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World Radio Day: From Marconi to Mullah Radio

Once considered a very potential medium to reach masses and effect change in the society is now struggling to regain its lost identity. The era of globalization and digitization coupled with fast evolvement of technology has challenged the foundation of this medium. Yes! It’s a World Radio Day today that woke us to recall this communication invention.

The date of 13 February, the day the United Nations radio was established in 1946, was proposed by the Director-General of UNESCO. The objectives of the Day will be to raise greater awareness among the public and the media of the importance of radio; to encourage decision makers to establish and provide access to information through radio; as well as to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters.

On 14 January 2013, the United Nations General Assembly formally endorsed UNESCO’s proclamation of World Radio Day.

Radio is the mass media reaching the widest audience in the world, but in Pakistan it is ‘effectively’ used by militants in a war-torn Swat region than broadcasting companies to bring about change. There is also a changing face to radio services which, in the present times of media convergence, are taking up new technological forms, such as broadband, mobiles and tablets.

Radio revolution in Pakistan

After the creation of Pakistan, the staff of All India Radio was offered option to stay in India or migrate to Pakistan. Many experienced broadcasters of All India Radio opted to migrate to Pakistan, when they set up a radio service, called Radio Pakistan. In the beginning Radio Pakistan was limited to a few cities, but later the government set up radio stations in various cities and towns to provide people with information and entertainment. In those days radio was considered at the cheapest medium of home-based entertainment.

On August 14‚1947 Pakistan came into being and the announcement of its creation was made by the new organization‚ the Pakistan Broadcasting Service, which came into existence at the same time and later designated as ‘Radio Pakistan’.

In the decade of 1970s the government of Pakistan made Radio Pakistan a corporation and further extended its network. Presently, Radio Pakistan has its own reporters and stringers in many areas, besides it subscribes news from various news agencies.

In the beginning all programs of Radio Pakistan used to broadcast on medium waves, but later, it further extended its reach by going to short waves. Later, the Radio Pakistan programs on FM waves, besides permission to private sector to set up radio stations ensured the easy access of people belonging to every walk of life to radio.

From the creation of Pakistan up to 1960s, when television was introduced in the country, radio was the only source of access to information and entertainment. In the decade of 1970s Radio Pakistan used to broadcast dramas of international standard. In this way the Radio Pakistan made different programs for various sections of society and provided them standard information and entertainment.

The emergence of FM

The government of Pakistan, in the beginning of 21st century, realizing the changes taking place at global level, decided to give permission to electronic media (radio and television) in private sector. Earlier, in 1990s a private television company was allowed to show entertainment programs. FM started in Pakistan in 1995 and in October 1998, Radio Pakistan formally started its FM transmission. After the year 2002, when the government allowed setting up radio and TV channels in private sector this new sector expanded, rapidly. Presently, FM radio stations are working in big and small towns of the whole country and areas along highways. Majority of them present entertainment programs, while some radio stations also broadcast news. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) till now has issued more than 200 FM radio licenses, and majority of these radio stations are working.

It was not before the introduction of FM that its importance was felt. FM radio specifically provides information to people having no access to newspapers or television. The radio has several social impacts ranging from spreading awareness on important issues to broadcasting entertainment programs for diverse group of listeners.

The man behind technology

Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, proved the feasibility of radio communication. He sent and received his first radio signal in Italy in 1895. By 1899 he flashed the first wireless signal across the English Channel and two years later received the letter "S", telegraphed from England to Newfoundland. This was the first successful transatlantic radiotelegraph message in 1902.

Earlier, during the 1860s, Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell predicted the existence of radio waves; and in 1886, German physicist, Heinrich Rudolph Hertz demonstrated that rapid variations of electric current could be projected into space in the form of radio waves similar to those of light and heat.

In 1866, Mahlon Loomis, an American dentist, successfully demonstrated "wireless telegraphy." Loomis was able to make a meter connected to one kite cause another one to move, marking the first known instance of wireless aerial communication.

‘Mullah Radio’ – the technology exploiter

Mullah Fazlullah, the frontline banned Tehreek-e-Taliban leader, was also known as Mullah Radio. After his release in 2009 amid rising militancy in Pakistan, the TTP leader used to issue daily sermons on illegal FM stations in Swat. He installed several dozen FM transmitters and used them to spread his message throughout the region – possibly the first cleric to put religion on radio.

The speeches specifically targeted Pakistan state, the Americans, female education , the polio vaccination and militants ‘interpretation’ of Sharia. Those broadcasts saw Mullah gain followers in the region and earned him the sobriquet ‘Mullah Radio’.

Some, after listening to his sermons, abandoned their television sets out because he described them as "un-Islamic". Many Swatis grew beards because of his lectures.

 

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World Radio Day: From Marconi to Mullah Radio

by Azhar Khan