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Home Food for Thought Stories from Home Magic of the Airwaves

Magic of the Airwaves

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tony1Part I
‘This is the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon’ came the announcement over the radio as Felicio sat in the front balcao (balcony) of his house early in the morning. It was the usual routine – rising early to study. Then after a cup of tea, Felicio would pick up the Philips portable transistor radio from the showcase, carry it outside, and place it on the ‘sopo’ (a mud-cement combination of blocks of seats on either side of main door of houses in Goa).The radio was quite new to Felicio’s house then. Only two other families had a radio in the entire village. Felicio’s mother had stitched and fitted a custom-made cloth cover for it to keep the dust away. It had a flap that exposed only the dial. Flip the cloth cover over the handle of the radio, pull up and adjust its aerial, and it would then be time to tune to his favourite station “Radio Ceylon”, as it was known then. Searching for the station on the dial was quite easy once one got the hang of it. Switching to Short Wave, turning the knob and aligning the needle precisely to its position on the 31 Meter Band, and with a little bit of fine tuning it came on loud and clear - the magic of Radio Ceylon. At times certain orientation would be required for a better reception. Through the clutter of other stations in that particular region of the radio dial, it was immediately recognizable by its crispiness and clarity. As Felicio shuffled and zipped through the static and clatter, various other broadcasts like Voice of America, Vividh Bharati and Radio Moscow popped out clear and sharp too. As the atmospheric conditions were more favourable for an optimum reception of these broadcasts in early mornings and late evenings, the popular programs could be received and heard crystal-clear during these times.

The instrumentals played from 7 am to 7.30 am were a real treat. From The Jumping Jewels with ‘Zambezi' and The Shadows with ‘The Foot Tapper’ were raging hits. Radio Ceylon also relayed BBC News from London at 7.30 am Indian Standard Time everyday. The news began at the end of the familiar six distinct 'pips' of Greenwich Time Signal. This was also the time when family members automatically turned towards their clocks and check watches to check their accuracy. It would have been precisely 1300 hrs GMT, in London. ‘BBC World Service’ came the announcement preceding the news. It was good news and bad news from the Western world that was often heard relayed through the years. Included in the news were reports about Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin orbiting earth, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the death of Marilyn Monroe, the Air India crash on Mont Blanc, the tragedy of the Vietnam War and the deaths of 3 astronauts in the launch pad fire at the start of the first manned Apollo mission. As Felicio and his brother walked to school they would pass on the news they heard on the radio to other boys that they met along the way. But what this station of Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation in Colombo, Ceylon, (now Sri Lanka) was probably most renowned for was its 'Binaca Hit Parade' on Sundays, playing the latest English vocal top tunes that played a part in greatly influencing that generation by western English music. Another popular broadcast was 'Binaca Geetmala' hosted by golden voiced celebrity Ameen Sayani. In the evenings its daily 2-hour long listeners' choice program was exciting to look forward to. The suave voices of disc jockeys Vijaya Correa and Eric Fernando reverberated through the air when the world's most popular hits ruled the waves - from Elvis Presley to the Beatles. 'Happy Birthday to Me' by Hank Locklin, 'May the Good Lord bless and keep you' by Connie Francis were frequently heard, but the solemn narration of the 'The Deck of Cards' by T. Texas Tyler as the sun went down sent a chilling tingle down Felicio’s spine. Sometimes as he walked home from a football match, or as he bicycled after having a bag of wheat ground into flour at the flour-mill in the neighbouring village, just a little after sundown, it was not unusual to hear these songs from the Radio Ceylon's listeners' choice program coming out from road-side houses. Hank Locklin’s ‘Send me the pillow that you dream on’ and Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’ were popular and often-requested songs. Songs by Ricky Nelson, Nat King Cole, Peter & Gordon, Everly Brothers, Doris Day, Bobby Darin, Brian Hyland, and Bobby Vinton would definitely be remembered by kids of those days till the present day. Pat Boone's 'Speedy Gonsales' was quite a hit then with ‘the plaintive cry of the young Mexican girl’ piercing through the stillness of the evening air. Felicio always wondered if he had missed out on any of his favourite songs when the radio was temporarily switched off just before the recitation of the ‘Angelus’. Tracks by Dutch Swing College Band and Acker Bilk were often aired on special Jazz and Swing quarter-hour programs. By 9 a.m. a lot of chirp, clatter and other radio disturbances were audible as the signal got weak.

