On JANUARY 20, 1945, Colonel Melville C. Robinson, then commanding officer of the Southern India Air Depot at Bangalore, conceived the idea of installing a radio station at that base. The wireless hummed with an exchange of messages while technicians and experts converged on Bangalore and planes transported equipment.
Then on January 29th, for the first time over the air were heard the words, “This is Radio Station VU2ZP in Bangalore beginning its regular schedule of daily broadcasts…”. These words were spoken by Burt Urdank, the station’s first announcer, until that instant a motor pool dispatcher. And so a radio station was born.
The initial staff consisted of three men: the base adjutant, Lt. Richard Gajewski; Urdank; and a former personnel clerk, Art Tracy. But like Topsy, the staff “just growed” until in November nine men were engaged in the turning of dials, repairing of equipment, writing of scripts, programming, newscast-ing announcing – all dedicated to the improvement of the precocious war baby.
For the GI’s, for allied troops, for civilians, hearing the voice of VU2ZP was discovering an oasis in an entertainment desert. Prior to this time Bangalore had been out of range of any station on the medium broadcast band. The innovation was a boon especially to the Americans who were starved for good entertainment, Stateside style.
Captain Thomas Wade, Post Engineer, and his assistant, Sgt. Thomas P. Sullivan, went to work immediately on the conversion of an unused storehouse into what eventually emerged as the home of VU2ZP. Alterations were still in progress when the time came for the first broadcast. Subsequent programs for several weeks were presented from one small room. February 18, the station blossomed forth in all its glory as a modern, well-equipped broadcasting center, consisting of two studios, reception room, office and transmitter room. Through the cooperation of American civilians of Hindusthan Aircraft Ltd., materials were obtained for sound-proofing of the structure.
Overnight VU2ZP began to grow like an Assamese bamboo shoot. As the transcription files became more voluminous, the need for a studio librarian was voluntarily filled by Gordon Seopa, base Chemical Warfare wallah. From Calcutta came Kent Haven, in civilian life an announcer for Radio Station WTCM, Traverse City, Mich. Haven’s knowledge of production technique proved a welcome addition to a relatively inexperienced staff. To assist in the ever-increasing maintenance task, Bill Keating threw his screwdriver and pliers alongside those of MacFarland.
When fate called Lt. Gajewski elsewhere, Major Robert Reynolds and Capt. Gilbert Croft joined the staff as Information and Education Officer and Officer in Charge. The end of the war sent homeward Kenn Haven, whose spot was inherited by Bob Zelony, erstwhile bomb-sight expert. The finishing line-up exemplified the Army’s unique faculty for creating a smooth team, drawn from every corner of the country and every walk of life.
Augmenting the canned programs which were flown from the States, across one ocean and three seas to Bangalore, the staff introduced several features of its own making. First of these were two request programs. Audience reaction soon necessitated the extension of broadcast time on both “Sunrise Serenade” and “Strike Up the Band” from the originally allocated 30 minutes to an hour each. Among the return addresses on the daily influx of request letters headed stationward were those of British and Indian service people.
When George Formby, Britain’s leading musical comedy star, paid a hurried visit to Bangalore, time would not permit personal appearance before all the Allied troops in the area. PRO Major L. E. Little arranged for the facilities of VU2ZP to be made available for Mr. Formby so that he was enabled to reach thousands of troops in South India.
During the short lifetime of the station, word of countless world-shaking events was relayed to an eager listening audience by newscaster Kenn Haven. Source of the bulk of news bulletins was the teletype facilities of Army News Service. The dramatic highlight of the station’s career climaxed a 96-hour vigil when VU2ZP scooped all India with the history-making news of Japan’s capitulation. For four nights, Sam Boyd voluntarily monitored the short wave channels. At 0535 of August 14th the long-awaited news that Japan had accepted the Potsdam terms flashed to the station. Minutes later innumerable loud speakers crackled as the voice of VU2ZP proclaimed the epochal tidings. As the word spread from mouth to mouth, Bangalore became the first major community in India to learn of the surrender.
AFRS stations in India and Burma reached 16 stations in total, starting with VU2ZY Delhi. Our introductory feature on AFRS Radio in China-Burma-India is here .
This original article appeared in “Ex-CBI Roundup” October 1955 Issue. This magazine was issued in the USA after WWII as a means to keep those who had been involved in the China-Burma-India War Theater in touch as many moved back into civilian life.
Additional photos are from the Arthur J Tracy Collection, available through the courtesy of his daughter, Patrica Dabbs. Art Tracy was one of the first three broadcasters at VU2ZP.
This feature is one of a series about VU2ZP which began operations on January 29 1945 and closed down on December 9 1945.
This feature is made possible thanks to
Patricia Dabbs in memory of Arthur J Tracy
Arthur Tracy was one of the original AFRS staff at VU2ZP