It was impossible for Turkey to ignore the increasing interest in radio which swept the world in the late nineteenth century. Radio broadcasts first began in the early 1920s. In the Darülfünun Conference Hall, the musician Ruşen Ferit Kam, one of Turkey’s first radio broadcasters, had his students listen to a broadcast from a French war ship. Rüştü Uzel was one of the first people to experiment with the radio. An account of one of his first radio tests appeared in the newspaper Tevhid-i Efkar, dated March 20, 1923:
For one month, a teacher at the Darülmuallimin, Rüştü Beg, has been experimenting with the radio transmitter, which has spread extraordinarily fast throughout Europe and America. Yesterday, a speech and a zeybek song accompanied by a ney in the Darülmuallimin Conference Hall, broadcast in the Darülfünun.
After these radio experiments, the government passed the Telsiz Tesisi Hakkında Kanun (law concerning radio installation), and thus began the first step toward corporate radio broadcasting. Radio transmitters and the necessary equipment for radio was installed in Osmaniye, Istanbul and also in Babaharman, Ankara. The earliest broadcast tests in Istanbul were conducted in a studio near the transmitter in Osmaniye. Turkish Radio and Telephone Corporation (TRTC), the country’s first radio network, established on 8 September, 1926, began broadcasting talk and music from the Istanbul Main Post Office. Two rooms on the upper floor of the office building were designated for the TRTC and broadcasting officially began on May 5, 1927. As the country was still unused to such broadcasts, despite all efforts, interest in the radio was not as high as had been hoped.
During the first few years Istanbul Radio broadcast for 4.5 hours a day. It aired both talk and music broadcasts. Anadolu Ajansı discussed financial news related to stocks and bonds from the Product Exchange, but it was music – primarily from classical Turkish musicians – that dominated the radio in its early years. The Telsiz Telefon Stüdyo Alaturka Musiki Heyeti (Wireless Telephone Studio Alaturka Music Group) performed fasıl music for Istanbul Radio and the Telsiz Telefon Stüdyo Orkestrası (Wireless Telephone Studio Orchestra), conducted by Popof, performed Western music. Broadcasts by the Oda Musiki Cemiyeti (Chamber Music Community), conducted by Cemal Reşit, were influential during this period. Some of the artists who performed in the studio included neyzen Tevfik, Hafız Burhan Saz Heyeti (music group) and the Cemal Kâmil Saz Heyeti. TRTC also began live broadcasts. Notably, they aired the welcoming ceremony for Kemal Atatürk, who first came to Istanbul in July, 1927, after the War of Independence. The speech made by Kemal Atatürk, given at the inauguration of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on November 1, 1928, was aired live by Istanbul Radio via loud speakers throughout a number of districts. In 1930, a play was broadcast from the Şehir Theater.
In 1934, the studios of Istanbul Radio, initially based in Istanbul’s post office building, were moved to the upper floor of the Ambassador Hotel in Beyoğlu. Due to financial difficulties, TRTC had to suspend their Istanbul and Ankara broadcasts temporarily at one point. In spite of government support, however, members ultimately decided to permanently close the network during a general meeting of shareholders in 1937; this meeting was chaired by Falih Rıfkı Atay, the Member of Parliament from Bolu.
In 1940, the Istanbul and Ankara radio stations were transferred to the Matbuat Umum Müdürlüğü (General Directorate of the Press). During this period, Ankara Radio, which had begun regular airings, tried to share their broadcasts with Istanbul Radio. The two radio networks established a connection when Istanbul Radio moved to the Beyoğlu Post Office (today Galatasaray Museum). However, this lasted for just twelve months until, in 1944, Istanbul Radio fell silent, ceasing to function.
From 1944 until 1949, years in which Istanbul Radio was beginning to broadcast with new policies in a new building, Ankara Radio successfully broadcast regular radio segments. The radio station announced a competition for the best architectural design for their Harbiye building in 1949. 74 contestants or groups took part in the competition and the joint project of Doğan Erginbaş, Ömer Güney and İsmail Utkular won first place. As of 19 November, 1949, Istanbul Radio restarted its regular broadcasts in the new building in Harbiye, with a transmitter power of 150 kw.
