The stillness is absolute, apart from the evening chatter of a few crickets. It is 1952
and I am sitting on my bungalow veranda with a cold Tusker beer, courtesy of the
paraffin-run fridge. Across some thirty miles of bronze-coloured 'bush' dotted with
acacia trees the dying sun sinks behind the Nguu Mountains in the small station of
Handeni District in Tanga Province. Imagine this scene in a world without radio, hi-fi or
telephone; peaceful indeed. Music-lovers made do with the old wind-up gramophone and
78 records, assuming that these survived the rough and tumble of transfers between
stations and often a coating of mildew. Needles for these old gramophones were difficult
to come by and as they needed changing after only a few records much use was made of
the vicious dry white acacia thorns. They were just about the size of a needle and served
well for three or four records.
This reminiscence reminds me of the advent and impact of radio and broadcasting in
Tanganyika during the early fifties and the use made by the Agricultural Department of
this new medium. In 1951 a grant from the UK Government enabled a low power
transmitter to be installed in Dar es Salaam, so the Tanganyika Broadcasting Corporation
was born. Two African presenters were trained, one of each sex, and the first broadcasts
were made, initially limited to one and half hours a day in Swahili with a further hour of
English transmission. It was all rather low key with a few news items, some basic
educational facts and a fill-in of recorded African and European music. As there were
few receiving sets money had been made available to supply forty radios to some
African notables, schools and community centres. Reception due to the low power was
limited to the town and neighbouring coastal strip.
Where electricity was available in the larger towns of Arusha, Moshi, Iringa and
others, some people had powerful valve radios and could receive broadcasts from
Rhodesia and South Africa. In the smaller stations there was no electricity and the only
way you could operate a radio was via a six- or twelve-volt car battery which required a
charger. Possibly dry battery radios were becoming available in more developed
countries but not in Tanganyika in 1951.
During UK leave in 1956 my wife and I were determined to obtain some sort of
receiver and as we knew that we were returning to Handeni it had to be battery operated.
Trawling the radio shops in Tottenham Court Road we plumped for a six-valve Bush
radio, plus a converter for battery use. Sets were big in those days, this one about the size
of a 26" TV. The shop arranged to have it securely packed and delivered to the ship
under export rules so, expensive as it was, at least we saved on purchase tax, the
foreranner of VAT. Elsewhere we bought a second-hand Better petrol engine attached to
a dynamo so we could recharge the battery.
For an isolated 'bush station' it was quite an
innovation and although reception was limited others on the station enjoyed the odd
programme when joining us for a 'sundowner'. The main problem was its battery
consumption necessitating constant recharging, a valve set heavy on juice, long before
the advent of transistors.
One of the listening highlights for cricket enthusiasts was tuning into the ball-by-ball
cricket commentary of the England Australia test matches in 1956. England was on an
'up' in those days as they had won the Ashes from Australia in 1953, 'Coronation Year'
and hoped to retain them during the series. Reception in Handeni did vary but at times
over the weekend we did manage to have a clear signal and enjoyed the suspense of
some tightly fought matches. Unfortunately England did not retain the Ashes but it was
nice to be 'spectators' by radio albeit with whistles and squeaks.
From England I obtained a special edition of London Calling, the magazine which
listed programmes for the General Overseas Service, the forerunner of today's World
Service. This Australian Test Tour Number gave details of how to tune into wavelengths
most likely to give a good reception. In these days of satellite instant reception it is
interesting to quote the preamble of the article;
"Picking up the ball-by-ball commentaries - BBC engineers explain how the
10,000 miles between the United Kingdom and Australia are spanned on short
waves for the special ball-by-ball commentaries on the Tests. As well as in
Australia itself many listeners in countries to the east of the United Kingdom on
the Great Circle path of 80 degrees E of N should be able to pick up these
commentaries if their sets are capable of being tuned to the higher-frequency
Reception was reasonable for the cricket but disappointing for the Overseas Service
generally, especially in the rainy season when we had lowering black thunder clouds and
torrential rains. An issue of London Calling is of interest showing broadcasts throughout
the world in a multitude of languages including Persian and Hebrew. Also the format
describing wavelengths, for instance 'South America (south of the Amazon, excluding
Peru)'. Looking at a copy of June 3rd 1956 it shows a variety of programmes from
Music for Dancing, Victor Silvester, Winnie-the-Pooh and also The Archers, which leads
me back to my opening title.
