A couple of months back, one of my friends messaged me and asked me to write about the radio stations in Brunei especially after Kristal Radio pulled off the London Capital FM and Capital Gold stations off the air. I told him I am not so sure whether I can do that as I don't listen that much to the radio since they pulled off those two radio stations either and since I no longer drive my car to work, it has been very quiet. I used to blast the radio with my collection of 80s rock and heavy metal sounds. Nowadays, it's a dignified silence.
However since the sms, I did make an effort to listen to all the stations that are available in Brunei just to fulfill that request. If you are curious, there are seven radio stations in Brunei - RTB currently has five stations - Nasional 92.3 fm, Pilihan 95.9 fm, Pelangi 91.4 fm, Harmoni 94.1 fm and Nur-Islam 93.3 fm and Kristal Radio has the Kristal FM. In addition, the British Garrison also has its own network of BFBS radio 1 available in Brunei with English and Nepali services.
Radio Brunei first started in May 1957 and became the Malay Service when the English service sharing with the Chinese service started in 1965. In 1975 Radio Brunei became part of RTB. The two services remained until 1996 when 91.4 fm now known as Rangkaian Pelangi was launched in January 1996 with the Malay service renamed as Rangkaian Nasional and the English and Chinese service known as Rangkaian Pilihan. Rangkaian Harmoni was set up in July 1996 and Rangkaian Nur Islam in 1997. NetRadio was introduced in 2001 making all these stations available through the internet. Rangkaian Nasional remained focused as the BBC of the networks while Harmoni focuses on family oriented entertainment, Pelangi on the younger generation and Nur-Islam focuses on issues related to Islam and Pilihan remained the multilingual service.
Kristal Radio owned by the DST Group started life as a mystery radio station airing Capital FM in 1995 followed by Capital Gold and the recitals of Al-Quran followed soon after that. It wasn't until 1997 that Kristal FM was actually launched when it became the first licensed private commercial radio operating in Brunei. Kristal FM focuses on the 16 to 35 age group - some say that it is more popular than the RTB equivalent of Rangkaian Pelangi. Though my RTB ex-colleagues would not agree to that.
I used to be an English newsreader on the then English service from 1992 to 1994 and in those days, there was no competition yet in the radio services. So I had a captured audience for those waiting for the national English news on the radio and I used to go live at about 7.30 in the morning which is the prime listening time to people who were driving then. So I do have first hand experience of the changes since my time and those of the later 1990s and the current 2000s of the radio services in Brunei.
What do I think of the changes? This is a no contest question. The changes since the early 1990s to now are tremendous. The various services have allowed for listeners to have choices as to what they wanted to hear and receive the radio service of their choices. This can be seen by the number of callers and even nice comments on the opinion pages of the local newspapers about how the stations have fulfilled the expectations of the listeners.
But are our radio stations capable of taking the place of Capital FM and Capital Gold which were taken off the air? Now, that's the $64,000 question as they say. All our radio stations are basically Malay language based. Even though some programs are multilingual or rather bilingual, it is not easy trying to be as good as those native English speakers or London speakers at Capital FM and Capital Gold DJs. And they have access to the very singers and information as opposed to us here some thousands of miles halfway round the world from London. I would say that in terms of English language services, our stations will not be able to take the places of those two stations.
The question is do we want to? We are after all our own nation. We should be capable of doing much better than just to emulate some foreign radio stations. With the internet, we are even capable of doing just that and we don't even need a radio station. BruStu internet radio (Though when I tried to access it last night, I was not able to. Is it still on?) is the one and only prime example of what Bruneians are capable of. Started by the bruneistudent.com and run by the Brunei Students community, the internet radio station have shown how not difficult it is to run radio stations and at the same time what the Bruneians are capable of doing without Capital FM or Capital Gold.