Sunday, March 05, 2017

Madras-Chennai: The Early Years

This is now our third recent topic about the radio scene in the city of Madras-Chennai and on this occasion we go back to the very early years, getting close to a century ago.  We acknowledge with appreciation information provided by Jose Jacob VU2JOS at the National Institute of Amateur Radio in Hyderabad India.
            It was back on May 16, 1924 that Mr. C. V. Krishnaswamy Chetty formed the Madras Presidency Radio Club, with Viscount George Goschen, the Governor of the Madras Presidency, as the club patron.  Mr. Chetty had just returned from England where he had studied electrical engineering and he brought back sufficient components with which to build a 40 watt radio transmitter. 
            The new transmitter was installed in the Ripon Building, the official government building on Sydenham Road Madras, where occasional test transmissions and demonstrations were made.  Ripon Building had been constructed a decade earlier and it was named in honor of a former Viceroy of India under the British Raj, George Robinson, Lord Ripon.
            a couple of months later, the transmitter was re-installed in a small bungalow in Holloways Garden at 13 Casa Major Road in Egmore, suburban Madras, where a regular broadcast service was inaugurated on July 31 (1924).  Shortly afterwards, the original low power transmitter was replaced by an imported 200 watt Marconi unit from England.
            After nearly three years of broadcast service, this radio broadcasting station was closed (1927) due to lack of funding and the transmitter was donated to the Madras Corporation, the governing state entity.  The original Holloways Garden location is now the sports ground for the Don Bosco School in Egmore.
            On April 1, 1930, the Madras Corporation re-activated this same 200 watt transmitter on 750 kHz with broadcast programming under the licensed callsign 2GR.  Radio receivers for public benefit were installed in a nearby park, at the beach, and in 14 government schools. 
            Three years later in 1933. a new callsign was allocated to the Madras station and it was then identified as the very familiar VUM.  However, give five more years and the Madras Presidency station was closed on June 16, 1938 in favor of a new station installed by All India Radio at four different locations in the Madras area.

            In Summary: Four new facilities of pre-war AIR All India Radio in suburban Madras
                        Studios at The Nook
                        Mediumwave transmitter at Guindy
                        Shortwave transmitter at Avadi
                        Receiver station at Egmore.

            The original studios for the new AIR VUM were installed in an already available edifice in the  upscale area known as The Nook some ten miles south of downtown Madras.  This studio location was in constant usage until a special AIR building was constructed in 1953 overlooking the sea at suburban Mylapore just three miles south from downtown Madras.  The original studio location at The Nook now has a large commercial cement building on the site. 
            The mediumwave transmitter site was located at suburban Guindy eight miles southwest from Madras, and a new 250 watt transmitter was inaugurated on 1420 kHz as VUM by the state governor, His Excellency Lord John Erskine, on June 15, 1938.  Eleven years later on January 4, 1959, a 1 kW mediumwave transmitter was inaugurated at the Guindy location on the same channel 1420 kHz.   A 20 kW unit was also inaugurated at this site on 940 kHz on January 11, 1956.
            In the early 1990s when Jose Jacob made a visit to the Guindy transmitter station, he noted that there were three mediumwave transmitters in use:-
                        AWA    Australia          BTH2               2½ kW                          783 kHz         VB program
                        BEL     India                HMB103          1                      1395                B Channel
                        Collins USA                20T                  1                      MW                 Standby
            The AIR mediumwave site at Guindy was decommissioned in the mid 1990s after a new mediumwave site was taken into operation adjacent to the first shortwave station at Avadi.  A major FM facility for All India Radio Chennai is co-sited with the main TV station at Chepauk on the southern edge of the downtown city area.
            Before we leave the topic of early radio broadcasting in Madras-Chennai, we should mention that the Crompton Electric Company of Madras gave serious consideration in 1926 to establishing a mediumwave station with 120 watts on 1365 kHz.  However, the best available evidence would suggest that this projected radio broadcasting station never became a reality.