By 1957 the Tanganyika Broadcasting Company had taken delivery of a more
powerful transmitter and a few portable dry-battery receivers were available. One of
these was called a saucepan, so named because it was the shape and size of a large one
and because a Northern Rhodesian officer had built the first one using a saucepan as the
outer casing. I acquired one of these costing about 10 pounds and used it on safari. A simple
set, on/off switch, volume control and a tuner. The dry battery was carried separately, it
was heavy and about the size of an Oxford Concise Dictionary.
Dar es Salaam was now broadcasting about eight hours a day, mainly in Swahili. It
could be described as an informative channel rather than entertainment. An Agricultural
Officer at Head Office, James Clegg, had the bright idea of introducing a fifteen minute
agricultural programme based on the BBC's The Archers, a 'soap' about the every-day
life of a typical farmer. Ours had a story line but the emphasis was on education and
advice for better crop growing. The central character was a senior Agricultural Instructor
given the name of Mzee Simba (old lion). He was a bit of a garrulous chap but within the
context of visiting cultivators gave good husbandry suggestions.
Although reception varied depending on where I was on safari, I sometime took the
saucepan with me and it was a big attraction to the villagers, the majority of whom had
never heard radio. I used to have a whole circle of them, mainly men and children, sitting on the ground round my camp table, all eyes and ears glued to the round blue set
talking Swahili. Everything had an impact as it was all so new but listening to the one
weekly agricultural piece I felt it needed a bit more realism.
So I became a Swahili script writer! I introduced more people such as the local chief,
a shopkeeper, a game scout, useful when baboons or elephants were damaging crops.
Noises off were essential to give an authentic flavour, cooking pots clattering in the
background, women talking and the usual scrawny chickens clucking away plus a dog
with the occasional yelp. Our African broadcasters, one of whom was seconded from the
Department, became very proficient really entering into the spirit of the play. We used to
emphasise basic agricultural practices such as always having a plot of cassava or
sorghum as a drought resistant measure, the importance of seed selection, time of
planting which interestingly was often traditionally dictated by the position of star
clusters, reduction of the multi-headed sunflowers, soil conservation measures and lots of
other things, all designed to improve crop yields. Nor was animal husbandry and forestry
ignored. But throughout we always tried to keep the programme light with plenty of
jokes and incidents.
The programmes did have some impact where they could be received but radios were
few and far between so the effect was very limited. But as time passed and more cheaper
and efficient sets became available broadcasting became a very important medium used
for a variety of purposes. Not least destabilization of the colonial regime and the
speeding up of the political movements. I well recall Radio Cairo broadcasting in
Swahili after the Suez Crisis of 1956 when Britain and France landed troops at the
Canal. It poured out, understandably, a tirade of anti-colonialism, nor was it the only
country to do so.
The African Archers was only one small part of efforts to improve subsistence
agriculture but it helped and as time went on and more affordable radios became
available the audience widened. I recollect one old man telling me in all seriousness that
he had heard Mzee Simba telling him to get a move on with his planting!
The Department's main impact was through its Agricultural Instructors who were
local and could put across the message. My own barazas (meetings) were usually well
attended as were the slide shows that I and my instructors held. Another Agricultural
Officer, David Brewin, introduced a farming magazine Ukulima wa Kisasa (Modern
Farming) which proved popular and which I edited for a time; proof reading improved
my Swahili apace!