Friday, May 15, 2015

Tribute to Nepal: The Early Radio Scene

As would be expected after such a massive earthquake that occurred recently, the Himalayan country of Nepal is still in recovery mode in a slowly progressive move towards normalcy.  Crumbled buildings are still yielding the dead, and during the past week a few living though injured survivors have been rescued. 
            Massive aid has been brought in to Nepal, and the need for just as much further aid is still required.  It is indeed additionally requisite that a monumental endeavor on the part of the Nepali government as well as its citizens will need to be implemented in order to piece together again the regular routine of family and business life throughout their nation.
            The mountainous country of Nepal lies as a buffer state between its hugely larger neighbors, China and India. The country itself is 500 miles long and 150 miles wide.  The northern areas are composed of rugged and high mountain ranges, and the southern areas are made up of farmlands and villages, though in many locales it is still quite hilly.  The total population is in the range of 27 million, and their capital city is Kathmandu with around ¾ million inhabitants.

            From the very earliest times, people have lived in the Nepali areas of the Himalaya Mountains.  It is thought that the earliest known society in Nepal were the Kusunda people, who lived in what is now western Nepal. 
            According to a feature article broadcast by the BBC London three years ago, there was only one person left who still speaks the Kusunda language.  Subsequently however, a few other people who are fluent in the language have been discovered, and the known total now stands at seven or eight.  There are several different theories regarding the Kusunda language, including that the Kusunda people and their language are related to the Andaman Islands, and to Irian Jaya, western New Guinea.
            A national census in 2011 listed 123 spoken languages in Nepal, though the regional language of Kathmandu, Nepali, has become the official national language.  The Nepali language is closely related to Hindi and Bengali, and it is written with the Devanagari script, as in Hindi.
            Around 500 BC, small kingdoms and clan confederations began to grow in the southern more hospitable areas of Nepal.   A prince in one of these small kingdoms renounced his royal privileges; he led an ascetic life, and developed a new religion.  The young prince is better known in our era as Gautama Buddha. 
            However, Buddhism is not the dominant religion in Nepal these days.  Around 10% are Buddhist, and around 80% are Hindu.  Both Islam and Christianity are minority religions in Nepal.
            Towards the end of the 1700s, the various communities in Nepal began to come together as one nation, though this was accomplished in several bloody battles.  British influence came to Nepal with the growing encroachments of the British East India Company in Calcutta, and this included another war.
            The Royal family in the Kingdom of Nepal provided top government leaders, including Prime Ministers, for more than two centuries, though these days, Nepal is considered to be a Federal Parliamentary Republic.
            It was back in the year 1929 that the first radio receivers were imported into the country of Nepal.  The royal family imported from England half a dozen already assembled receivers that were made available to family members and top government officials.  It is stated that Mr. Dev Mani Dixit in Kathmandu imported the seventh radio receiver independently from England and when he received it, he staged a celebration party to honor the occasion. 
            It is probable that the imported English radio receivers back then were housed in ornate wooden cabinets and that they were capable of receiving radio stations that were broadcasting on the mediumwave and longwave bands.  However, at that stage, there were no radio transmitters in Nepal, and the only radio broadcasting stations on the air anywhere nearby were located in India.  At that time, the broadcasting stations in India were transitioning from the experimental era to the early era under what later became AIR, All India Radio.
            During the earlier part of World War 2 in Asia, the government of Nepal confiscated all radio receivers throughout Nepal and they were taken into storage at Singha Durbar in suburban Kathmandu.  At the time, it is estimated that there were just 500 receivers in Kathmandu itself.  However in 1946, many months after the war was concluded, the receivers were returned to their owners.
            Available information would indicate that the first radio transmitter in Nepal was a low powered unit that was installed for official communication purposes in 1939.  This transmitter, rated at just a ¼ kW we would suggest, was heard in the United States in December on a communication channel 14780 kHz with the identification announcement Radio Kathmandu.  For a couple of months, this station was heard occasionally in the United States at 4:00 am and 9:30 pm, eastern.
      During the era before the official government radio broadcasting station, Radio Nepal, was established in 1951, there were at least four separate occasions when radio broadcasting was attempted.  However, none of these attempts resulted in establishing a permanent station.
            In April 1945, the American radio journal Radio News carried a news item stating that a shortwave station that identified as The Voice of the Himalayas was on the air from 3:00  am to 9:00 am American eastern time.  The operating frequency was 11790 kHz in the standard 25 metre band. 
            Nothing else is known about this purported Voice of the Himalayas.  Was it an unsuccessful attempt at program broadcasting via the ¼ kW communication transmitter?  I guess we will never know!
            However, during the following year (1946) there was another beginning for radio broadcasting in Kathmandu.  Prime Minister Padma Shamsher Rana, a member of the royal family, had a radio transmitter assembled from radio receivers that were brought back into the country by soldiers returning home after the end of World War 2. 
            This radio station was placed on the air so that the Prime Minister could address the nation on important issues.  It was on the air for only a few months at the most.
            Two years later in January 1948, the same prime minister assembled a hybrid carrier current style system at Bijuli Adda in suburban Kathmandu.  The equipment was transferred from Bojhpur in eastern Nepal where it had been in use locally under a company style title, Mohan Aakashbani.
            This hybrid telecommunication system consisted of a low power transmitter with programming that was distributed over the telephone system, as in cable radio.  However, the signal from the transmitter could also be picked up direct on a radio receiver.
            This prime minister resigned on April 30 (1948), and the radio station was closed soon afterwards.  However, the radio station was reopened in August under the new prime minister,
Mohan Shamsher who was another member of the Rana royal family.  He also imported two new radio transmitters, though it does not seem that they were ever installed and taken into usage.
            Then in early 1951, a group of political leaders installed a radio broadcasting station at Biratnagar, in eastern Nepal near the border with India.  This station was on the air for just a few weeks at the most, under the political title, Prajatantra Nepal Radio.
            However shortly afterwards, all of the available radio equipments were assembled in Kathmandu and installed into a two storey building that had been previously in use as a privately operated school.  With the usage of the previous ¼ kW shortwave communication transmitter, Nepal Radio made its inaugural broadcast on 7100 kHz in the 40 metre amateur band, on April 3, 1951. 

            And thats where we plan to pick up the story again, here in Wavescan next week.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 324)