Monday, January 27, 2014

Freedom at Midnight: The Pakistan Radio Story

Freedom at Midnight, is the title of a book researched and written by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre and it tells the story of the partition of India into the two heavily populated countries, India and Pakistan.  This book, with its meticulously detailed and factual information, presents the story of partition at midnight between Thursday August 14 and Friday August 15 in the year 1947. 
            This critical occasion ended the rule of the British Raj in India, and it provided independence for two nations; the ancient and historic India now in its new form as the Union of India, and the equally ancient though very new Dominion of Pakistan with its two territories, West & East Pakistan. 
            Back in 1947, in West Pakistan as it was or just Pakistan as it is now, there were only two radio broadcasting stations on the air: VUL Lahore with 5 kW on 1086 kHz and VUP in Peshawar with 10 kW on 1500 kHz.  However, in addition, three more clandestine stations were on the air; in Karachi, Peshawar, and in the border area between the two countries.  This is the radio story for today here in the AWR DX program Wavescan, and we take these stations in chronological order.   
            Back about one and a half years before the epic events of Freedom at Midnight, there was a man from Pilibhit up near the border with Nepal, by the name of Tahir Husain.  He owned a radio shop in Delhi.  He agreed to assemble a radio transmitter together with a power supply and this radio broadcasting equipment was smuggled in three large fruit baskets into a house in Peshawar occupied by Sardar Abdur Rab.
            On April 24, 1946, this new clandestine radio broadcasting station was activated in the 70 metre band (4285 kHz) in another home in Peshawar.  The programming that was broadcast over this mini radio station was intended to influence the vote in a coming local political election.  The station was moved several times within Peshawar in order to avoid detection, and its short life span ended when the elections were over shortly afterwards.
            More than a year later, another unusual radio station was inaugurated in Karachi in anticipation of the official recognition of the new Pakistan, in Freedom at Midnight.  This semi-official semi-clandestine station was set up in Karachi with the approval of personnel serving in the government of the Sind Province.
            The transmitter for this temporary radio station was assembled from equipment procured from junk shops in Karachi and it was installed in the Ack Ack army barracks at Malir on the eastern edge of Karachi.  The first test broadcast from this new and temporary radio station took place on August 5, 1947, a little over a week in advance of the critical Partition Day. 
            Five days later, this station launched into a schedule of regular broadcasting.  Then, on August 14 and 15, the station presented a series of broadcasts in honor of Independence Day with live programming made up of official speeches, commentaries and music.
            Ten days later again, the station was closed.  This temporary semi-official semi-clandestine station that was established illegally in Karachi during the last few days of authority under the Indian government was now declared illegal under the new government of Pakistan.  It was no more.
            On Thursday August 14, the All India Radio station A. I. R. VUL in Lahore with 5 kW on 1086 kHz was on the air with its regular slew of normal programming.  At 11:00 pm on that fateful night, announcer Zahur Azar made his final station announcement under All India Radio.    
            Then exactly at midnight, he played the new identification signal for the new Pakistan Broadcasting Service.  This same announcer, Zahur Azar, then gave the opening identification announcement for the Pakistan Broadcasting Service Lahore, a station with no official call letters at the time.  The opening announcement in English was followed by a similar announcement in Urdu, the now official language of Pakistan, by Mustafa Ali Hamadani.
            Similar transition programming took place at the AIR relay station VUP in Peshawar, with its 10 kW on 1500 kHz.  Soon after 11:00 pm on August 14, Yunus Sethi made the final announcement on behalf of All India Radio.  Soon after midnight, the opening announcement on behalf of the Pakistan Broadcasting Service was made in the Urdu language by Aftab Ahmad Bismil and this was followed by a similar announcement in the Pushto language by Abdullah Jan Maghmoom.
            Quite soon after Partition, Pakistan and India entered into an armed conflict over the Princely State of Kashmir, and as part of the Pakistani war of words, a mobile shortwave station was quickly assembled and inaugurated.  An old World War II communication transmitter at one-half kW was procured from a junk dealer, repaired, and installed with other equipment onto an army truck.  A second truck carried the power generator. 
            This mobile shortwave broadcasting station, installed into two trucks that were previously Indian army vehicles, made its first test broadcasts on a tropical shortwave channel on April 10, 1948.  A schedule of regular programming began almost a week later, on April 16.
            Radio AKR, Azad Kashmir Radio, meaning Free Kashmir, moved around at times in the edges of Kashmir to avoid detection, and soon afterwards it was lodged behind a grove of pine trees at Trarkhel, a small village some 25 miles from the border.  The small village of Trarkhel, as it was at the time, was a temporary capital for Pakistani Azad Kashmir.  A temporary room was built at this isolated country location into which the studio equipment was transferred.
            The one-half kW tropical band shortwave transmitter of AKR Radio was heard with a clear signal in Peshawar, Lahore and Srinagar, and reception reports were received from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kenya.  In July, the Indian forces bombarded AKR Trarkhel, but without inflicting any real damage.
            During the following year, a set of more professional equipment was obtained, the location for the same old original one-half kW tropical shortwave transmitter was changed, and AKR Trarkhel was re-dubbed Rawalpindi 3.  At the beginning of the following year 1949, Pakistan was allocated radio callsigns within the range APA - ASZ.  Thus it was that the original VUL Lahore became APL, and VUP Peshawar became APP.  New callsigns were given also to Karachi, APK, and to Rawalpindi, APR.

            The information in this opening feature in Wavescan today was assembled from many different sources in many different countries, including from the new book, A History of Radio Pakistan, researched and written by Nihal Ahmad and published by Oxford University Press. 
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 257 via Adrian Peterson)