tony2Part II
Another broadcasting station that developed and shaped Felicio’s love for Konkani, English and Portuguese music is ‘Emissora de Goa’ from the late fifties up to the morning of 18th December 1961. Portuguese songs 'Encosta tua cabecinha', 'Sonho' and 'Vem, vem minha flor' were often heard on the air-waves. The studios were located at Altinho, Panjim, and the transmitters at Bambolim, Goa. It was silenced temporarily by the bombs dropped by Indian air force jets at the time of Goa’s take-over by the Indian Government. Happy days were there again when after a respite of about two months broadcasting resumed with transmission ID as All India Radio, Panjim, three times a day, on Medium Wave. During the Portuguese era transmission began at 7 am with the Portuguese national anthem. After the take-over it was replaced by ‘Vande Mataram’ followed by Christian and Hindu devotional hymns, news in Konkani, Konkani songs and Marathi programs. Second transmission began at noon again with English vocal and instrumental music, news in English at 1.30 pm relayed from All India Radio, Delhi, followed by English classical music up to 2.30 pm. It was on the air again at 6 pm with a line-up of Konkani songs, Marathi songs, bhajans and plays. Weekly late night Konkani plays were regular features. Sunday morning children's programme 'Honi Baili Vasri' rings a bell. The station, after it became a part of the net-work known as All India Radio, Panjim, also relayed from A.I.R. Bombay, songs by Alfred Rose, songs from Konkani films ‘Amchem Noxib’ and ‘Nirmon’, songs by Anthony Mendes and Miguel Road in a 30 minute program starting at 8.20 pm, immediately after the news in Marathi (Bathmi). A.I.R. News relays began with the word: 'Akashwani'. The most popular broadcast listened to in many Goan homes was probably the listeners' request program of Konkani songs broadcast at 6 pm on Sunday evenings. Alfred Rose’s Konkani songs ‘Deu Nidonk Nam’ and ‘Sui, Sut, Cator’ were major hits. Young Menezes’ lightning-speed singing was a sensation, moral woes were well-depicted by Alexinho de Candolim and Souza Gião yodelled his way into the hearts of listeners of all ages. Those were the melodious days of Felicio’s childhood – the days when a group of village boys sat down and wrote words of the songs as they were played on the radio. English and Konkani songbooks were compiled by the village boys that initially contained some misheard lyrics which were later corrected!

Among the English fare of songs that were given air-time those days were hits by Jim Reeves, Cliff Richard and the Shadows and Elvis Presley. Big Band Sound of instrumental music by Billy Vaughn, Latin rhythms by Edmundo Ros and a wide range of dance music played by Victor Sylvester were often heard too. Johnny Tillotson’s song ‘True True Happiness’ in particular was a big hit.

Announcer par excellence of that era was the prominent announcer and newsreader, Imelda Dias, with her pleasant and clear voice gracing the radio airwaves. She was a disc jockey on an afternoon program called: ‘Your favourites and mine’, besides presenting the ever-popular Sunday listeners’ choice of western music and songs. Billy Vaughn’s ‘Sail along silvery moon’ and ‘Summer Place’ were soothing preferences, while the hilarious vocal ‘Que la la, que la la’ (and the giggle) must have enthused many.

It was believed that the Short Wave transmission of Emissora de Goa was so powerful that it could be received and heard in places as far away as the Portuguese colonies in Africa.

