan, and he was killed there at the end of an illustrious life during a nomadic invasion. Zoroaster was approximately contemporary with the Biblical prophet Daniel who served in neighboring Persia during the 600s BC. Subsequently, Buddhism flourished in Bactria, and Islam entered almost a thousand years later.
Although neither Afghanistan nor Bactria are mentioned by name in the Bible, yet that territory played a significant part in ancient Biblical events. Bactria was one of the 127 provinces listed in the ancient Persian Empire, Alexander the Great from Greece marched through the territory and married a beautiful princess from a nearby country, and the doubting disciple Thomas traversed from Palestine through Bactria on his way to South India.
It was back in the year 1925 that the first tentative plans were laid for the introduction of radio broadcasting in Afghanistan. Two mediumwave transmitters from Telefunken in Germany were imported with the intent of establishing one in Kabul and the other in Kandahar. These transmitters lay unused for three years, due to the lack of technical expertise in the country, and also to the fact that there were very few receivers in Afghanistan anyway.
In 1928, one transmitter was installed in the King’s Palace in Kabul, and spasmodic program broadcasting began on the standard mediumwave channel 360 m, 833 kHz. Initially, 30 crystal set receivers were distributed around the capital city area, and soon afterwards, another 1,000 were distributed in the surrounding country areas. However, due to a local uprising during the following year, this new radio station together with the primitive studio were destroyed. The other transmitter was never installed at Kandahar due to local disturbances down there.
However, two years later, a new king made arrangements for the purchase of a 100 kW Telefunken-Siemens mediumwave transmitter from Germany. This unit actually rated at 25 kW, was installed in cages on the 2nd floor of a new transmitter building on the eastern edge of Kabul at Yakatut, on the north side of the highway running towards the famed Khyber Pass. In the latter part of its life, it was on the air on 660 kHz for 5 hours each Thursday evening only, with a power output of just 15 kW.
An additional 20 kW mediumwave transmitter was ordered from Telefunken in Germany during the year 1938. This equipment was transported via British India, arriving in Kabul by camel caravan in December 1939, four months after the outbreak of World War 2.
This new unit was installed on the ground floor of the same transmitter building at Yukatut. Initially, three different low end mediumwave channels were tried, and eventually it was considered that 675 kHz gave the best reception. The new Radio Kabul was officially inaugurated from their new downtown studios by the king at 7:30 am on August 28, 1940, their national day.
On this occasion, 500 crystal set receivers were sold to listeners in Kabul, with subsequent distribution in country areas. In addition, community receivers with loud speakers were installed
in local bazaars and in country villages.
In 1964, a new set of studios and offices in a new two storey building were inaugurated at Ansari Watt, on the short highway running out to the airport, and the downtown studio building was turned into a training center for Radio Afghanistan. A 3rd mediumwave transmitter, a 25 kW unit from BBC Switzerland, was installed on the ground floor in the transmitter building at Yakatut, replacing the 30 year old German unit.
During the Russian invasion, beginning in 1979, it appears that each of the units in the radio broadcasting system in Afghanistan was either damaged or destroyed.
However, comes the month of March in the year 1994, and it appears that all three radio buildings, the original downtown studios, the new studio building at Ansari Watt, and the transmitter building at Yakatut, were destroyed in fighting during the early part of the Russian invasion.
When we take up the Afghanistan story again, we will present the information regarding early shortwave broadcasting in that troubled country.
(NWS 134 via Adrian Peterson)