Radio Madras Presidency Amateur Radio Club took initiative in 1924 to launch radio broadcasting in British India. Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) a private enterprise set up two medium wave transmitters of 1.5 KW one each at Mumbai and Kolkata in 1927 with limited coverage area. The company was laid off in 1930 and the government of India took over these stations and formed the Indian State Broadcasting Service (ISBS), which set up more powerful transmitters in Mumbai (1930) and Delhi (1934). The ISBS was renamed as the All India Radio (AIR) in 1936 and 3 more radio stations were commissioned in Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. Besides medium wave, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai stations had short-wave transmitters. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the British government set up six more stations one each at Karachi, Lucknow, Lahore, Peshawar, Tiruchi and Dhaka.
The first and oldest station of Bangladesh Betar went on air on 16 December 1939 in dhaka. Known as the Dhaka Dhawani Bistar Kendra (Dhaka Audio Broadcasting Station) it was established in a rented house in Nazimuddin Road, now Sheikh Borhanuddin College and its 5 KW medium-wave transmitter was installed at Kallayanpur. Its range was 20-25 miles by night and 30-45 miles by day. Bangladesh Betar preserves this oldest transmitter in their museum. Later naming as AIR Dhaka station it turned into the main cultural centre of eastern Bengal.'
Many creative and promising talents including poets, playwrights, writers, artists, journalists, presenters, singers, musicians, composers, actors and actresses started coming to Dhaka radio with great enthusiasm to participate in the programmes. Well known performers of Kolkata radio also used to visit Dhaka as guest artistes. A few experienced broadcasters and programme organisers were also transferred to Dhaka. Initially there was no recording equipment in this station. So they had to perform live. Two most remarkable live programmes of Dhaka radio were Devadas, a drama performed by Promothesh Barua and Jamuna Devi and Purbani a musical programme composed and directed by kazi nazrul islam. The daily transmission hour was from 5 pm to 10 pm.'
After the partition 1947, Dhaka radio continued its transmission as a station of Pakistan Broadcasting Service, later renamed as Radio Pakistan. A Technical Monitoring-cum-Research and Receiving Centre was set up at Board Bazar, gazipur to get signal from Karachi, the Headquarters of Radio Pakistan. Meanwhile the number of radio stations, transmitters, broadcasters and artistes increased in East Bengal. In 1954 two low-powered MW transmitters of one KW were installed in chittagong and rajshahi. A 10-KW short-wave transmitter was set up at Kallyanpur in 1959 to gear up the transmission of Dhaka radio. By that time a good number of talents were discovered and trained up to participate in radio programmes. Many established artistes migrated to India. A modern broadcasting house built for Dhaka station at Shahbagh with six studios went into operation from 8 February 1960. The complex having 12 studios is now also the headquarters of Bangladesh Betar. In 1961 Sylhet station went on air with a 2-KW medium-wave transmitter. In 1963 a 100-KW medium-wave transmitter and another 100-KW short-wave transmitter were installed at savar for Dhaka radio, two new 10-KW medium-wave transmitters were installed one each in Chittagong and Rajshahi to replace the old ones. In 1967 two 10-KW medium-wave transmitters were set up in rangpur and sylhet. In 1970 another 10-KW medium-wave transmitter was set up in khulna.'
All these regional stations have been playing a vital role to carry forward the information, culture, tradition and heritage of the land. Opportunities were expanded for the new talents and the listeners as the types and volume of programmes were raised. Radio emerged as the most popular and powerful medium and the prime source of news, education, cultural dissemination and entertainment. Public Service broadcasting related to national development got top priority in communication strategy and programmes on farm broadcast, children programmes, health and family planning, self-employment, disaster management, weather forecast and rural development were found very effective. Dhaka radio's oldest programme on agriculture' 'Amar Desh' (My Country) began 63 years ago, is still very popular. Moreover, the low price and mobility of radio sets, attractive contents and language of regional stations made the listeners aware of their own tradition, values, culture and socio-economic interest. Artistes of Dhaka radio boycotted radio protesting the killing of martyrs in language movement, 1952. All officers and staffs closed down the transmission and left the station on 7 March 1971 as the Pakistan government took step not to broadcast the historic speech of bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman. Normal transmission began in the morning on the next day when the Pakistan military authority agreed to put the historic speech on air.
