When Japanese Forces Took Burma Off the Airwaves
By Wei Yan Aung 22 April 2020
YANGON—On this day in 1945, the state-run radio system, then the one-and-only medium of mass entertainment in Myanmar (then Burma), was smashed by retreating Japanese forces.
The Burma State Broadcasting Service, the first broadcaster in Myanmar, was officially launched in Yangon (then Rangoon) in October 1939 under British rule. The service ceased broadcasting from Yangon and moved to Pyin Oo Lwin when the Japanese army occupied Myanmar in 1942 and launched its own broadcasting station under the name All Burma Broadcasting Station.
The Japanese army first opened the broadcasting station in Yangon on Shan Street and then moved it to Chin Tsong Palace, the residence of Chinese tycoon Lim Chin Tsong, one of the richest men in Myanmar during colonial rule.
The Japanese army continued to use the broadcasting service as a propaganda tool just as the British did. Anyone who owned a radio had to have the war propaganda department of the Japanese army remove the radio’s shortwave receivers so that it could only tune in to the state broadcaster.
Unlike under British rule, young Myanmar people were allowed to work at the Japanese broadcasting station, replacing the previously Indian staff. They also received training from the Japanese, which enabled them to lead the state broadcasting service after Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948.
Before World War II, only football matches were broadcast live by the state broadcaster, but under Japanese rule, state ceremonies and events were also aired live along with new programs such as health talks, Japanese language classes and programs for children.
However, when the Japanese lost the war and ended their occupation, they took with them important equipment from the broadcasting station in Chin Tsong Palace and also destroyed transmitters in Yangon Region’s Tadalay and Yegu, bringing the broadcasting service to an end.
After World War II, the broadcasting service resumed under the name Burma Broadcasting Service. Today, the service continues as Myanmar Radio and Television, the state-run broadcaster overseen by the Ministry of Information.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.