These four iconic words must have been uttered a million times in the last six and a half decades that Radio Nepal, the first radio channel in Nepal, has been in operation. But none have given these words as much influence as noted singer, media personality and former Radio Nepal anchor Robin Sharma. Today, we take a look into the evolution of music in Nepal and the role radio played through the eyes of
“The other day I met a new teacher at Don Bosco College (where he teaches) as we were talking about our class. She looked at me and asked, “Are you Robin Sharma?” When I said yes, she virtually jumped and said that this was the voice she had been hearing since she was a little girl”
Such incidents are common in Robin Sharma’s life where he is recognized solely because of his voice. This dynamic veteran’s resonant voice has been airing through the radio waves since 1979 when he first recorded his song, “Mero Srijana ko Sansar ma”. And from the time he joined Radio Nepal as an English anchor in 1984 and repeated those iconic words “This is Radio Nepal…” his voice has become embedded in the collective minds of the masses.
Having worked at Radio Nepal for several decades before retiring, Robin Sharma has lived through several eras of Nepali radio and music history. And he does have much to say when it comes to the history of music in Nepal traced through
Radio Nepal was established on 1st April 1951 (2007 B.S.) by the Government of Nepal as a democratic radio. Initially operated from Bhojpur, it moved to Biratnagar and finally Kathmandu. Besides broadcasting news and other programs, music was the mainstay of Radio Nepal because it was the only organization at the time that was capable of recording, producing and transmitting music.
”In the early days of Radio Nepal, artistes had to travel all the way to Calcutta to record songs at the studio, His Masters Voice. They produced songs in vinyl records” He informs.
“Some of the best songs of Bacchu Kailash, Narayan Gopal, Tari Devi - the early recording artistes of our time, were recorded in Calcutta. Even after I joined Radio Nepal in 1984, film music was still recorded in Calcutta.” he adds.
Radio Nepal got its first studio built in 1967 through grants from the government of United Stated and Great Britain. This studio building, which is no longer in operation, had six recording studios and this is where Robin Sharma recorded his first song, “Merai Srijana ko Sansar”. The building is currently being used as a
In 1984, the Japanese government built a new studio under the Medium Wave Expansion with state of the art technology of the time, acoustically treated walls, posh looking panels and 20 feet high ceilings.
Talking about the new studio, Sharma says, “Many iconic songs were recorded in this studio. When Ghulam Ali and Mehdi Hassan from Pakistan came to record in Nepal, they recorded in this studio. Some of my later songs were also recorded here.”
Harkening back to the early days of music in Nepal, he adds, “From the time artistes travelled to Calcutta (on their own expense) till the time Radio Nepal started recording songs in their own studios, things had not changed very much.”
There was an organization, Ratna Recording Sanstha, which was entrusted with the task of recording songs. But they did not have their own recording studio and used the recording studios of Radio Nepal. And these vinyl disks would be recorded in the name of Ratna Recording Sanstha. This was before the age of cassette tapes and CDs.
“Sometime after the restoration of democracy in Nepal,” Sharma explains, “Ratna Recording Studio became defunct. And this coincided with the rise of private recording studios, starting with Music Nepal, which established the first private recording studio in Nepal. And it was followed by scores of others.”
“After 2041, studios started mushrooming and Ratna Recording Sanstha did not have any relevance because its responsibilities had been taken over by the private sector. The cost of recording songs at Ratna Recording Sansthan far exceeded the cost of recording songs at private studios. At Ratna Recording Studio, they would record songs in spool tapes, send it over to Tokyo and the final disk would come all the way from Japan. So you can imagine how expensive that turned out.”
It was a waste of time and government money, but at the same time, it was a great honor for recording artistes to have these vinyl disks. All the great artistes of the time like Narayan Gopal and Aruna Lama had their own Vinyl disks and so did Robin Sharma.
Prior to the rise of the private recording studios, Radio Nepal was the only place where artistes could record their songs. They had to record songs at the expense of Radio Nepal and as a result had to jump through many hoops and pass several voice tests, oral questioning and auditions before a panel of music experts after which they were finally allowed to record their songs. This tradition of voice tests is still prevalent to this day, though not as effectively as before.
At the time, recording songs at Radio Nepal was very competitive. “They would hardly record one or two songs a day. And you would have singers like Narayan Gopal, Prem Dhoj Pradhan and Kumar Basnet, so it was practically impossible for a new entrant like me to get their songs recorded. You had to wait for a date and the first couple of years as an artiste involved running after composers, singing chorus, singing on stage and waiting for one’s solo debut.”
These songs recorded at Radio Nepal belonged exclusively to Radio Nepal and artistes were paid according to their “grades”. “I was paid Rs 20 for my first song in 1979 because I was a grade C singer, which was the beginning level. “ And when asked about royalties, Sharma reveals that royalties were unheard of at the time.
It was only after the rise of private recording studios that the monopoly of Radio Nepal was broken and things started changing. This was also when we started hearing of new genres of music
“It was after the rise of the private recording studios that all of a sudden we heard about pop songs being recorded in Nepal. We started hearing of singers like Bhim Tuladhar and Sanjay Shrestha. They recorded their songs in cassette tapes, sold these tapes and became extremely popular.”
It proved to be a great dilemma for Radio Nepal whether or not to broadcast these popular songs as these artists had not passed the voice test. That dilemma, however, was broken by Robin Sharma himself after BS 2052 when he started the first FM station in Nepal (FM Kathmandu 100MHz) within the premises of Radio Nepal.
“The FM station that I started did not require censorship and had no voice test regulations. I broke the rules and splashed.”
FM Kathmandu started with only seven staff and three to four hours of transmission every day. But within a few months, the station had achieved an incredible level of success. And once they started transmitting morning and evening, others jumped in too.
Initially it wasn’t Radio Nepal’s idea to run the station itself. It wanted to lease the station to private entrepreneurs. But after 15 days of daily advertisements, no one showed interest and that was when Robin Sharma stepped in.
“I was the chief of FM Kathmandu. I designed the programs and trained the people and within three months, it became a phenomenon. For urban people in Kathmandu, it was doing things they never thought radio could do. We had very young people tuning in, coming to the studio and taking part in discussions. “
“Three months down the line, Radio Nepal decided to advertise and that was when six radio stations booked airtime under the same frequency. From five to six to 6 we had Radio Adhyatmajyoti; from seven to three we had Hits FM; from three to four, Music Nepal, from four to five Image FM; from five to seven Classic FM, seven to ten was Kantipur FM and finally ten to twelve was Good Night FM. Radio Nepal recovered the entire inflated investment of Rs 1,25,00,000.”
Today of course, we have hundreds of FM stations and recording studios operating in Nepal. But all of this would not have happened without the initial involvement of Radio Nepal and its role in the evolution of music in Nepal has been indispensable.