Myanma Radio in Burma (Myanmar) Celebrates 75 Years

Vintage Burma Railways poster. Image: Google.

Radio Myanmar in Burma, or Myanmar as the country is known these days, celebrates its 75th Anniversary tomorrow, Monday February 15 (2021). It was back on February 15, 1946, that the radio broadcasting service in Rangoon Burma was restarted following the ravages of the Asian-Pacific War in the middle of last century. We are grateful to Jose Jacob VU2JOS in Hyderabad India in alerting us to this important radio anniversary in Burma.

Here in our program Wavescan today, we honor Radio Myanmar on the occasion of their historic 75th Radio Anniversary, so let’s go back to the very beginning as we trace the progressive developments in the wireless/radio scene in Burma/Myanmar. In fact, the very first wireless communication stations in Burma were installed under the British administration in India well over one hundred years ago.

Burma/Myanmar with its 55 million people is the largest of the six mainland countries of South East Asia, and it stretches for 1,300 miles north-south. The northern section is approximately diamond shaped, 500 miles across; and the southern section is just long and narrow, and maybe 30 miles wide. The erstwhile capital city, Rangoon, or Yangon as it is known today, lies at the mouth of the Irrawaddy River, near the junction area of the larger and smaller geographic sections of Burma.

A new capital city, planned and constructed, is located in almost the center of the northern geographic section of Myanmar; it is known as Naypyidaw; and it was established in 2006. This new capital city is some 300 miles due north of the original capital city Rangoon-Yangon.

Myanmar’s parliament compound in Naypyidaw. Photo: Coconuts Yangon

Asian peoples migrated into Burma from the north around three and four thousand years ago, and these days there are more than one hundred tribal and language groups throughout the country. The women in the sub-tribe of the Kayan people are noted for the wearing of a multitude of brass rings around the neck; and the men who catch fish on Lake Inle are noted for their leg-rowing technique while standing upright on their small boats.

British colonial influence from India began in Burma in 1824, and the territory was annexed by Great Britain more than half a century later. The British administration of Burma was separated from India in 1937; and five years later, in August 1942, Japanese forces invaded and established a military administration.

Mounted infantryman of the 8th (Frontier Force) Bn, The Burma Rifles, patrolling a rugged section of the Burma – Siam (Thailand) border, 23rd September 1941. Photo: Pinterest.

Three years later again, in July 1945, British forces (together with American and Australian participation) again took over the Burma territory. Then on January 4, 1948 Burma gained independence. The name change, from Burma to Myanmar and from Rangoon to Yangon, took place 41 years later on June 18, 1989.

One of the major tourist attractions in Myanmar is the thousand year old royal city of Pagan with its extensive ruins spread over 26 square miles, together with the 13,000 large and small temples. Pagan is located 300 miles north of Rangoon, and rather close to Mandalay.

Ananda Temple (left) and Thatpyinnyu Temple (centre), Pagan, Myanmar. Photo: Britannica.com

Another major tourist attraction in old Burma is the double row of stone panels that are housed in an ornate double colonnade, also near to Mandalay. Each stone panel stands about 5 feet tall, and each is about 5 inches thick. Row upon row of inscriptions in the Burmese circular script were incised into each side of each panel, and the full set of 729 stone panels contains the entire official text of the Buddhist religion.

For those who enjoy ecotourism, a visit to several of the 800 islands that stretch from the Myamna mainland out into the Andaman Sea is indeed a visit to Asia’s last untouched and pristine wonderland, states the tourist brochure. Modern accommodations and amenities are sparse, but the natural beauty is idyllic.

Communication wireless came to Burma very early; in fact, back at that time, experimental Marconi wireless in Europe was less than 10 years old. During the year 1904, a whole network of primitive Morse Code wireless stations was installed throughout India, including Burma, which was administered during that era by the British Raj in India.

This map shows the boundaries and major cities of British India at the time it entered the First World War in 1914. Image: https://nzhistory.govt.nz

It is known that five wireless stations were installed in various areas of Burma in that pre World War 1 era. Those stations in Burma communicated with each other, and with similar stations in Calcutta India and with Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, sometimes direct and sometimes in a cascade relay when propagation conditions were bad.

Three letter callsigns for these stations began with the two letters RO, and we take a brief look at each of the 5 original stations in alphabetic order, beginning in 1904.

Morse Code wireless station ROB was installed at Bassein, a regional city of a quarter million people located 120 miles west of Rangoon. Bassein is famous for the manufacture of colorful Parasol sun shades that are sold throughout Burma. Wireless station ROB communicated with Diamond Island ROD and Port Blair ROP in the Andaman Islands.

