[The Managing Editor at BT asked me whether I could do an article on Radio Brunei as they just celebrated their 53rd Anniversary. It brought back memories. In the early 1990s I used to be a part time English newscaster on the English Channel or what the RTB now called Rangkaian Pilihan. In those days, there were only 3 of us, Charan Kumar, Ideris Ali or me. If anyone was ill, then one of us has to do a lot of reading. There were 3 slots, 6.45 am, 12.30 pm or 9.15 pm. I was always in the studio about 30 minutes before to mark the scripts and all the places to stop etc. Most importantly I had to edit the English, it was mostly passable as direct translations but in most cases not very flowing. There were times I had to rewrite entire paragraphs just to get it flowing. I was not supposed to do that but I did it anyway. After about 3 years, I just could not cope with my regular work and all that. The pay by the way was $20 per news session. Anyway, this article on Radio Brunei was published yesterday in my Golden Legacy Column on Brunei Times.]
“INILAH RADIO BRUNEI” (this is Radio Brunei). Those were the first words said by the first announcer, Dayangku Intan binti PDP Pengiran Haji Apong to the Brunei airwaves marking the first official broadcast of Radio Brunei. It was the first day of Hari Raya Puasa.
The first radio broadcast was at 7.45 pm on 2nd May 1957. It went out on 242.1 Megahertz frequency and can only be heard by those who had radios within a five kilometer radius of the transmitter at Bukit Salilah.
Communicating to the public or the masses was a big undertaking. Communications allow countries to be built, and diverse societies and cultures be forged into one nation. For Brunei, the radio service was one such service which needed to be put into place as soon as possible.
Prior to the radio service, Brunei only had the Information Service. The Information Service began its life in 1952. The Information Service functioned as a print media where Pelita Brunei, a weekly government publication (now twice weekly) was published and given out for free to the public. The Information Service also functioned as a broadcaster. At first it only played movies to the public. In 1961, the Radio Service was merged with the Information Service adding radio as part of its broadcasting duties.
Brunei’s Radio Service was launched officially by His Royal Highness Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien. It was his aspiration as the ‘Architect of modern Brunei’ for wanting to bring such services. In the Brunei Annual Report of 1956, detailed planning for the broadcasting station was undertaken and that all necessary equipment had been bought. The service was to be centred in a new broadcasting house to be built and fed by VHF to a 20 kilowatt medium wave transmitter. A small studio was to be established in Belait and connected to the Tutong transmitter.
However in 1956, only the 2 kilowatt transmitter was on its way to Brunei. All the staff was then being trained at Radio Sarawak and the first hopes were getting to the air by the first quarter of 1957.
By 1957, that first broadcast was made. Both His Royal Highness the Sultan and the British Resident broadcasted personal messages. However that first official broadcast on 2nd May 1957 was not the first. During April 1957, Radio Brunei had already been on the air with ad hoc programmes.
The first daily transmission was two and a half hour with Malay programs occupying one and a half hour and English forty five minutes. The contents of the programs comprised of musical entertainment, religious programs, radio plays, talks, world and local news. The musical entertainment comprised of gramophone records, folk orchestras as well as full packaged programs from Sarawak.
Live programs were also broadcasted including the opening of the airport, the Brunei Hotel and the telephone exchange as well as commentaries of rugby matches. BBC programs were also played such as ‘The Goon Show’, ‘A Life of Bliss’ as well radio parlour games called ‘Beat the Gong’ with the assistance of the pupils of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien College.
The first staff comprised of one station manager, one record librarian, four Malay program assistants and one cleaner. It was not until August that part-time announcers were engaged. The British Resident acknowledged that these early staff ‘have worked, more often than otherwise, well over the prescribed working hours including week-ends and holidays’ and ‘their efforts have been noteworthy’.
The government offered a subsidy to buy radios by monthly installments. More than 1,048 radio sets were sold.
By 1958, three languages were broadcasted, Malay, English and Chinese. The transmitter at Tutong was switched on. By 1960, Radio Brunei held the first singing competition ‘Bintang Radio’ (Radio Star). Many Bruneians who can sing became famous through this competition. There were a few popular singers such as Ali Paun, Dayangku Aminah and M. Noordin. One notable band was ‘Dendang Teruna’.
By 1962, the Belait Radio Station first planned in 1957 was finally opened. It was in 1965 that Radio Brunei could be heard around the country through short wave frequency. It was also able to broadcast to the Asia Pacific region. Radio Brunei was now operating in two channels, in Malay and in English.
The radio service was now making an impact. Popular dramas were introduced by Wahab Mohammad entitled ‘Bujang Sigandam’. ‘Diandangan Bujang Sigandam’ first introduced in radio service around 1966 stayed on until the 1970s. The stories were very popular and the ‘peniandangan’ – the guy who did all the verse singing such as Abdul Rahman Sudin, Awang Kadir Kassim and Awang Metassan bin Jair did very well in catering to the public’s imagination with stories entitled ‘Sikandung Larai’, ‘Puteri Mengindera Sakti’, ‘Sultan Indera Sakti’, ‘Shiekh Abdul Rahman’ and ‘Wang Udin Raya’.
By 1970, radio service was able to broadcast from its new home at Jalan Stoney. The new building had 5 recording studios, 2 broadcasting studios as well as the auditorium. By 1978, ‘Bintang Kecil’ (Small Star), a singing competition for children was started. However up to 1990, the television services took the limelight away from the radio service and not much innovation went on.
By 1990s, there were many changes. Radio Brunei began operating from 4.30 in the morning. By 1994, the service was extended to 12 midnight. In 1995, channel 91.4FM was opened for the National Day. In 1996, the three existing channels were renamed as Rangkaian Nasional, Rangkaian Pilihan and the new 91.4FM; Rangkaian Pelangi. Later that year, a fourth channel; Rangkaian Harmoni.
The following year saw the fifth channel, NurIslam, being born. By 2001, NetRadio was launched. Now the entire radio services are available world-wide.
In the meantime, the merger and the split between the broadcasters and the publishers continued. On 1st December 1985, the Information Department and RTB was merged to form the new Information and Broadcasting Department under the Ministy of Culture, Youth and Sports. By 1986, the new department was moved to the Prime Minister’s Office. In 1991, it was split again for the final time into the Information Department and Radio Television Brunei.
Radio Brunei played important roles in disseminating information to the public. That was clearly seen during the run up to the first written Constitutions where information about the Constitution was read out on radio. According to Dr. Haji Asbol in his paper ‘Persekolahan Melayu Brunei Darussalam 1950-1984: Perubahan dan Cabaran’ during the Third Brunei History Seminar in 2006, the introduction of the radio in the 1950s has influenced the minds of the local communities. Through this media, the public were not just entertained but they were exposed to the development of politics, economic and social which they can hear from the radio stations transmitted locally and from abroad. In forums which involved the public in Radio Brunei, they were forthcoming with many ideas and issues which involved politics and the government machinery including education issues.
From a small station, Radio Brunei today has matured into a multi channel radio broadcaster. As it moved into digital transmission and despite the challenges of multi channel television broadcasts, the radio has remained a basic staple need of the public.