January 31, 2012

The Transistor Radio - in Rural Sarawak

 A transister radio is a small portable radio receiver that uses transistor based circuitry. It was first introduced in 1954. It changed the world of music. Youths started to listen to popular music, having the pocket transistor radio in their pockets, while moving about. In SArawak, the Ibans enjoyed a long standing Radio Iban since the 1950's.




This is Mr. Umpang the skilled craftsman of Rh Aling who is fashioning a parang handle. The transistor radio is his good companion...rather like our city coffee mornings..his daughter will soon bring out biscuits and a cup of coffee for him..(I took this photo at 10:50 and we shared coffee together and listened to the Iban radio on Gawai day...Numpang works even though it is Gawai...it is just another day!! But the radio tells him that there so be some celebration!!
Looking at him...I wish I have legs and joints like him. He is almost 90 years old..

I really think Radio Sarawak did a fantastic job in helping all of us . We had a marvellous childhood listening to the radio...and we were "connected" to the outside world..even though we are on the island of Borneo and state of Sarawak we heard news and stories from all of the world..which prepared us to be world citizens. Globalisation was already on its march then. The transistor radio is still very important in the lives of the longhouse people of Sarawak.

And also in Chinese homes and camps where generators are only in operation at night. On the other hand I have been reminded of the 1960's period in the Foochow villages of the Rajang where no electricity supply was available and the Japanese electricity generator was not a known utility. Only Lee Hua sawmills and Hua Hong Ice Factory had power generators. and that was really a luxury. (It also meant that was a refrigerator for day time use) In my grandmother's house in Nang Chong my uncles each had a transistor radio in their unit. Foochow news and Chinese songs were the highlights of the day.

The transistor radion was placed on a ledge high above a kid's head and only the elders could change the channels. No kids were allowed to finddle with the treasureed radio - our connectivity with the rest of the world! And by the way even the record player (with a Lion's Head) was battery run. When it was time for the announcement of the rubber prices on the radio every one would stop whatever they were doing and sit around the radio...RSS1 is 50 dollars per ton..."chiew nen RSS 1 mui tan se 50 doi ".The voice of the late Lau Kiing Hiing or the pleasant  voice of Hsiung Kwo Hua can still ring in my head every now and then......

Also Eveready Batteries were the favourite. I was far too young to understand the graphic significance of a cat jumping through the figure 9!! Cat has 9 lives!! Now whenever I see the Eveready batteries I would smile and think of the past.






In the same way the longhouse people knew about rubber cloning and oil palm seedlings today via the transistor radio. Rh Aling and folks like Numpang do not have 24/7 electricity even in the 21st century....so visiting Rh Aling has always been like a time warp for me...being hurtled back to a strange 1950's kind of lifestyle yet there would also be trappings of 21 century lifestyle like Hilux...iPhone...netbook...and the latest Crocs!! Not to mention dyed hair!

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ya, Sarawakiana, transistor radio is such an invention that I remember people will switch on the radio very early in the morning and listen to Radio Sarawak it while they are brushing the teeth, eating breakfast, etc. Even today, transistor radio is being used in rural areas. Of course, we must not forget Radio Free Sarawak as well that provide alternative news through transitor radio!! Perhaps transistor radio can cause political revolution as well?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes Anonymous...this is a very good invention - and for more than 50 years it has helped so many people...I still have a small transistor radio - it is something that has been part of my life..and I like the old songs and the local news...The Iban news at times keep us up to date on deaths and funerals alerting relatives and friendse....We don't need Smoke Signals!!

Ann said...

Mr. Lau's era, he was against radio and popular music. Perhaps he was forced by the communists to tell us that. The communists used to confiscate albums from those at Chung hua road, break them into pieces in the house, and also strew them along the roads, including Queensway, as warning that we didn't listen to Yellow culture.

Daniel Yiek said...

Like

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann

thanks for the reminder!! Yes we were terrified of the t erm Yellow Culture in those days without even really know what it was all about. However I did not know about the CCO breaking records and throwing the pieces every where!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Daniel....you had no time to visit Miri and your cousins?

Juznobsrvr said...

"The transistor radion was placed on a ledge high above a kid's head and only the elders could change the channels. No kids were allowed to finddle with the treasureed radio - our connectivity with the rest of the world!"

This was similar where I grew up. And I always thought that they wouldn't let us change the channel because that would just increase the static - hence the defacto position was the best position to get the best reception.

Thanks for sharing. - Rob

The Observer said...

The old man in the photo looks very much like my grandpa who also had a transistor radio and brought with him almost everywhere he went.

This entry reminds me of a time (in 2000) when I realized how important the radio was to the rural folk in sarawak, who depended on the transistor radio for entertainment and information. I seldom tune in to radio stations because I'm just simply not a radio person. Something told me to explore the available stations that day and I learned a lot from the from the radio station I tuned into. I also got a little teary thinking about the those in the rural areas.

Instead of tuning in to stations with programs in the English language, I randomly selected an Iban language station to find out what type of radio broadcast programs were made available to the local folk. I tuned in to a station that was running a request and dedication program for folks who wanted the song of their choice to be played and dedicated to their loved ones far away who were probably listening to the same radio station.

A caller requested for a song performed by a popular female Iban singer by the name of Angela Lata Jua and I thought she was just amazing though my command in the Iban language was (still is) so-so.

When the song ended, the dj made an announcement about the invitation of an on-air special guest to discuss matters related to education and rural Sarawak. I thought it was awesome that the radio station was broadcasting such information.

