From Radio Sarawak to TVS

All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching?

— Nicholas Johnson, law lecturer

I grew up in Kuching at a time when the only means of entertainment was through Radio Sarawak.

The Blassan brothers, namely Elvis impersonator Wilfred Vincent ‘El-Vince’ Ragam or crooners like ‘Frank Sinatra’ A Harrisman and ‘Cliff Richard Jimmy Kuek could earn good money if they sang at private functions. 

But they became more famous if they sang on Radio Sarawak.

In those days not many could sing like Tom Jones and if you could gyrate and belt out ‘Delilah’ as I did, you could earn a monthly salary of $300 at Aurora Hotel which was once owned by timber tycoon Tan Sri Ling Beng Siew.

But whatever dreams I had of becoming a full-time musician was dashed when I was offered the post of cadet journalist with the Straits Times with a basic salary of $380, an offer I could not refuse.

Last weekend I was honored by the brand-new Sarawak Media Group outfit TVS to say a few congratulating words for the Governor of Sarawak’s 84th official birthday.

I touched on the fact that the Governor was not only a P. Ramlee look-alike, but a singer himself whose favorite songs included ‘Ibu’ often dedicated to his doting mother, the late Hajah Hamidah Yakub and ‘Anak ku sazali’, a 1956 Malaysian melodrama film about the love between a man, and a woman and a molly coddled son named Sazali.

So I was not surprised when at the grand opening of TVS at the Borneo Convention Centre that Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud chose P. Ramlee’s ‘Getaran Jiwa’ to be the theme song.

Taib’s association with P. Ramlee goes back to the early days of Radio Sarawak which was established by the colonial government in 1954 Retired RTM director Datuk Affandi Tahir, a Melanau from Rajang, who helped establish the first private radio station in Sarawak called Cats FM, the brainchild of Taib, spoke of the formative years of Radio Sarawak until television reached the shores of Borneo.

Reminiscing, Affandi, 80, said that Tun Taib was instrumental in introducing the Melanau programme to Radio Sarawak.

“I remember the time when Taib and his wife Laila would come to Radio Sarawak to pre-record the news for broadcast the following day, on Sunday. We did this together until he was appointed a member of the State Legislative Assembly of the Sarawak Supreme Council in 1963,” says Affandi.

Initially the Melanau programme was an hour-long segment broadcast every Sunday at noon.

It consisted of a 15-minute news segment, with the rest of the time given to a selection of songs mixed with a sprinkling of important and interesting news of general interest.

The task of translating and reading the weekly news was assigned to Taib.

Each week, Taib would translate a script that Affandi wrote. It was recorded on Saturday for broadcast the following day.

Taib was paid a professional fee of $15 a week for his service.

Soon after this a new programme called ‘From the Editorials’ was broadcast; it was a selection of editorials from various daily Malay and vernacular newspapers, including the Sarawak Tribune.

The task of reading all the required editorials and summarising their contents was given to Taib’s uncle Abdul Rahman Ya’kub.

Like TV Sarawak, Cats FM which was ‘Sarawakian in all respects’ was appropriately launched by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister, on August 8, 1996.

Affandi said Cats FM was formatted to suit local, listeners a station which was “closer to the heart of Sarawakians than national public radio or other private radio stations.”

Affandi, who was RTM’s Johor director, said that during his time, Muhyiddin was much loved, having transformed the state during his tenure because he was a hands-on politician.

Since TV Sarawak was a ‘gift’ from Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhiddin Yassin one wonders if it is appropriate to invite the former mentri besar of Johor to visit TVS office at Kuching’s CityONE complex to chip in some of his ideas on how to grow the TV station in tandem with RTM?

And to think of it there are more than 100,000 Ibans who work in Johor and Singapore who could benefit from TVS.

Yes, Sarawak can go it alone but it’s always good to be open-minded and to see how TVS can appeal to not only Sarawakians but to the rest of the country.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.