A nostalgic look back at Radio Pakistan

September 7, 2014

A retrospective on the institution that announced the birth of the nation

A nostalgic look back at Radio Pakistan

It was back in the 1930s when for the first time people living in this part of the sub-continent heard it on the airwaves from two small radio stations in Peshawar and Lahore. This small magical box made history, when at midnight between August 13 and 14, 1947, it voiced: "Assalam-o-Alaikum! Pakistan Broadcasting Service. Hum Lahore se bol rahe hain. Teraan aur chaudaa August sunn saintalees ki darmiani raat, bara baje hain, tuloo-e-subhe Azadi!"

These words of Mustafa Hamdani announced the creation of Pakistan and simultaneously the establishment of state broadcast service, which was later named as Radio Pakistan.

Radio Pakistan began its service with just three Medium Wave Transmitters in Lahore, Peshawar and Dhaka with limited staff and old equipment. Major expansion saw new stations open in Karachi and Rawalpindi in 1948, and a new broadcasting house in Karachi in 1950. Followed by new stations in Hyderabad (1951) and Quetta (1956), these additions made Radio Pakistan a more effective medium. And Radio Pakistan ruled the airwaves for the longest time.

Radio was what the people tuned into, listened to and followed. The entire family would sit around this magical box and avidly listen to their favourite programs, including dramas, music and radio shows. Those were the days when radio presenters were celebrities and radio stations would receive sacks full of letters from listeners.  Radio educated the people and played a pivotal role in shaping their minds. On the lighter side, it was a great entertainer too.

Singers, musicians, instrumentalists, poets and writers from different parts of Pakistan became associated with Radio Pakistan and a new era of cultural renaissance began in the country. I remember DJ Ed Carapiet’s Hit Parade at 12:30 on the weekdays, a show  on which he introduced young listeners to Radio Pakistan; Apki Farmaish based on film songs, and the Western Music Request Show hosted by Yasmin Tahir.

Ball-to-ball commentary of cricket matches fed into the nation’s obsession to the game and radio was supremely popular during the cricket season, right up to the ’70s when TV took over live telecast. Those who were around in the ’50s and ’60s would nostalgically recall Umar Qureshi and Jamshed Marker, whose English commentary familiarized cricket fans with idioms like ‘Googly’ and ‘Howzat’.

Hockey, the national game, was no less popular and commentator S.M.Naqi played an integral role in popularizing the sport. He was considered to be the pioneer of Urdu commentary for hockey and was the only Urdu commentator to have access to the national game during this golden era of the sport in Pakistan.

That was a time when men relied on radio news and current affairs programs while women were entertained by drama and music and students actively engaged in programs like Bachon Ki Dunya. Huge numbers of students participated in competitions, debates, declamation contests, mushairas and bait baazi as well as drama.

Interestingly, radio acquired the role of a film and art academy in Pakistan as most TV and film artistes began their careers here. PTV actors, for the initial ten years, were invariably drama artists from Radio Pakistan. Talat Hussain, for example, started his career from a single-room called Studio Nine and then performed at multiple platforms throughout his life. Qazi Wajid was also one of the pioneers; he started his career in 1965 with a children’s’ program. Ashfaq Ahmed began his popular radio program Talqeen Shah in 1960s. With only two characters – Ashfaq Ahmed as Talqeen Shah and Hidayat-ullah as his servant – the program became Asia’s number one and the world’s second longest running radio feature. Talqeen Shah ran for 39 years on Radio Pakistan and captured the minds and hearts of the people with its matchless wit, humour and advice.

50 inches tall, Munni Baji born as Parveen Akhtar in Simla, started her career with All India Radio. Later she moved to Pakistan and joined Radio Pakistan. Her career spanned several decades, during which she compered the famous Naunehal, later named as Bachon Ki Dunia. Munni Baji was a gifted artiste who remained associated with Radio Pakistan for almost 45 years. She received many honours including the Nigar Award for her services.

Lahore’s Mohini Road is said to be named after Mohini Hameed, a famous Christian radio star known for her melodious voice. Aapa Shamim to fans, she has been the most popular and distinguished voice of Radio Pakistan Lahore for more than three decades. Her daughter Kanwal Naseer was the first female face on Pakistan Television in 1964. Aqeel Ahmed, Khurshid Shahid, Mirza Sultan Beg, Sultan Khoosat and Zia Mohyeddin are just a few of the numerous icons of Radio Pakistan.

Radio Pakistan also gave us several legendary newscasters: Shakeel Ahmed and Anwar Behzad impeccably read the news in Urdu while Anita Ghulam Ali and Edward Carapiet mastered the same in English.

Like a true friend, radio always helped the people of Pakistan in their hour of need. Be it an earthquake, floods or famine, radio had always been in the forefront to rescue and rehabilitate people through its strong, far-reaching voice. During the 1965 war, radio played a heroic role in binding the entire nation and boosting the spirits of our valiant soldiers, through war anthems and other programmes. The inspirational songs of Madam Noor Jehan, Masood Rana, Shoukat Ali, Inayat Hussain Bhatti and Mehdi Hasan still warm our blood.

The legend of war is incomplete without Noor Jehan. She stayed at the radio station for 17 days straight and recorded songs even when her infant daughter was ill. She was brave enough to get a curfew pass and drive throughout Lahore in search of musicians.

In 1957, Mehdi Hassan was given the opportunity to sing on Radio Pakistan, primarily as a thumri singer, which earned him recognition within the musical fraternity. He had a passion for Urdu poetry and he began to experiment ghazals on a part-time basis. Radio officers Z.A. Bukhari and Rafiq Anwar had a great role in his progress as a ghazal singer. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Radio Pakistan’s contributions towards promoting classical and semi-classical music has been enormous. It’s a well narrated story that a great singer born in Bikaner, Rajasthan (to a Banjara family) was spotted singing at Shahbaz Qalander’s shrine by a radio producer. He arranged for her to record ‘Laal Meri’ on Radio Pakistan and the singer, Reshma went on to become one of Pakistan’s most popular folk singers.

Radio Pakistan may have been overshadowed by the very loud television takeover but it is still continuously in search of good writers, poets, news readers, musicians, singers and drama voices.

A nostalgic look back at Radio Pakistan