Sunday, April 1, 2018

Radio Televisyen Malaysia / Radio Free Sarawak Retrospective

Radio Malaysia/Voice of Malaysia was one of the many difficult Asia-Pacific stations to catch in the United States. Yet, on 22 November 1975, I logged Radio Malaysia for the first time, and many times thereafter. Unbeknownst to me then I had picked up Radio Malaysia from Penang, according to the frequency legend (4.985 kHz) stated on the card. I had assumed it was Kuala Lumpur and, more importantly, I was excited to have logged a new country to my growing list of international broadcasters.

At the time I lived in Northglenn, Colorado -- a suburb north of Denver. As I recall Radio Malaysia was usually received in the early morning hours between 5 and 8 am. Reception was always weak, yet music and speech was audible despite atmospheric noise.

The receiver I used was a Zenith Trans-Oceanic H-500, a 5 valve/tube radio originally manufactured in the early 1950s. The antenna was an inverted L, elevated at over 30 feet, spanning approximately 75 feet in length.

The card appears to have first been printed in 1973, judging by the smaller date printed at the bottom of the card. It was one of the few folded cards I received in my DXing years from 1967 to 1980. It featured three sections, folded twice and printed on both sides. The Angkasapuri studio in Kuala Lumpur, map and flag of Malaysia, caption about the country, transmitter sites and frequencies and verification data are depicted on it.

When I resumed listening to the short-wave bands around 2010, Radio Malaysia (Voice of Malaysia), RTM Sarawak (Kuching), Asyik FM, TRAXX FM, Wai FM and Radio Salam/Voice of Islam (Kajang) aired their respective programmes. I was not particularly interested to QSL since I lived in Malaysia by this time, but then one by one these stations began to disappear. Indeed, many medium-wave stations once heard also ceased.

At this point, I resubmitted old reception reports, usually to no avail. No one answered. When Voice of Malaysia resurfaced for a brief time, I contacted the station DJs, among them being Albert Ng. He came personally to my house and hand-delivered two Voice of Malaysia QSL cards and VOM souvenirs.

I made contact with several personnel from RTM after finding their email addresses on the RTM website. RTM Sarawak FM was initially logged from Kuching transmitter site. In 2010 after unsuccessful attempts to QSL Sarawak FM (while still transmitting from Kuching), I followed up with a PPC QSL which RTM confirmed in late 2011. Since then, RTM has QSLed reception reports for listeners worldwide. I would like to think I helped start the ball rolling for the QSL cards issued for Sarawak FM, TRAXX FM and Wai FM. I even scripted and voiced a promotional spot for Voice of Malaysia, which later ran occasionally on TRAXX FM.

In early 2012 all RTM stations were initially QSLed  with a card depicting RTM headquarters in Antarabangsa, Kuala Lumpur. There were two versions issued. The first edition featured only the RTM building whereas the second edition included RTM station logos. In the 1970's  RTM issued a QSL card showing the same building, which incidentally sits on a hillside, outside Pantai Dalam, near Kuala Lumpur town centre.

Interestingly, RTM - Voice of Malaysia offered a  variety of designs throughout the 1980's, 1990's and 2000's. These served to not only confirm reception reports, but  also aided in promoting Malaysia as a tourist destination.

Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and BBC Tebrau QSLs were issued from the late 1970s through the early 1990s when they transmitted from sites in not just peninsular Malaysia, but Sabah and Sarawak. Currently RTM has short-wave / FM studios in East and West Malaysia, however all radio transmissions emanate from Kajang, Selangor (West Malaysia).

For those interested in the history of radio in Malaysia, the first radio broadcasts commenced in peninsular Malaysia (Malaya) on 1 April 1946. The first two radio stations were Radio Malaya (in Malay) and The Blue Network (in English). The transmitters were located first in Singapore, then later in Kuala Lumpur (which began operation in 1950).

With the independence of Malaya on 31 August 1957, Radio Malaya was divided into two separate stations. The original studio in Singapore became Radio Singapura. Radio Malaya moved to Kuala Lumpur and aired their first transmission from the new location on 1 January 1959.

Radio Malaya would later be renamed Radio Malaysia on 16 September 1963, beginning their transmissions with the trademark phrase, Inilah Radio Malaysia (This is Radio Malaysia).

Radio and TV operations merged in 1968 when the Angkasapuri headquarters was officially opened. At this point, Radio Malaysia and Televisyen Malaysia merged and became Radio Televisyen Malaysia (Radio Television Malaysia, RTM) in 1969.

A few non-RTM stations have appeared on the short-wave and medium wave bands in the recent decade, most notably Radio Free Sarawak. For those not familiar with Radio Free Sarawak, it is a clandestine station that broadcasts Sarawakian music and political commentary from a Malaysian opposition party to the ingenious people of Sarawak, East Malaysia. The programming is produced in a London-based studio by award-winning British journalist, Clare Rewcastle Brown, who was born and raised in Sarawak. A former Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) announcer from Sarawak,Peter John Jaban, the grandson of a Dayak headhunter and aka Papa John, is the station's DJ. Short-wave transmissions in the past originated from Palau and Tiganesti (Romania).

Another political opposition station, Radio Free Malaysia, had an ad hoc broadcast relayed from Taiwan on medium-wave just before the General Election in 2013. A few additional stations have surfaced as well, again with one off broadcasts for the political opposition.

In recent years, only RTM Sarawak FM and RTM Wai FM remain on short-wave. Occasionally RTM Limbang FM can be heard. How much longer RTM will maintain these short-wave broadcasts is uncertain. Everything appears to be centred around FM and the Internet. I, for one, hope RTM retains at least one station to promote Malaysia abroad.

Interestingly, on 1 April 2018, RTM will celebrate their 72nd ANNIVERSARY. Happy birthday, RTM!!!

 Special thanks to Hegedus Istvan and Uwe Volk for use of their RTM QSLs and pennant

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