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For the first time in history, World Radio Day was observed this week on February 13. The day also marked the anniversary of UN radio which was launched in 1946. In Bhutan Radio was launched in 1973. Ever since then it has played an instrumental role in disseminating information and bringing people together as one nation.
Ap Dago, 71, would best exemplify what this small box means to some individuals. He is from Kharipji, a small hamlet located 26 kilometers from the Capital.
The first thing he does at the break of dawn, he listens to the radio.“I can’t imagine my life without radio. Ever since my wife passed away, radio is only my companion. I listen to radio every day. I am still mourning over my wife’s death and if there is no radio to keep myself engaged, someday I may lose my mind,” he says.
The radio which he has is borrowed from a neighbour. Likewise, there may be untold stories how radio would have helped many lives, especially in the remote pockets of the Country.
Radio in Bhutan was first started by a group of young enthusiastic volunteers called -National Youth Association of Bhutan in 1973, with 30 minutes news and music every Sunday. After a decade, the Radio NYAB was renamed to Bhutan Broadcasting Service Radio, under the then Ministry of Communications.
Pema Tobgay, a senior producer with over 26 years of experiences with BBS Radio, shares how the Radio Broadcast was in the early days. “I joined as a Sharchop producer. Those days we didn’t have a regular broadcast. It was only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. On these days I read news, read out messages send by the listeners and played songs for their listening pleasure,” he remembers.
With three hours of broadcast in the 1980s, BBS Radio today has come a long way to becoming a station that broadcast 24 hours daily in four regional languages. Though widely accessible and known as a cheap and relatively simple technology, Dorji Wangdi- who started his career in BBS Radio- said the radio career was difficult those days, pointing at five kilogrammes spool they had to carry over their shoulder, which is today replaced with a very small recorder.
Today, there are 5 private radio stations and one of them is Kuzoo FM, an infotainment station, established in 2006. As an emerging station, the Administration Officer with Kuzoo FM says it is very difficult to sustain in a country that has limited market.
Apart from the challenges, radio is a powerful medium that connects remote communities, especially as a channel for education, platform for sharing information and promoting public debate, and most importantly in promoting the country’s cultural heritage. It also promotes the National Language.
“Through radio, we are able to promote the way people speak. Before, most of the callers used speak ‘Dzonglish’ or mix of Dzongkha and English. We used to correct them on air. For example, southern Bhutanese now can not only speak fluent Dzongkhag but they can also sing,” says Dzongkha Co-ordinator, Phub Gyeltshen,Kuzoo FM.
But can Radio sustain in the age of rapid encroachment by other forms of media, mostly notably the Television and internet. A researcher from BBS says, radio will continue to have a bright future since many of the rural people are economically disadvantaged and will not afford another medium.
“Also what we have found from research they wanted to listen to radio but they are not in the position to afford to buy a set of radio. Some people say that they are not in the position to repair damaged radio, forget about buying a television set. Even though television comes up with new channel but radio definitely has a clear future,” says Damber Kumar Ghimerey.
According to the Audience Survey Conducted by Bhutan Broadcasting Service in 2010, people still prefer listening radio, be it BBS or other radio channels.
The survey showed that of the sample size of 6,242, 63 percent in general to radio. Of that, 93 percent listens to BBS radio.
For a country like Bhutan, where there is harsh geographical terrain and scattered population, Radio is and will play an important role in educating, informing and entertaining the people. It will also play a big role in emergency communication and disaster relief.