Journey of radio

Dewan Rai


The sparse research in the field of social science can be itself a subject for a research. Field surveys and project assessment reports of NGOs/INGOs sometimes provide better and more thorough research compared to academic dissertations. We cannot deny the fact that research is costly and demand rigorous application, yet more cruel fact is that well researched reports are mostly published in English and this has limited their knowledge and scope to the English speaking “intelligentsia,” ignoring the needs of the larger mass of monolingual Nepali speakers. Radio Nepalko Samijik Itihas (The Social History of Radio Nepal) published by Martin Chautari has, therefore, filled a certain significant void in research conducted in the Nepali language. This research work itself was started with Fullbright New Century Scholarship conferred on Pratyous Onta for research on the history of radio in Nepal. Onta has taken the help of four other new researchers for the work. Consequently, this book has emerged as an elaborate and comprehensive guidebook for social researchers who wish to take a clearer look at the simultaneous evolution of society and Radio Nepal.

The 32-page introduction virtually covers the entire content of the 23-chapter book. The first chapter opens with the Nepalis experience of radio post democracy and the institutional, policy and financial history of Radio Nepal. Available records so far have shown that Nepalis might have first listened to Indian broadcast as early as 75 years ago during preliminary broadcasts by the British in India. Few Kathmandu elites had had radio sets in their homes around 1929. The number of radio sets had noticeably increased till World War II. The radio sets were not portable and users had difficulty accessing certain frequencies. People, who had radio sets, would mostly listen to Indian radio stations.

Prajatantra Nepal Radio aired an informal programme during the ‘50s in the democratic movement against the Rana oligarchy. It was the first ever Nepali radio that was aired from within the kingdom. Radio Nepal, formerly called Prajatantra Nepal Radio, formally started its broadcasting services from March 2, 1951. Over its half-a-century long journey, Radio Nepal has come a long way. Radio Nepal, which initially started with its four-and-a-half hour broadcast service, has now extended its service to sixteen hours a day transmission from Singh Durbar, Kathmandu. Radio Nepal has now opened a dozen regional transmission centres throughout the country with special programmes in respective regional languages. Starting with a 250-watt transmitter, it now has almost 700 kilowatt transmission capacity linked to satellite, which has made it possible to be heard from across the country and even in SAARC regions within satellite footprint.

In the second section with 13 chapters, the book provides various overviews, descriptions and analyses of programmes that have been aired from Radio Nepal. ‘Ghatana ra Bichar’, a programme on contemporary issues, once gained immense popularity. Independent analyses, newness in presentation and public participation with fresh news from across the country was key to the success of the programme. Despite its popularity and professionalism, however, it was doomed to fail owing to political manipulation. The book also discourses on popular informative programmes aired by Radio Nepal like ‘Sathi sanga Manka Kura’, ‘Haka Haki’ and ‘Sahitya Sansar,’ to name a few. FM radios took a considerable share of the pie from the ad market as it made its presence felt particularly after 1997. The total income of Radio Nepal in 2003/04, including government grants, had remained Rs 11,96,36,000 whereas it was Rs 16,81,17,000 the previous year.

Tarini Prasad Koirala had pioneered a movement to consolidate people’s support through radio broadcast and mobilise them to fight for democracy. Recognising the power of the media, people in power always tended to utilise it for their benefits. The book has discussed exhaustibly how radio was grossly used to propagate agendas and ideologies of panchayat system.

The last section speaks of the relationship between Radio Nepal and its listeners. They are grouped into the following categories: general, women, janajati (indigenous people) and madhesi (people of the Terai). The articles castigate Radio Nepal for overlooking issues related to gender, indigenous people and the madhesi. Some articles have even recommended amendment of policies and programmes. The book has underlined the shortcomings that Radio Nepal is beset with. The editors have done a pretty good job. A must read, even if one might have to put up with the mixed use of dates English and Nepali!

(‘Radio Nepalko Samijik Itihas (The Social History of Radio Nepal)’ is published by Martin Chautari, editors: Pratyoush Onta, Shekhar Parajulee, Devraj Humagain, Krishna Adhikari and Komal Bhatta, 450 pages, price: Rs 150. 2 April was the 55th anniversary of Radio Nepal)