After the midnight of 25 March 1971 when the Pakistan armed forces started genocide in Dhaka the brave broadcasters of Chittagong station played a glorious role. The call of Independence on behalf of Bangabandu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was broadcast next day from Chittagong station terming itself as the Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Betar Kendra (Revolutionary Radio Centre of Independent Bangladesh).
After the independence Bangladesh Betar emerged as the national radio network. Dhaka station was elevated to a national station from its regional status. To cope with national demand intellectual work relating to programmes increased manifold against limited facilities. But the situation improved slowly as the broadcasting facilities expanded with the setting up of eleven central units External Service, Transcription service, Farm Broadcast, Commercial Service, Population, Health and Nutrition Cell, Monitoring unit, Music, Education, Liaison and Audience Research, Traffic Broadcast and Publications.'
In July 1983 Dhaka station shifted to the National Broadcasting House, Agargaon having modern studios and accommodation for Engineering Wings, Central News Organisation, Farm Broadcast, Monitoring Directorate and Population Cell. Six new regional stations were set up at thakurgaon, comilla, barisal, cox's bazar, rangamati and bandarban with 10-KW medium-wave transmitters everywhere. Earlier after the independence, a 1000-KW medium-wave transmitter was installed with the assistance from the then Soviet government at Dhamrai for transmitting national programmes of Dhaka-A. Later, three 100-KW medium-wave transmitters were installed at bogra, noapara and kalurghat for Rajshahi, Khulna and Chittagong stations respectively. Two 250 KW short-wave transmitters were set up at Kabirpur to broadcast the programmes of External Services in six languages Bangla, English, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu and Nepalese. The unit puts 5 hour 30 minutes of programmes daily for overseas listeners.
At present 71 Studios and 15 medium-wave, three short-wave and 12 FM transmitters are being used for the production and transmission of programmes. Betar plans to set up 12 more FM transmitters soon to cover the whole country.
Betar channels now (2011) broadcast daily a total of 252 hours of programmes which constitute music' about 65%. Bangladesh Betar broadcasts about 600 radio dramas per year from all stations which make their weekly average at 12. The 1-hour commercial service introduced in Dhaka on 1 March 1967 now broadcasts about 17 hours commercial programmes daily. The unit-wise daily transmission hour is Farm Broadcast- 4 hours 30 minutes, Transcription Service 2 hours, Population, Health and Nutrition Cell- 8 hours, Traffic Broadcast 8 hours, Women and Child issues 6 hours and Education Broadcast 12 hours. The daily broadcast includes 67 national news bulletins, 2 news commentaries and one newsreel. Its Monitoring unit monitors news and current affairs programmes of 48 overseas radio stations and publishes a highlight daily as Daily Monitoring Report for the consumption of concerned departments and agencies.'
All the units and stations have digital recording, dubbing and preservation system. By 2010, 70% programmes were recorded, edited and preserved in digital format, the rate will be 100% by 2012. As most of the transmitters are digital compatible, Betar will be able to transmit digital signal after the introduction of digital radio receiver. Listeners around the globe can hear programmes of Betar specially music and news in Bangla, English, Arabic and Hindi from its website www.betar.org.bd.
Bangladesh Betar is a member of Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Unit (ABU), Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) and Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA). It is also an associate member of Broadcasting Organisation of the Non-Aligned Countries (BONAC) and Islamic States Broadcasting Organisation (ISBO). Bangladesh Betar bagged 26 international awards mostly from ABU and CBA during 1982-2009. Betar was also awarded with the most prestigious national award Independence Day Award in 2006.
Bangladesh Betar employs more than 2750 persons, 664 of whom are Class 1 officers. At present there are over eleven thousand staff artists and enlisted casual artists in Betar, whose role for the promotion of our life and culture is notable.
The government of Bangladesh has opened up the territory's air for private commercial FM operators. Six such commercial stations Radio Today, Radio Foorti, ABC Radio, Dhaka FM, Peoples Radio and Radio Amar have been transmitting non-stop programmes mainly recorded pop music and live news their only production from Dhaka, Khulna, Sylhet, Bogra, Cox's Bazar and Chittagong. The government has also given permission to operate community radio with very low powered FM transmitter on non-commercial basis for the benefit of the respective people. [Mahbubul Alam]