A few months ago I read a couple of articles that I really liked. They were about the emergence of the radio in colonial Singapore and colonial Vietnam.
I was surprised to learn that at first the respective colonial governments were not very involved in that industry. Instead, it was developed by amateurs. Initially such people were European, but by the late 1930s many “natives” were involved as well.
This morning I came across a film that was produced in 1961 called “Tuning-In, Radio Sarawak” that the British Imperial War Museum has digitized and made available online. This is the description of the video:
“The film opens with a performance by the Kuching Constabulary, a popular attraction in the capital. Radio permits this music to be enjoyed by people all over Sarawak. After the performance, an Iban family returns to their jungle village, having made a shopping expedition into the town. For modest expense a boy has bought his sister a transistor radio – a wonder of modern science which is becoming an accepted part of life.
“However, good radios require a good service, and the rest of the program, while illustrating a few of the necessary ancillary services – publication of a ‘Radio Times,’ the running of a record library, upkeep of equipment, etc – concentrates on the various program activities of Radio Sarawak and its multiracial staff.
“Services described include news bulletins, request programs, talent shows, agricultural advice, interviews with visiting personalities, coverage of sports events, religious worship, and educational broadcasts. Musical entertainment is both classical and modern, while radio recordings help to preserve the traditional native arts. Radio Sarawak thus provides many valuable services and is destined to play a major role in the future of the community it serves.”
The movie is amazing, both for what it shows about the role of the radio in society at that time, and for what it shows about life in Sarawak at that time.
But more work definitely needs to be done on the history of the radio in Southeast Asia. In particular, the development of the transistor radio in the 1950s must have had an enormous impact on the lives of people in various ways.
As for the two articles that I mentioned above, they are the following:
Erich DeWald, “Taking to the Waves: Vietnamese Society around the Radio in the 1930s,” Modern Asian Studies 46.1 (2012): 143-165.
Chua Ai Lin, “‘The Modern Magic Carpet’: Wireless Radio in Interwar Colonial Singapore,” Modern Asian Studies 46.1 (2012): 167-191.