In the Burmese language, the name for Diamond Island means Beautiful Daughter Island. In 1801, the British merchant ship Mermaid was wrecked on a nearby rock; and during the Asia-Pacific War in January 1942, the river steamer Yengyua rescued the British radio operators who were serving at the wireless station. The original callsign for this wireless station was ROD.

Moken hut and tour boat, Mergui Islands, Myanmar. Photo: Burma Boating

The Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman sea off the southern coast of Burma is made up of more than 800 islands, most of which have never been thoroughly explored nor charted. Most of the local people are known as Moken, SeaGypsies, who live off the sea, and move among the islands. On one of the Mergui Islands wireless station ROG was installed.

Table Island Light on Table Island, two miles from Great Cocos Island. Photo: http://www.leuchtturm-welt.net/

The wireless station listed at Table Island operated under the callsign ROI. However, that station was actually located on Slipper Island, which is a small islet attached to the northwestern point of Table Island. There was an old iron lighthouse on Table Island.

Victoria Point is a town that lies at the very southern tip of mainland Burma. Back then, the wireless station at Victoria Point operated under the callsign ROV, though one listing for this station gave the callsign as ROT, which seems to be a mistake.

In our program today, we honor the 75th anniversary of Radio Myanmar in Burma-Myanmar, and we have investigated the early wireless scene, beginning in the year 1904, and ending with World War 1. More about Burma next time.


Notes:

Burma-Myanmar: Geography

Largest country in 6 countries of mainland South East Asia
Stretches 1300 miles N-S, almost diamond 500 miles
Rangoon, Yangon between sections

Burma-Myanmar: History

1500 BC Asian peoples migrated in
Various tribal states
1824 British influence began, from India
1886 Jan 1 Annexed by Gt Britain
1937 Apr 1 Burma separated from India
1942 Aug Japanese administration began
1945 Jul British administration
1948 Jan 4 Gained independence
1989 Jun 18 Name change Burma to Myanmar
2017 Population 55 million
100 languages
Road to Mandalay
Written by Rudyard Kipling

Burma-Myanmar: Tourist Attractions

Long neck people: Sub-tribe of Kayan people
Inle Lake: Leg-rowing technique
Pagan: Thousand year old 13,000 temples, 26 sq miles, capital of ancient kingdom
World’s Largest Book: Stone book, 729 upright stone slabs, 1858
5 ft tall, 5″ thick, double sided, Burmese Buddhist text

Diamond Island, Mouth of Irrawaddy Delta, Burma: ROD-VTD

Mouth of Irrawaddy, Burma
1904 Aug End, wireless communication established between Diamond Island & Port Blair (?)
1904 Dec 22 First readable signals (direct) Port Blair – Diamond Island ½ hp
1905 Jan 30 Port Blair contact with Slipper Island & Diamond Island achieved
1905 Mar New 3 hp stations installed Port Blair, Slipper Island & Diamond Island
1906 Diamond Island & Port Blair, Saugor & Sandheads still in service
1910 Stations already established: Bombay, Calcutta, Pilot Vessel, Sandheads, Hansard
Bengal, Port Blair, Table island, Diamond Island.
1912 Diamond Island ROD callsign
2021 Famous for locally made colorful umbrellas and parasols

Table Island (Slipper Island), Coco Islands: Burma ROI-VTT

Table Island Burma Coco Islands
Irregular shaped island
14 09 00 N & 93 23 00 E; totally incorrect
Approx 1 mile across
1867 Iron lighthouse installed on Table Island, south western edge of island
2 brick houses, other ancillary buildings
1904 Aug Relay via Table Island Andamans (Sea)
1904 Nov 30 Arrival at Table Island, assessment study began for location
Adjacent Slipper Island chosen, as far west as possible
1905 Jan 11 Slipper Island station completed
1905 Jan 12 First communication with Diamond Island
1905 Jan 30 Port Blair contact with Slipper Island & Diamond Island achieved
1905 Mar New 3 hp stations installed Port Blair, Slipper Island & Diamond Island
1910 Stations already established: Bombay, Calcutta, Pilot Vessel, Sandheads, Hansard
Bengal, Port Blair, Table Island, Diamond Island.
Lloyds signal station on Table Island
1912 Table Island callsign ROI

Burma-Myanmar: Wireless

1913 Station ROB Bassein (now known as Pathein), W of Rangoon YBWT&T 82.7 1913 199
Station ROD Diamond Island:
Station ROG Mergui:
Station ROI Table island:
Station ROV Victoria Point:Table Island: earlier ROT in 1912


This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of February 14, 2021

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