ESTABLISHMENT OF THE RADIO IN ISTANBUL
“Hello, hello ... Dear audience. It's Istanbul Radio speaking.”.
One day, he receives a phone call... from the Istanbul Radio for which he dedicated thirty one years of his life... A voice he has never heard before explains that he is calling from the Pensions Services, asking whether he considers retirement, if no, he will be suspended from his duty and will be assigned for a position in Anatolia. The stranger voice, calling on behalf of the Istanbul Radio, without mentioning his hard labor for 31 years and numerous studies in music and culture and implying that he 'could be pensioned off' upsets him very much. What upsets him is not that they ask him to get retired. Even though there were directors or managers he worked with for years, who could have invited him to open up the subject in person, a stranger's voice that does not know him or is clearly unaware of his works for the radio or his dedication to pass the legacy of music from his masters asks him to get retired. That's what Refik Hakan Talu resents for...
We are very happy to interview with Refik Hakan Talu on this issue, who has dedicated a lifetime to the radio. We have talked about the establishment of the radio and music, which has been rendered accessible to and from anywhere over the radio.
There would indeed be a detailed explanation but if you want to give us just the outlines, what would you tell us about the musical events in Istanbul as the Ottoman sovereignty ended and the Republican period started?
Taking a look at the music making institutions at the decline of the Ottoman Empire, we see the Enderun School [an imperial school mostly for the Janissaries], Mevlevi houses, particularly the Yenikapı Mevlevi House, Dar’ül Bedai [The House of Theatre], Dar’ül Elhan [the first official conservatory of the Ottoman Empire], Mızıkaı Hümayun [the military band] and other lodges.
With the republican period, Mevlevi houses, enderun schools and lodges were closed down. Mızıkaı Hümayun moved to the capital and continued performance at the Presidency while all other institutions were war-stricken and could not resist the adverse effects of the war so they went out of existence. Music, at that time, used to be performed at taverns, recreational areas, ale houses and casinos but in a poor style and manner.
But one thing was certain that the city of Istanbul was the heart and soul of music during the Ottoman and Republican period. How did the first radio broadcast begin?
The broadcast was initially started from the French vessels that had anchored at the Bosporus at the time of invasion, but the first radio in Istanbul was established long years after that. In 1927, Sedat Nuri Bey, and Hayreddin Bey conveyed their opinions on establishment of a radio to Celal Bayar, who, in turn, passed the idea to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Hayreddin Bey travelled to Ankara to contact Atatürk in person at the Forest Farm where he was accompanied by the statesmen of the time.
So, Hayreddin Bey presented the receiver he had made himself, and made the group listen to the Russian radio, which aired throughout Europe at the time. Atatürk gave approval to the establishment of the radio, which was eventually established on the top floor of the post office building at Sirkeci. The transmitters were being used for telegram transmissions during the day and as a radio transmitter out of the working hours.
How did the initial radio broadcasts affect music of the time?
Obviously, it took a while until people had their own radio at home. They could not adapt themselves to it easily. The general staff did not allow roof antennas, anyway. Number of the radio audiences was no more than fifteen thousand for the first decade until 1937. So, it would hardly be argued that radio has been influential on music at first.
Which musicians of the time participated to the early radio shows and how about the music policies in general?
The first musicians on the radio were Mesud Bey, Ruşen Kam and Vecihe Daryal. Mesud Cemil decided everything on the radio. Mesut Cemil Bey was on the radio every night for eleven years. He had never had a nightlife. Interestingly, the same Mesut Cemil who had nothing but the radio was asked 'Which part of Istanbul is your favorite?' in an interview, responds 'Any place without a radio indeed'.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's knowledge and love for the Turkish music is known by everyone for sure. His decisions on music policies have long been discussed by the historians. Do you think that Atatürk put a ban on the Turkish music? If yes, what do you think were the motives for such a decision?
We learn about Atatürk's taste and knowledge in music from the memoirs of Hafız Yaşar, who was present in his company at all times, recording whomever showed up, who played, who performed, which pieces were performed and so on. On reading his memoirs, one thing is certain: Atatürk loves and listens to the Turkish music, but the music in his mind is different. rather thinks of the western music.
Based on Atatürk's expressions on the music policies as he gave the opening speech of the Assembly on the 1st of November in
1934, the Istanbul and Ankara radios stopped broadcasting Turkish music. This marks the date of the ban, which would continue until the 9th of September in 1936. It has never been precisely known who imposed the ban that lasted nearly for two years on the radio. However it is commonly accepted that the ban started upon proposal by Vedat Nedim Tör, the General Director of Press (General Director of Press and Information as we know it today), which was executed by Şükrü Kaya, The Minister of Internal Affairs of the time. Interestingly, Atatürk, who was accompanied by remarkable singers and musicians of the time, and who was a Turkish music listener, kept silent to the ban.
Personally speaking, I do not believe that Atatürk banned the Turkish music on the radio.
Having closed down on the 1st of November in 1934, the radio started to broadcast again upon announcement of Mesud Cemil in 1936 when Atatürk was still alive. What do you think changed back then so that the Turkish music ban on the radio was lifted?
Lifting the ban is full of uncertainties, too. As a rumor, the tambura player Osman Pehlivan performs and Atatürk says to him, 'You played it so nicely that it reminded me of my mother'. The tambura player Osman Pehlivan responds, 'With all due respect, let it play on the radio, so everybody remembers his mother, sir.' There is another one; as soon as the news saying that 'Pasha wants the Turkish music back' was heard, the broadcast started with the Turkish music instantly. Who knows which one is true... As a result, the radio started to broadcast the Turkish music upon Mesud Cemil’s announcement at 18:30 on the 9th of September in 1936. Personally speaking, I do not believe that Atatürk banned the Turkish music on the radio.
If you are to evaluate it starting from Mesud Cemil's time to present day, how was the Turkish music during the Ottoman period and the Republican period handled by the radio broadcasting policy makers?
We listened to high quality pieces and records on the radio until the 60s. Commercial concerns, effects of sociocultural changes were influential on the radio broadcast, too. Honestly speaking, art-driven concerns have been replaced by other concerns.
You all know the current conditions of the radio today. There is a pile of compositions with no artistic value in TRT repertoire. Prosody is not enough on its own, melodic structures also matters. Tempos and patterns are poor and flawed nowadays. Modes are confined to three only. It is all nihavend, hejaz, or kürdili hicazkar...