In the first years, Istanbul Radio tried to satisfy its need for personnel by transferring staff from Ankara Radio. The musicians affiliated with Istanbul Radio looked on this as a place of learning, and began teaching there. The fact that these artists were only temporary staff, however, made it difficult for them to continue their programs. Cevdet Çağla and Mesut Cemil decided to start hiring contract employees. Among these were Alaaddin Yavaşça, Arif Sami Toker, Afife Edipoğlu, Mustafa Çağlar, Akile Artun, Ekrem Kongar, Can Akşit, Necmi Rıza Ahıskan and Safiye Ayla.
Following its re-launch, Istanbul Radio made significant progress in music broadcasting, focusing especially on Turkish music. Between 1950 and 1960, the network aired songs from the following musicians: Sadi Işılay, Kadri Şençalar, Münir Nurettin Selçuk, Hamiyet Yüceses, Müzeyyen Senar, Safiye Ayla, Can Akşit, Mustafa Çağlar, Cevdet Çağla, Hakkı Derman, Perihan Altındağ and Sabite Tur. On January 1, 1951, Zeki Müren, an important figure in the history of radio and music, performed his first live concert on Istanbul Radio. Folk music broadcasts also improved during this period. With the contributions of Mustafa Sarısözen, who had worked with Ankara Radio, the Yurttan Sesler Koro (Voices of the Country Chorus) was established for Istanbul Radio. Some steps were also taken to broadcast Western popular music. İlham Gencer broadcasted popular Western music from the studios of Istanbul Radio. Bülent Vardan, Cumhur Alp and Celal İnce presented programs on this subject as well.
It was during the 1950s that many of the great artists and presenters who are still celebrated today began to become popular; this was thanks to the training they received at Istanbul Radio. Talk hosts also gained popularity during this era. Hikâye Saati (story time) by Orhan Hançerlioğlu, Şiir Dünyamız (our world of poetry) by Behçet Kemal Çağlar, Masal Saati (fairytale time) by Eflatun Cem Güney, Spor Sohbetleri (sports conversations) by Şevket Rado, Bedii Faik and Eşref Şefik and Radyofonik Piyes (radiophonic drama) by Ekrem Reşit Rey all aired around this time. The network also began hosting interactive talk shows. Prepared and presented by Orhan Boran and Tarık Gürcan, programs like Şehirde Bu Hafta (the city this week) and Dinleyici Sesiyle İstekler (audience requests) grew in fame. The network also began religious programming. The first Sahur program aired during Ramadan of 1960.
The excitement that came along with the innovations at Istanbul Radio in the 1950s peaked in 1963, with the founding of TRT. The network’s management spearheaded radical changes: segments were rearranged, the duration of broadcasts increased and a commission was established to standardize the phonetic, diction and unity of on-the-air language. In the 1960s, Istanbul Radio hired famous classical musicians like Selma Ersöz, Sevim Deran, Serap Mutlu Akbulut, Hayri Pekşen, Safiye Erdeğer, Tülay Canik, Handan Kara and Bekir Sıtkı Sezgin. Many important artists like Kemal Koldaş, Perihan Mesudi, Talip Özkan, Seha Okuş, Ali Gürlü and Nevzat Ege Bilgiç participated in the Turkish folk music department and put on performances for the station.
Between 1965 and 1969, 327 different chat shows and slots began to be broadcast wıth the following names: Köy ve İşçi (vıllage and worker), Kadın (women) and Ev (home), Çocuk (children), Gençlik (young people), Bilim, Kültür ve Sanat (science, culture and the arts), Genel Eğitim (general education), Aktüalite ve Magazin (current events and entertainment), Moral, Eğlence (morale and entertainment), Dramatize Programlar (dramatic programs) and Turistler İçin Programlar (programs for tourists) and Radyo Oyunları (radio plays), Haberler (news), Okul Yayınları (school programs). With the establishment of TRT the programs on Istanbul Radio significantly improved, and there were also advancements in technology and in the hiring policy of artists.
