AIR Kurseong Celebrates 60 Years

In our Station Profile in Wavescan today, we honor the long and interesting story about the shortwave, mediumwave and FM radio scene in Kurseong in India.  We express gratitude to the noted international radio monitor Alokesh Gupta, VU3BSE, in New Delhi India who researched and wrote the original article that is found in the July 2022 issue of the colorful and very readable monthly radio magazine Asian DX Review.

Kurseong location map. Image: Wikipedia

The regional city of Kurseong is a picturesque hill town in the Darjeeling district of the Indian state of West Bengal.  In earlier times, Kurseong was a part of the separate mountain kingdom of Sikkim), and it was taken over by the British as a summer hill station during the colonial era.  The name Kurseong is derived from a word in the regional Lepcha language that means White Orchid.

Located at an altitude of nearly 5,000 feet, Kurseong is about 25 miles from Darjeeling and it enjoys a pleasant climate throughout the year.  The scenic beauty of Kurseong, together with its surrounding tea gardens and the nearby Kanchenjunga Mountains, attracts lovers of nature from afar to come visit this pleasant locality.  Kurseong is just 20 miles from Siliguri with which it is connected by roadway as well as by railway, and the nearest airport is less than 10 miles further distant at Bagdogra.

Kurseong towers. Photo: WRTH Facebook group.

The Kurseong station of All India Radio Radio is located at an altitude of 4800 feet and it was inaugurated by the then Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Dr. B. Gopala Reddy in June 1962.  Since then AIR Kurseong has taken a programming relay from other AIR radio broadcasting stations, and it also fosters the development of local talent in order to preserve the rich cultural values and traditions of the region.

The total area of the AIR properties in Kurseong, for studios, transmitters and staff housing, is approximately eight acres.  The studio building contains 6 recording and on air studios, together with an AIR monitoring studio for the incorporation of programming from other AIR stations into the on air scheduling from the Kurseong station.  The transmitter site is located at Pankhabari Road, a mile distant from the studios.

The main coverage area for the Kurseong radio station is the Darjeeling district, though the programming is readily heard not only in nearby areas of India, including Sikkim, but also in Bangladesh, Bhutan and also Tibet.  They are on on the air in six languages, including Hindi and English, together with four regional languages.

AIR Kuresong building. Photo: Alokesh Gupta’s Radioactivity blog

The first shortwave transmitter at AIR Kurseong was a temporary 2 kW unit that was taken into service on June 2, 1962, just 60 years ago.  Initial programming was relayed off air from Delhi and Calcutta, as was available on shortwave from Calcutta, some 300 miles distant. 

Six months later in January (1963), a new 20 kW shortwave transmitter was installed at Kurseong and this new unit replaced the earlier 2 kW unit.  The new and larger transmitter was an American made Gates HF20BX which was originally intended for installation at Trivandrum in Kerala (KE-ra-la) in South India.  However due to border tensions to the north, it was quickly diverted for installation at Kurseong, where there was no radio broadcasting station at the time.  

Thirty two years later in 1999, the now old American made 20 kW transmitter was replaced by a 50 kW Indian made unit from BEL in Bangalore, Model No HHB144.  Give another ten years, and this transmitter was also malfunctioning and needed replacement.  Finally, after many occasions of temporary repair, the BEL transmitter was officially decommissioned three years ago, on August 7, 2019.  An FM transmitter was installed as a replacement for the shortwave transmitter, though coverage in the Nepali language was considerably reduced as a result.

Panorama of Kurseong. By Mayukh Ghose – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

During the past three years, many government officials and experienced radio personnel have lobbied for the reintroduction of a more powerful radio signal from Kurseong, though thus far without success.

It should also be stated that there was a mediumwave transmitter on the air in Kurseong, for a period of some 19 years.  This unit with 1 kW on 1440 kHz was inaugurated on August 20, 1998, and it carried the same programming as was heard on shortwave.  In 2017, a 10 kW FM transmitter replaced the mediumwave unit.  Currently there are just two AIR FM transmitters on the air in Kurseong, 103.5 MHz with 10 kW, and 102.3 MHz with 5 kW, apparently with alternative programming.

Our Station Profile in Wavescan today was on the long and interesting story about the shortwave, mediumwave and FM radio scene in Kurseong in India and it was adapted from a similar article that is found in the July 2022 issue of the colorful and very readable monthly radio magazine Asian DX Review.  The original article was researched and written by the noted international radio monitor Alokesh Gupta, VU3BSE, in New Delhi India.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of August 14, 2022

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