The radio station Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra kept the spirit of the nation alive during the nine months of the Liberation War of 1971.
It connected the government-in-exile with the people in need, acting like an unseen thread that held the whole nation together.
Besides relaying messages of the government and updating the people about the situation on the battleground, the activists of Swadhin Bangla Betar broadcast motivational songs and satirical programs.
“It was like psychological warfare that was fought in the communication medium,” said Kamal Lohani, who was the head of news at Swadhin Bangla Betar and remains an eminent journalist and cultural activist.
“They were under a constant threat of being gunned down. Despite that whenever there was a chance, four or five people would huddle around a radio and tune in to Swadhin Bangla Betar. It gave them the inspiration to keep on living.”
Kamal said that although ten million people fled to India during the war, about 65 million were living within the reach of the Pakistan army.
“Those who were on the battleground - the freedom fighters - also listened to different songs and programmes broadcast on the radio. It boosted up the morale of the fighters.
“Without this radio, the people of the country would have died of the strain. It was the main tool for us in psychological warfare.”
Kamal Lohani noted that that the main objective of the radio station was to “fend off the propaganda and misconception created by the enemy."
“The radio used to broadcast Bangla language programmes in the beginning. But later on, we resorted to producing in English and Urdu languages as well to battle against the misconception,” he said.
The station was conceived on March 26, 1971 - the day before the declaration of independence was broadcast from the Kalurghat transmission centre in Chittagong.
The activists at Kalurghat originally named it Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Betar Kendra (Independent Bangla Revolutionary Radio Station), before dropping the word “biplobi” (revolutionary) on the insistence of Major Ziaur Rahman, who was tasked with reading out the declaration on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The producers agreed to drop the word as they considered they needed Ziaur Rahman’s voice to establish that people from the armed forces were also with the cause.
“The name Swadhin Bangla Betar resonated the spirit of the war, with or without the word ‘biplobi’,” Lohani said.
The Kalurghat radio centre was heavily shelled by the Pakistan military on March 30. However, three of the activists -- Rashidul Hussain, AM Sharfuzzaman and Aminur Rahman – managed to save the 1KW transmitter from the bombardment and carried it to Bagafa forest in Agartala, India, from where the centre resumed broadcasts on April 3.
The centre was later shifted to a two-storey building in Kolkata’s Baliganj Circular Road on May 25.
It was there that the programs were recorded before the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel took them to a place near the border and aired them from there.
“For news, we depended on BBC, VoA, Akashbani, Radio Australia, Radio Japan and different newspapers," Lohani said.
Among the featured items, Jollader Darbar (a satire serial on Yahya Khan) and Bojrokantha (the March 7 speech of Bangabandhu) were the most popular.
“We played mass songs that became popular during the anti-government democratic movement,” Lohani said.
"During the nine months of the war, the most memorable moment was when I took the responsibility to prepare the news script of our victory. The last two lines carried the message of our victory. I read it myself, at 4:30pm, just after the surrender of the Pakistan military in Dhaka.
“Right after I had finished reading the news, a freshly composed song was aired – Bijoy nihsan urchee oi. It was written by Shahidul Islam and composed by Sujeo Sen in just 20 minutes,"