Life Before Longwave

Oct 20, 2010

A native of the Malaysian coastal state of Terengganu reminisces about radios, and how the entire village would gather around them.

In the 50s, Terengganu folks listened to the radio in groups. The Malaysian government had a special broadcast called “Siaran Ke Kampung-Kampung” where news and other radio programmes were specially tailored to kampung people all over the country. There was a designated place in the kampung where villagers could gather, lay down their pandanus mat and listen to the broadcast through one long horn speaker hooked up to the village’s only working radio receiver. Villagers flocked around the horn speaker to listen to “Warta Berita”, “Bangsawan Di Udara”, “Sandiwara Radio” and later the series “Kebun Pak Awang”.


181 Photo by Karl Baron


The horn speaker used was of considerable length. I can safely say that the serombong (horn speaker) was identical to the one high up in the minaret of Mesjid Putih (Mesjid Sultan Zainal Abidin) in Kuala Terengganu, the state capital.

In Kuala Terengganu and other big towns, those who could afford it bought their own radio sets. The early receivers were bakelite boxes with two knobs – one to detect radio stations, the other for volume control. There were push-down switches to select bands. At that time we only had Shortwave and Medium wave. FM did not come yet. There were no telescopic aerials. The aerial was a very long piece of copper wire strung across the highest part of the house or outside, between two tall bamboo poles. Usually there was a “lamp” which actually was a valve somewhere in front to help you “tune” into the station.




These radios ran on electricity thus they were confined to the towns where supply from CEB (Central Electricity Board) was available. CEB was changed to LLN (Lembaga Letrik Negara), which some Terengganu wags referred to as “Lenggok Lenggok Naik” when they saw the wireman surveying the electric poles that they were about to climb. As we all know, LLN changed to TNB and charged us more for electricity.

Radio sets (tuners and amplifiers) at that time used valves or electronic tubes that was periodically replaced as part of radio maintenance. There are some hi-fi enthusiasts today who prefer these tubes to the solid-state transistor amplifiers.

Those Terengganu folks without access to electricity bought radios that were powered by their special big dry battery or sometimes by the messy “wet” car batteries.

I could not find a picture of the battery used but instead found one of “lonjong” dry battery. The one I remembered was squarish and had the name of “Berec” or something like that.

Later there were radios combined with record player/changer that looked like short cupboards.

183 Photo by supermoving on Flickr


My grandaunt had one that was quite sophisticated. I learned a lot of songs on her radiogram. I remembered learning to dance too but it was hard dancing alone.

When transistors were invented, we had portable radios powered by torchlight batteries. Terengganu people call this batteries “ubat lampu”. The radio is about the size of a paperback. Some came with a leather casing with straps. The famous Cik Kaleh, bought one and hung it on his trishaw to provide entertainment to himself and his customer. The other early transistor radio that I remember belonged to our classmate, Habib Mat, who had indulgent parents.

Later, portable radios came in all shapes and sizes even in the shape of cans of popular drinks.

Now tell me about your first radio.


This post was first published on Di Bawah Rang Ikang Kering in March 2009.