ARAMCO Radio in Saudi Arabia and BFBS radio programming in Nepal

The earliest beginnings for ARAMCO Radio in Dhahran Saudi Arabia can be traced back to the late 1930s when the Arabian American Oil Company played music over a set of loud speakers that were installed at a company swimming pool.  The Arabian American Oil Company was established in 1933 and with its exponential growth it has become the largest and most valuable commercial company in the world.

ARAMCO Radio and TV was established at Dharan in Saudi Arabia in 1957 for the benefit of foreign personnel serving the Arabian American Oil Company.  Initially there was just one radio program stream with just one transmitter, a small mediumwave unit.  Programming consisted of unannounced recorded music with two news bulletins each day.

The style of programming from ARAMCO Radio appealed to not only the foreign staff, but also to the local citizens living nearby.  Quite soon, the stream of programming was increased to three separate channels, together with a network of small low powered mediumwave and FM transmitters at three different locations.

Read more about ARAMCO Radio in this article in Aramco Life magazine.

Three transmitters were installed at each of the three different locations; Dhahran, Abqaiq and Ras Tanura.  The three program channels played non-stop and unannounced music; classic, popular and jazz.

The first listing in the WR(TV)HB for ARAMCO Radio is found in the volume for 1972 and it was shown in every subsequent issue.  The use of mediumwave was dropped in 1984, and all programming at the three different different locations is these days on FM only.

Currently ARAMCO Radio provides 6 different program streams via 6 FM channels, and in addition to the music, they also provides feature programs and educational information.  They state that they have a daily audience of one million people.

On October 20, 1978, I was on a passenger flight from Delhi in India to Kathmandu in Nepal, and quite by chance my seat companion happened to be an English girl under transfer.  She had just completed her term of service as an announcer on ARAMCO Radio in Saudi Arabia and she was under transfer as a diplomatic secretary to the English Embassy in Kathmandu Nepal.  This diplomatic girl stated that ARAMCO Radio was indeed on the air, and that they radiated three different channels of programming.

Then two years later, on March 23, 1980, I was on another international flight, this time from Bombay In India to the United States via Frankfurt in Germany.  During the dark hours of the night, the captain invited me into the Flight Deck, and he gave me the use of one of the plane’s radio receivers.

While flying over the appropriate area of the Middle East, I performed a mediumwave dial search for all of the mediumwave channels of ARAMCO Radio as listed in the WR(TV)HB.  I found nothing, not on mediumwave and not on FM either.

With little else to do during that lengthy flight sector, the entire flight crew also made their own mediumwave bandscan in the search for ARAMCO Radio on mediumwave, and they came to the same conclusion.  They found nothing.

However, after several hours of sleep in the passenger cabin, I was invited back into the Flight Deck around daylight.  By that time the plane was flying high over the edge of the Mediterranean.  What a splendid view of the entire Mediterranean coastline from Turkey in the north down to Egypt in the south with the Biblical Mt Ararat to the northeast.

Modern-day logo of AFN Incirlik from their Facebook page

I performed another dial search on the same radio receiver hoping to hear three American operated AFRTS stations on the ground below.  Just one of the stations was successfully logged, and that was AFRTS Adana loud and clear with 10 watts on 1590 kHz, at the central corner on the southern coast of Turkey.

A subsequent reception report was posted off to the station and a self-prepared QSL card was duly received.  That card, with full QSL details, verified AFRTS Adana, with just 10 watts on 1590 kHz.  Interestingly, the wavelength is shown as 61886.792 feet which is actually a mistake in calculation.  By moving the decimal place by two positions, the equivalent is indeed 1590 kHz.

We should also remember that the British also established a radio service in Nepal for the benefit of local army personnel.  The British army established a transition camp at Dharan in east Nepal in 1953, and a few years later they began radio programming for the encampment which consisted of music and information in English and also in the Nepali language.

Back in that era while I was making the flight from India into Nepal, the international radio world was speculating that the radio service was on the air, perhaps on mediumwave.  I asked my English flight companion did she know anything about the radio service at the Dharan army encampment.  She said she did not know, but she said she would find out and let me know.

Visit the BFBS Nepal section of the BFBS Website

In due course I received a communication from her, and she stated that the radio service in the army camp was was produced in a radio studio, and that it was broadcast to the entire encampment via a loud speaker system, not over a radio transmitter.  We would today call that a form of cable radio.

However in 2004, the British army established an FM radio service in the national capital Kathmandu which is still on the air to this day.  The BFBS transmitter operating on 105.7 MHz carries English programming, and the transmitter on 107.5 MHz carries programming in the Nepali language.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of January 15, 2023

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