Veteran broadcaster recalls golden era of Radio

Venkat Raman

When veteran broadcaster Bala Thomson spoke for the last time as a Programme Presenter on Wellington’s Access Radio two years ago, she must have cried.

So, did thousands of people who have listened to her voice for more 34 years.

For, giving up a daily habit is not an easy thing.

Wellington Access Radio gave ethnic groups in the Capital the first opportunity to share a common platform; it gave Bala a chance to bring together people, and an identity; more importantly, it gave her a voice.

Struggling years

“It was a golden era in radio,” she said, reminiscing the early years of struggle, challenges and finally, achievements.

“Access offered something that all the communities welcomed, and the service spread rapidly through New Zealand. For the first time, airwaves in the country were alive with the sound of music and speech in other languages, in programmes that expressed ideas and information that had never been heard,” she said.

Commencing her broadcast in English, Hindi and Gujarati (her Mother Tongue) in 1981, she launched (a few years later) ‘Bhakta Prabha,’ a programme to hear devotional issues and music.

None of these however came without sweat and tears.

Family-Community balance

Born and raised in Tanzania, Bala arrived in New Zealand in 1969. Following a two-year-stay in Dunedin, her family moved to Wellington in 1971.

She joined, on invitation, the ‘Save the Children Fund,’ YWCA, the Wellington Indian Association and the New Zealand India Society.

Raising four young ones, she found time to attend meetings and serve the Indian community and other organisations in various capacities – as a fashion show organiser, chef at food fests and so on.

Honours and Awards

When she retired in 2015, Bala received two awards from Wellington Access Radio for her remarkable period of service as a broadcaster, and for her work as a member of the Controlling Council of the Station.

She was also honoured as the first life member of the Wellington Access Radio Society, adding dignity to her roles as a Justice of the Peace and a Marriage Celebrant.

The Queen honoured her with a ‘Queen’s Service Medal’ in 1990.

While she cherishes these Awards and Citations, Bala considers the honour that was bestowed by the Wellington Indian Association in October last year as a part of its Diwali festivities.

“The Award, given ‘In appreciation of the Outstanding and Dedicated Service to the Community,’ was icing on the cake and a very special one as it came from my own community,” she said.

There are many people who miss her voice on the Radio and hence call her from time to time to listen to her speaking to them.

Now 82, Bala enjoys Tai Chi, time with family and grandchildren and networking through emails and social media.

Photo Caption:

Bala Thomson with the Wellington Access Radio Controlling Council President Don Carson and Vice President Dorai Gounder.

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