After the announcement, he took an on-air call from a young man who did not request for a song but asked the dj to help him relay a message to a relative about his plan to make a trip home to the longhouse somewhere in outskirts of Roban. The caller hoped that the relative would make an arrangement to pick him up where the express bus will drop him off, along the highway of Pekan Roban.

I got very emotional because I knew that the caller had to use the radio to inform them as the family might not have a land-line at home or sufficient network coverage in that area.

I admired the man because he had faith in the radio dj and that the message will be relayed to his family. He then thanked the dj and hung up. The dj continued to broadcast more Iban songs for listeners and announce the man's request for pick-up at Pekan Roban from time to time.

I started to imagine the man's trip home and I got a teary AGAIN (I am very soppy) thinking about the long ride back and what a gamble it was for him to use the radio. But I guess he was confident probably because his family and relatives at the longhouse will surely tune in to the same radio station.

I can't say that I know what it's like for them to communicate in this manner. What if they missed the announcement or never tuned in to the same station?... But I guess been done before and radio has been around way before the cellphone.

Isn't it an ingenious way of communication. Respect!

Ann said...

The CCO time, was it when I was in F5. Once they came and graffiti-ed outside and inside the class rooms, they tagged Mr. Deng and Mdm Tiong were running dogs. Mr. Lau scolded the students for not shutting the classrooms properly. You were in MU I think.

Bengbeng said...

a good pic this one. transistor radios n the past.... inseparable

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Rob..yes that was also one of the reasons but being Foochows my elders were very careful with their "property"..and keeping the radio "up there on the ledge" was really deterent.

It has really been a joy thinking of those days and writing this article.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

It must have been a wonderful feeling to have that learning journey!! Students learning in this way get the best out of their life!!Thanks for writing!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Oh...I also hope that the young man met up with his loved ones...In Sarawak most Iban families tell their relatives about funerals through the morning Iban channel. I understand that Kalimantan can receive this channel but not West Malaysia....

Sarawakiana@2 said...

I remember the time when Mr. Johnson was threatened. Yes it was a difficult time for many people and European teachers had to be "sent home"....

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Beng Beng...grateful for your comment..

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann.
During the CCO time Mr. Johnson faced the challenge of the underground people coming into his classroom. He was brave and faced them and told them to leave...later the three guys shouted many times "Down with colonialism:...and then painted the walls red...It was frightening for most of us...and later many of our teachers were asked to leave. Sad and confusing...By the time I went to the U many of my relatives were already put into the New Villages for RE Education!!

Ann said...

CY, U are brave, and I am stirring u on, my L6 Eco teacher was an Indian Mr. Krishnan, with an Ang Mo wife. He lived in the house Mr. gregory lived, the upstairs and downstairs house next to the tuck shop.

One night, he heard noises downstairs and came to check . he was faced with a gun to his face. He told Mr. Lau who told him to keep quiet. He reported to the Edu dept that Mr. Lau was CCO sympathiser. His wife was so truamatised and refused to leave the house. Mr. k stayed at home to take care of her and not come to teach.

eventually, he left for Hong Kong, and HK's didn't recognise his degree. He didn't want to ask Mr. lau to write his reference. So he asked my Dad.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann
Indeed I have forgotten about Mr. K until your sharing!! Oh yes..Mr. Lau had a strange way of dealing with some of his teachers..Sorry to hear about Mr. K' s sad parting with mr. Lau...Wonder where Mr. K is now...any idea?

Ann said...

Did U know Mr. K? Like I said, from Sibu, he went to HK. Don't know where he is,. Was handsome Bollywood type. No wonder Amg Mo woman marries him/

Mr. Lau, they said/ they meaning gossips, he was warned by CCO not to report, if not, it woul;d be him when someone gets the bullet.

That is why he didn't want us to sing Love Love Love songs. But when a junior girl joined the Sibu Singing contest and won the champion, Gossips were waiting for him to expel her, but it never happened.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yeah Mr. Lau was principal during a turbulent time but he had many people who supported him and did not abandon him...some of the Catholic brothers were in trouble too...and I think many school headmasters in the lower Rajang had to "skip town"...they lost all their pensions especially those who had to resign suddenly..too much pressure. Wife and children all suffer. and of course a lot of bitterness.

fs said...

Back in the 50's only the likes of Alex Ling, son of Ling Beng Siew, possessed a transistor radio, and we all crowded around him to listen to Radio Sarawak's programs, especially on saturday afternoons when the very popular music request program "From Me To You" was aired. Speaking of which, the istitutionalized presenter, or whom you'd call a DJ today, Anne Tan, passed away in London very recently in her 70's. She was a part of our life.

I've tried and tried looking for archive material of Radio Sarawak of the 50's hoping to find some images both of Anne and the station but to no avail. Many of my contemporaries are now trying to recall how she looked like. Will appreciate any help from you.

And hey ..... I did own a tiny 'crystal set' with which I could tune in to Radio Sarawak, but reception was very faint. Still, it was better than nothing.

Yes, we've come a long long long way since, with all the high-tech gear today.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear fs
It is incredible to receive such a lovely response from you. Alex Ling and his huge cars which looked like birds. One of his sisters was my school mate. And now he has only one sister still living in Sibu but has been really a well respected lady...
I will try to get a photo or some digital images of Ann Tan as I know one or two broadcasters from Radio Sarawak...hope the task would not be too difficult..So stay tuned!! (as the saying goes)...I did not dare to make song requests because mum was conservative..and I envied those girls who could send their requests in..they were popular!!thanks for writing in.

Silvester sunny said...

Wish to make a song request to those in kch for gawai

Silvester sunny said...

Wish to make a song request to those in kch for gawai

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