In the 1970s, the radio network hired vocal artists like Ahmet Özhan, Mediha Şen Sancakoğlu, Nusret Ersöz, Galip Sokullu, Gönül Söyler and Suna Zincirkıran, as well as some instrumentalists like Erol Sayan, Ümt Gülerman, Ömer Şatıroğlu, Ahmet Kadri Rizeli, Uğur Işık and Baki Kemancı.
Doğan Dikmen, Hasan Semerkantlı, Sami Aksu, Hamiyet Turan Çakar, İnci Yaman, Filiz Şatıroğlu, Semra Türel, Faruk Salgar, Cavit Tan Ürek, Koray Safkan and Nevin Örnek made important contributions to music in the 1980s and continue to do so today.
Prominent folk musicians like Yücel Paşmakçı, Adnan Ataman, Tuncer İnan, Şahin Gültekin and Mehmet Erenler directed programs like Yurttan Sesler (voices from the nation), Beraber ve Solo Türküler (duet and solo türküs) Türküler ve Oyun Havaları (türküs and dance music) and Türk Halk Çalgılarından Ezgiler (melodies from Turkish folk instruments).
In the late 1980s, Istanbul Radio’s building underwent renovations and the network purchased new studio equipment.
In the 2000s, Studio B was renamed Nida Tüfekçi and designated for music broadcasts at Istanbul Radio. On May 8, 2000, a plaque was put up outside the Main Post Office in Sirkeci, where the first radio broadcast had been aired. The following was inscribed on the plaque: “Istanbul Radio made its first broadcast in this building. 1927-1936”. Another plaque was put up outside of Beyoğlu Post Office by Selahattin Küçük, the oldest presenter on Istanbul Radio. The plaque reads, “Between 1993 and 1994, Istanbul Radio broadcast from this building” On May 9, Yapı Kredi Cultural Center, Vedat Nedim Tör Museum in Galatasaray held an exhibition entitled, Radyo Günleri/İstanbul Radyosu-Anılar, Yaşantılar (radio days/Istanbul radio-memoirs, experiences). In 2006, for the first time in Turkish broadcast history, the Voice of Turkey Radio organized a story contest; the works submitted to the contest were compiled and published in a book entitled, Evinde Yabancı. In 2009, the radio stations of TRT Nağme (melody), TRT Ankara Kent Radyo (city radio) and TRT Türkü began broadcasting.
Between 2009 and 2013, radio studios were renovated and they began using digital audio broadcasting. The control desks were updated with more advanced technology. With the electronic radio broadcast system, regular broadcasts became faster and more reliable.
From December 2012, Istanbul Radio made innovations in the composition of Turkish classical and folk music: records started to be recorded with a new mentality, without distorting the tone and mode of the songs.
As a part of the project of İl İl Türkiye (Turkey province to province), 100 ballads from an original 500 were performed in the studios of Istanbul Radio. The classical music albums of Melda Kuyucu Kılıç, Alp Arslan, Nusret Yılmaz and Tuğçe Pala were created in this way. With the introduction of the TRT İzli recordıng studio, it was planned to realize different and new styles of recording.
Works by TRT’s Caz Orkestrası (Jazz Orchestra) were given priority; works selected from Turkish classical and folk music were rearranged and performed together with the orchestra.
TRT created a database of classical music known as MİDAS (TRT Music Archive Database). The music segments available in the current archives of TRT radio were uploaded to MİDAS, making it easier to access and thereby broadcast classical music. By 2013, the archive included 200,000 pieces, 80,000 of which were provided by Istanbul Radio.
TRT Nağme and TRT Türkü give priority to performances, live and recorded, by artists trained at Istanbul Radio. TRT Radyo Haber (news radio) has shared the radio frequency of TRT Türkü since 2013. TRT Türkü is still broadcasting on medium wave frequency. During the same year, the regional radio stations of Çukurova, Diyarbakır, Trabzon, Antalya and Erzurum were included in the broadcast plan.
The concerts held at the Istanbul Radio Mesut Cemil Concert Studio grew more popular. As part of the project Ustalara Saygı (Homage to the Masters), special concerts were organized for those who had contributed to Turkish music.
From its establishment until today, in addition to the broadcasts, Istanbul Radio has continued to host programs that focus on performances of traditional Turkish music.