Part III
During the time of Felicio’s college days in Bombay in mid-sixties, Radio Goa was of course out of range there, and he missed it terribly, but Radio Ceylon would still make its presence with its ‘most powerful transmitter and first broadcasting station in Asia’ at the time. But Saturday would be one day that Felicio would long for. Many eagerly looked forward to listen to the English program broadcast by All India Radio, Bombay, called ‘Saturday Date’ airing the latest hits of the time. ‘White on white, lace on satin’ by Danny Williams, ‘He’ll have to go’ by Jim Reeves, ‘Edelweiss’ and other hits from ‘Sound of Music’, and ‘Lara’s Theme’(Somewhere my Love) from ‘Dr. Zhivago’ and 'Baby Elephant walk' by Lawrence Welk & his orchestra were popular tunes heard then, not forgetting Nat King Cole’s ‘Cat Ballou’.
The furthest place that I have picked up the SW signal from Radio Ceylon was in Abu Dhabi (then a sheikdom of the Trucial States of Oman, and a British Protectorate) in 1969 on a Philips portable transistor radio. Radio Ceylon has probably influenced and contributed the most in broadcasting a huge variety of western music to countries in South East Asia. One popular artist and everyone's favourite was Jim Reeves with a huge range of romantic songs. He was well-known to many listeners in Goa, Bombay and in the Indian sub-continent in general. Many singers tried to emulate his vocal style. There was one particular guy from Byculla in Bombay who sang at various Goan functions and sounded exactly like Jim Reeves. He was known as ‘Bombay Jim Reeves’. In fact I think Jim Reeves was more popular in India and Ceylon for his sentimental songs than any other western singer besides Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Ricky Nelson or Everly Brothers.

The radio literally played a significant influential role in our lives in Goa those days when we were young. It gave us some enjoyment and formed part of our growing up. Singing was a part of our social upbringing, be it at ‘Laudainhas’ at the chapel, at the house of a family member or a neighbour before his departure for Bombay or Africa, or at the jam-session on the evening of ‘San João’ in the balcao of the house near the well.

The very clear reception received by a Grundig valve radio that used a long external wire antennae, near the village chapel in the adjacent village, was admirable. We held the radio in awesome wonder and considered it as part of our life-style. I still remember commuting to Mapusa to purchase batteries for the radio from ‘Auto Popular’. They were the glorious days of Medium and Short Wave radio. There may not have been many radios, but there were certainly lot of listeners. The youngsters of that era were also held spellbound when the first pocket transistor radio made its debut. People who had radios in the villages always welcomed their neighbours to listen to interesting programs.

Music, besides being a listening pastime in the comfort of the ‘balcão’ in the evenings during the long monsoon season, was also pursued by many Goans as part or full-time careers in Bombay and Goa. They studied music notation, composing, sang in bands and played a wide range of musical instruments, from the violin and cello to the saxophone and piccolo. It was no wonder then and it is no wonder now, that there must be some truth after all in the saying that ‘music is in the Goan blood’. Many Goans have composed and played various musical instruments on the soundtracks of Indian cinema.

Today when I mention the names of 1950's and 1960'singers, or just happen to sing or hum those old tunes impromptu in the western world, people are surprised and turn their heads almost in disbelief. I have often been asked how I know or remember those old tunes and words so well, and in key. That gives me an excellent opportunity and pleasure to introduce myself and give them a long lecture about Goan heritage, and time permitting, a history lesson about Goa and India at the same time. That includes enlightening those who know not in which part of the world Goa is located.

Tony Felix Fernandes
Guirim, Bardez, Goa.
As brought to my attention, by Mr. Mariano Pereira, Frankfurt, Germany, I apologise for my inadvertent omission, not neglect, in mentioning a very popular former Radio Announcer "Aleixinho Da Costa alias Allen Da Costa" who besides being a longest serving popular Radio Announcer on Emissora de Goa /All India Radio Goa, was also composer himself and sang Konkani songs on AIR by public demand.

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