Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Radio Scene in the Indian City with the Longest Name

Currently, both India and Pakistan are celebrating important national occasions.  At this season of the year back 69 years ago, India celebrated its independence from Great Britain; and Pakistan, though populated by peoples of Indian ethnicity, celebrated its own nationhood separate from India.

            These days, India is a united country of some 1.25 billion people; and after China, it boasts the second largest population in the world.  Within this massive accumulation of humanity, 23 languages are constitutionally recognized as official national and regional languages, though a report issued three years ago by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India estimated that as many as 880 different languages are currently spoken by the peoples of India.  This report also stated that 220 Indian languages have disappeared during the past half century, and another 150 will vanish during the next half century.

            At the time when India obtained its independence from Great Britain in 1947, one historic report stated that there were 565 princely states and 14 British provinces, with 2 additional European powers still holding territories in the sub-continent, Portugal and France.  Another report stated that there were more than 700 princely states still active at the time.    

            It is suggested that the largest princely state back then, taking into account both territory and population, was the state of Hyderabad.  One account tells that the smallest princely state was Vejanoness in present day Gujerat with a population of 206 people on less than 200 acres, and an annual state income of just Rs 500 (Rupees), though another report stated that the smallest was not much more than just a local water well.

            In all of the princely states there was usually an official residence for the local ruler and some of these palaces are nowadays maintained as museums.  At least one palace housed a radio station at one stage, such as the palace of the Maharajah of Mysore.  The palace of the Maharajah of Aundh on the edge of Poona (Pune) became the residence of the president of Spicer Adventist University.

            On Friday June 17, the mediumwave tower of AIR All India Radio in Trivandrum fell during a heavy rain storm, and so on this occasion here in Wavescan, we present the story of radio broadcasting in this southernmost major city in India.  During the colonial era, the name of this city was shortened by the British to Trivandrum, but in 1991 the state government officially changed the name back to its original long name in the Malayalam language, Thiruvananthapuram.                 

            In the early European colonial era, the Dutch established several small colonies in the coastal areas of India, including the Malabar Coast on the west side of the sub-continent.  The Dutch influence gave way to the English, and the Kingdom of Travancore was a princely state up until it was absorbed into the Indian Union in 1949.  The new state of Kerala was formed on November 1, 1956, with Trivandrum as the state capital.

            The Travancore government authorized the establishment of the first radio broadcasting station in this area of south India in 1937 and over the next few years the wheels of implementation moved very slowly, due mainly to wartime movements over in Europe.  A new 5 kW STC transmitter from England was installed in the MLA Palace Building and it was inaugurated on 658 kHz under an Indian callsign VUR on March 12, 1943.  The radio tower stood 250 feet tall.

            This new radio station was developed with co-operation from AIR All India Radio and it was officially inaugurated by the Maharajah himself, Shri Chitira Tirnnal Balrama Varama.  Initially, this station was on the air for just two hours each Friday evening.

            Three years later, in March 1946, Travancore Radio VUR passed under the control of Mr. M. K. N. Abraham who served as the Radio Supervisor in the local YMCA.  At this stage, the station was given a new official callsign, VUG, though it was also still well known as VUR.  It is suggested also that the station was removed from the Palace and installed into the YMCA facility.

            On April 1, 1950, station VUG-VUR was taken over by All India Radio and it was re-installed in the Diwan Palace in Trivandrum where it was officially inaugurated by the Kerala State Governor, Sir C. P. Rajagopalachary.  Even to this day, the studios and offices of AIR Trivandrum are still located in this same palace building, a princely state palace building, and we might add, the office for the Station Engineer was previously the palace bedroom.  The entire studio facility was totally refurbished 9 years later.

            In 1966, a 1 kW mediumwave transmitter, a Japanese made NEC MB122, was installed for the local VB Vividh Bharati program service.  This transmitter was installed at the studio location and it radiated through a 90 ft self-radiating mast.  The VB service in Trivandrum was transferred to FM in 1999, but the small mediumwave unit was retained for standby service, though the antenna was changed to an end fed inverted L.

            A new mediumwave transmitter site was established in a heavily wooded area near Kulathur some 8 miles from the studio location.  This new facility was officially taken into service with a 10 kW BEL HMB104 transmitter Model 4, on February 15, 1973.  A 2011 list gives the callsign for this transmitter as VUT2.

            At the end of the year 2001, a 20 kW solid state Harris DX20, which can be run at 5 10 or 20 kW, was installed at this mediumwave location; and simultaneously, a 400 foot self-radiating mast was installed.  The previous 10 kW BEL transmitter was retained for standby usage, and it was briefly energized each morning for a few minutes just before the main transmitter was opened for the regular daily broadcast service.

            It was this Kulathur tower that collapsed in the rain storm on June 17; a new tower was brought in from Chennai and the regular mediumwave service was reactivated just nine days later.  During the interim period, the regular FM channel carried the usual mediumwave service, and the silent FM transmitter that had previously carried the Gyan Vani service was reactivated.  

            However, the mediumwave relay transmitters at Allapuzha (200 kW 576 kHz) and Kavarati in the nearby islands (10 kW 1152 kHz) still carried the Trivandrum programming as usual.  Likewise, the program relay on shortwave was not interrupted either.

            That’s as far as we can go today, and we plan to present the shortwave scene in Trivandrum here in a coming edition of Wavescan.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 390)