Sad farewell to Gurkha radio

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 October, 1996, 12:00am

Sending a final Nepalese folk song over the airwaves, Kishore Gurung MBE will close another chapter of British Hong Kong's history early this evening.

No longer will casual listeners be able to hear the brass blare of the March Past of the Parade of Gurkhas opening another day's radio programmes, and they will twiddle their dials in vain searching for the latest news from Kathmandu, assuming they can speak Nepali.

From a studio on the now nearly-deserted Sek Kong military base in the New Territories, retired Gurkha major Gurung, who traded his kukri knife for a disc jockey's headphones in 1971, will present the last record broadcast from the territory on the Nepali service of the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS). The English language service will continue until the handover.

Nearby, work will continue on a new warehouse under construction for the base's next occupants, the People's Liberation Army.

By next month only 35 Gurkha troops from a once-proud force of more than 1,000 will be left in Hong Kong.

The Gurkhas are being moved to units in Brunei, where a 1,000-strong Gurkha battalion guards the sultan, to Britain or to redundancy back in their homeland, according to an army spokesman in Hong Kong.

The Staffordshires who are replacing them, and the Black Watch who will count down the final months to the handover, have no need of a Nepali radio service.

'I feel very sad about it,' said Mr Gurung in the station's studio. 'I will miss the listeners I have served and my friends here in Hong Kong. It's sad to leave Hong Kong after so many years.' The Nepali service started in Singapore in 1952. After a career as a soldier, Mr Gurung joined as network director in March 1971. Within months the station followed the Gurkha troops to Hong Kong, where it began broadcasting three hours of Nepali and Hindi music each day from the newly-built studio on Sek Kong base.

'It was all music because we didn't have the technology to bring in fresh news,' said Mr Gurung. 'The music was mostly Nepalese, but we couldn't get enough from Nepal so we compensated with Hindi music from India.' The station brought some Nepalese artists to Hong Kong to record their music in the Sek Kong studio because there were then no adequate recording facilities in Nepal. The recordings have subsequently been transferred to CD, and made available to Radio Nepal for broadcast within the kingdom.

For the past 10 years, the station has been broadcasting 13 hours a day of music, sport and current affairs programmes in Hong Kong and has been keeping the Gurkhas here informed about life back home with live news beamed from Radio Nepal in Kathmandu by satellite.

Surveys of Gurkhas conducted by BFBS showed that 80 per cent of the men and their family members stationed in the territory listened in, joined by South Asian civilians who remain uncounted because they are not the military station's 'entitled audience'. According to Mr Gurung, most Hong Kongers of South Asian origin have been listening.

Three soldiers were assigned to disc-jockey duties from the Queen's Gurkha Signals Regiment, and Rupa Rana, whose husband is a Gurkha soldier based in Hong Kong, has been working as a freelance presenter.

'The soldiers are very enthusiastic and very keen,' said Mr Gurung. 'But they are posted here for only two years, so by the time they are ready they are posted back [to other duties] again.' One of those soldiers is Corporal Chitraraj Limbu who has presented the breakfast show on the Nepali service for the past two years.

'I was told to come to BFBS,' he said. 'It was difficult in the beginning, but later on it became fun.' After 13 years in Hong Kong, on Tuesday Corporal Limbu will re-join the unit that left him behind when it moved to Britain earlier this summer.

'I enjoyed it very much, it was a new experience,' he said. 'I'll miss [the station] when I go to the UK, but my future and my regiment is there.' Sergeant Kapil Rai, a Gurkha for more than 16 years, has worked at the station since December.

'I would have liked to stay on for longer, I enjoy working here very much,' said Sergeant Rai, who will present his last show this morning.

'The environment here is a little bit different from the army; it's a bit more relaxed. I like that.

'I feel very sad that after such a long time [the radio station] is closing, but we have no choice.' Sergeant Rai will stay in Hong Kong until December, when he will retire from the British Army at 35.

'I haven't decided what I'm going to do next,' he added. 'I would like to use this experience in my next career, but I can't say.' Before he leaves the territory, Sergeant Rai will help dismantle the studio. The equipment, the records and the CDs will be sold, with the proceeds split between the British Ministry of Defence and the Hong Kong Government.

The empty building, along with the rest of the base, will then be prepared for the PLA.

It is unclear whether the PLA will establish a radio station for its troops in the territory after the handover.

Despite the closure of the Hong Kong studio, Gurkhas at their posts around the world will continue to receive programmes in Nepali, mostly produced at the BFBS studios in Brunei.

The 35-strong Gurkha rear guard remaining in Hong Kong until the handover will be able to listen to a two-hour tape sent each day from the sultanate.

Mr Gurung is moving back to the country he left in 1955 as a young Gurkha recruit. BFBS is building a studio in Kathmandu where he will produce programmes for the service.