Radio Malaysia Celebrates 75 Years

A recent email message from Jose Jacob VU2JOS in India alerts us to the fact that Radio Malaysia celebrated its 75th anniversary on April 1 (2021).  It was back in 1946, when the world was emerging from the concentrated and tragic events of a world at war into a somewhat unsteady peace that the new Radio Malaya was formed.  At that time, Singapore was the capital city for the Malayan states.

The first licensed radio broadcasting station in British Malaya was ZHI which was owned and operated by the Radio Service Company at 4 Orchard Road in Singapore.  That radio station was installed in the upper floor of the shophouse next door, at 2 Orchard Road. 

Orchard Road, Singapore in the 1930s. Photo: Pinterest

Test transmissions from this new and licensed broadcasting station began on May 3, 1933 and it was first noted in Australia 6 months later in early November (1933).  This station ZHI operated on 6060 kHz shortwave with a power of 180 watts and it was on the air four days a week, (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) for 2½  hours on each occasion.

However soon afterwards, the local government began to set in operation an alternative system for the operation of a radio broadcasting network throughout Malaya, and this was based upon the BBC set up in the home country: That is, not a system of commercially operated independent stations as in the United States, instead a government controlled nationwide network of radio broadcasting stations.

Thus on July 21, 1935, the new British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation (BMBC) was formed, and plans were announced for the construction and installation of a combined mediumwave and shortwave radio station at Caldecott Hill.  Back then, that location on Thomson Road was an isolated site out beyond the furthest edge of Singapore City.

In the meantime, a temporary fill-in broadcasting station was installed in the imposing new Empress Place Building in the central area of Singapore city.  That new station, which was inaugurated in June 1936, was licensed under another internationally recognized callsign ZHL, and it operated with 2 kW on 1332 kHz.  

In anticipation of the new BMBC radio stations, the government cancelled the license of the commercial station ZHI at the radio shop on Orchard Road, effective at the end of the year 1936. During the overlapping 6 month period running from July to the end of December (1936) when both stations were on the air together (the commercial shortwave ZHI and the government mediumwave ZHL), they both carried the same programming.

The imposing new radio broadcasting station at Caldecott Hill, together with its offices, studios, transmitters, tall tower, and temporary accommodations, was officially opened by His Excellency the Governor Sir Shenton Thomas on Monday March 1, 1937.  The equipment at Caldecott Hill included 4 new shortwave transmitters at 500 watts each, and these were allocated the collective callsigns ZHP and ZHN. 

British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation ZHP 9690 kHz June 4 & 5 1939, low power, probably 400 watts, Singapore, located in original building at Caldecott Hill, on Thomson Road Singapore.
© Adrian Petersen Collection, AWR

Under the callsigns ZHP1 through ZHP4, each of these four transmitters operated on its own set frequency with program broadcasting.  Under the callsigns ZHN1 through ZHN4 these transmitters were generally in use for program relays and information transmissions to other areas of Malaya and beyond.  However this scheduled planning was not always consistent, and sometimes a ZHN callsign was noted with programming in parallel with a ZHP callsign. 

The original 100 watt commercial shortwave transmitter ZHI was removed from Orchard Road and re-installed at Caldecott Hill under a new callsign ZHO.  The 2 kW BMBC mediumwave transmitter ZHL on 1332 kHz was removed from the Empress Place Building and it was reinstalled under the same callsign ZHL at Caldecott Hill, together with a new tower standing at 200 ft tall.

However, because the Caldecott studios were too far out from downtown Singapore and public transport was not readily available, a set of production and on air studios was installed in the very new Cathay Building at 2 Handy Road in Singapore city.  One of the main announcers for BMBC Singapore in the Cathay Building back then was Captain James Mudie.  He had previously  served with the BBC in London, and he was in Singapore with the Royal Corp of Signals. 

With hostilities bristling on the horizon in both Europe and Asia, the British government bought the BMBC station at Caldecott Hill, and they also began the construction of a large new shortwave station at Jurong, still further away from the city than the Caldecott Hill station.  It was intended that the new Jurong station would act as a relay station on behalf of the BBC in London.

Work commenced on the Jurong station in 1939, with the construction of a transmitter building and the installation of the needed antenna systems.  A 100 kW Marconi shortwave transmitter was shipped out from England, but the ship was torpedoed on the way and sunk, and the electronic equipment was lost.

As a replacement, the BBC obtained a 50 kW RCA shortwave transmitter from the United States and this was despatched to Singapore by ship for installation at the new station already under construction at Jurong.  The transmitter equipment was partially installed at Jurong though the power transformers were compatible with the American electrical system, not with the Singapore electrical system.

QSL Card from Radio Malaya, Singapore 4825 kHz Jan 3, 1949, 10 kW located at Jurong.
© Adrian Petersen Collection, AWR

However, before work was completed on the entire facility at Jurong, the transmitter was hurriedly removed due to the outbreak of war in the Pacific.  It was then shipped to Barbados in the Caribbean where it was installed at the C&W Cable and Wireless communication station at Bearded Hall, under the callsign VPO. 

The Japanese began their invasion of Singapore island during Sunday evening February 8, 1942.  A few weeks later, they were on the air from the Singapore radio station under the new slogan, Shonan Radio.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of May 23, 2021

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