4-10 August 2017 #870

world-wide wave

After 65 years of broadcasting, Gurkha Radio still links Nepal's soldiers with families back home
Shreejana Shrestha

Sixty-five years after it first started broadcasting, Gurkha Radio, which connects Nepali soldiers in the British Army with families back home, is the most listened to of the 18 stations in the British Forces Broadcasting Services (BFBS).

Although many families of retired soldiers are now with them in Britain, serving soldiers and others still have relatives back home and the radio links them with news, current affairs and entertainment. Despite social media, its radio programs are required listening for ex-Gurkhas and families all over the world. 

Gurkha Radio keeps soldiers updated on events in Nepal with a staff of 18 reporters country-wide contributing to news bulletins aired from its Kathmandu station from 5:45am to 11:45pm on weekdays. It also broadcasts from Brunei and the United Kingdom and its programs are re-broadcast through 10 UK radio stations.

The British Army sets up a receiving unit when Gurkha soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan or other war zones so that the servicemen can keep in touch with what is happening in Nepal, including their families, and around the world. The unit is dismantled once the mission ends. 

Gurkha Radio’s first broadcast was in 1952, when the service was set up within Dharan Camp, one of the Gurkha recruiting centres in eastern Nepal. The first live broadcast from Kathmandu was in 1986. The British Army also brought out the magazine Parbate, written in Roman Nepali script, which is now published in English from Sandhurst.

“Gurkha Radio is a low-profile radio with a very specific target audience,” says Kathmandu news editor Suman Kharel. “We focus on the activities of the British Gurkha Camps in Lalitpur and Pokhara. The credibility of the service is high among Gurkhas families. Its integrity has not been questioned in the last 65 years.” 

Photos: BFBS Gurkha

Kharel joined Gurkha Radio after 22 years with BBC Nepali in London, and says his work hasn’t really changed: it is still mostly broadcasting news and current affairs.

Although his target audience is much smaller, he says the work is equally exciting because it is a cohesive and niche listenership. The only two challenges he faces are fulfilling listeners’ requests, because the station broadcasts from three different time zones, and enticing the younger generation to tune in.

Gurkha Radio averages 2.5 million connections from 165,000 unique devices in a month. Most listeners are in the UK, US, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Malaysia. The station’s most popular Nepali show is Pardeshi Ko Sandesh, where serving Gurkhas send messages to their family members and vice-versa. It’s followed by Kathmandu Ko Saugat and Swarnim Sangam.

Because families now prefer to keep in touch through Skype or Facebook, one would think that Gurkha Radio may soon become obsolete, but Kharel doesn’t agree: “The future of radio journalism is as bright as it was in the past.

Radio will still remain the most popular medium in Nepal for years to come because of our topography, low literacy level and lack of access to the Net and its relatively high cost.” 

Read also:

Making global airwaves, Ganesh Acharya

Nepali Radio, Nepali Awaj, Om Astha Rai

Must be more active radio, Bharat Koirala

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