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M. Jusuf Ronodipuro 1919-2008

Historic Indonesian Broadcaster, Diplomat and Public Servant Dead at 88.

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The death of Indonesia's former President Soeharto on Sunday, January 27, 2008, so dominated Indonesia's media that the passing of one of Indonesia's finest Sons on that same date received less than its due share of news coverage. In a digression from's standard fare of Bali news, we take this opportunity to remember a wonderful personal friend and true Indonesian patriot.

Mohammad Jusuf Ronodipuro was born in Salatiga, Central Java on September 30, 1919, and first came to notoriety while working as a young broadcaster at Hoso Kyuko Jakarta - the broadcasting service operated by the Japanese occupying forces during WWII.

Once on the Air, Always on the Air

In a story often shared with admiring listeners, "Pak" Jusuf could spin a compelling telling of the exciting events in one corner of the Capital on the day Indonesia declared itself a sovereign state. On August 17, 1945, at approximately 5:30 p.m., Ronodipuro was working at Jakarta's main radio studio when a friend, Syahruddin of the Domei Press Office, jumped the back fence at the tightly guarded radio station to evade the Japanese guards. Once inside the facility, he handed Ronodipuro a written instruction from fellow journalist and future Vice President Adam Malik that said: "Please broadcast the attached." The attachment was the text of Indonesia's declaration of independence read by Soekarno in the inner city suburb of Menteng earlier in the day at 10:00 a.m..

After a brief and urgent conference with several journalists, Ronodipuro took the exceptionally bold step of broadcasting the proclamation to all parts of Indonesia and the outside world at 7:00 p.m.

The plan was not without difficulties. Following the surrender of the Imperial forces of Japan the overseas broadcast studio had been closed and left unguarded by the Japanese soldiers starting from August 15th. Pretending to use the idle studio for a domestic news broadcast, Ronodipuro and his colleague Bachtiar Lubis (brother to the famous Indonesian author Mochtar Lubis) managed to share the news of Indonesia's independence. Meanwhile, in another studio, an announcer collaborating in the scheme distracted his Japanese supervisors by pretending to deliver a domestic news broadcast.

For 15 historic and tension-filled minutes Ronodipuro repeatedly broadcast Soekarno's succinct proclamation, both in Indonesian and English, to the world and rest of the Indonesian archipelago.

At the end of the broadcast a very angry Captain of the Japanese Kempetai burst into the studio and delivered a brutal beating to Jusuf and Bachtiar. The manically angry Japanese Army Captain had already unsheathed his samurai sword in presumed preparation to dispatch the two young men when a Japanese Colonel arrived on the scene and managed to calm the homicidal soldier.

The Colonel, who knew Ronodipuro from frequent past discussions of classical music and a shared love for the music of Puccini, intervened to prevent the men's summary beheading. In retelling the tale, "Pak" Jusuf would still credit Giacomo Puccini for saving his life on that fateful day.

Still smarting at the impunity of the young Indonesian broadcasters, the Japanese took the precautionary step of closing the studio only to see the men establish new studios for the "Voice of Indonesia" at a local university which, in its earliest days, broadcast for only two hours each day: one hour in English and one hour in Indonesian.

Because of these early, pioneering broadcasts Ronodipuro is credited as being a founder of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) and generally acknowledged as the originator of the well-known slogan "Sekali di Udara, Tetap di Udara" ("Once on the Air, Always on the Air").

A dedicated believer in the power of radio the poignant message of hope born with the new Indonesian Republic, Ronodipuro was fundamental in arranging the speeches broadcast by Indonesia's first President, Soekarno, on August 25th and an address by Vice-President M. Hatta on August 29, 1945.

The National Anthem

Five years after Indonesia's independence and now serving as the Station Chief of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) in 1950, Ronodipuro persuaded Soekarno to record for posterity his reading of the proclamation of independence – a recording which remains the only remaining historic record of Indonesia s Founding Father's spoken rendition of the founding text.

Later, Ronodipuro also played a central role in the selection of Indonesia Raya as the Country's national anthem. Reliable press reports suggest that Ronodipuro persuaded a Dutch composer, Jos Cleber, to score and record the song for performance by an orchestra.

When Ronodipuro brought Cleber to the National Palace to play a recording of Indonesia Raya for President Soekarno, a creative collaboration ensued between Cleber and Soekarno that involved three separate re-writes of the song before yielding the approved orchestral version of the song still played today.

A Career Diplomat

Jusuf Ronodipuro, who retired as a Civil Servant in 1976, filled a variety of diplomatic posts in service to the young Republic serving in London, New York (UN) and as Ambassador to Argentina.

Such was his love for RRI, that the "man who first read the independence proclamation" on radio always made it a point of attending the annual celbration of RRI's founding.

Suffering from ill health and series of strokes, M. Jusuf Ronodipuro died at the Indonesian Army Hospital on Sunday, January 27th at 11:30 p.m.. He was buried with full national honors at the Kalibata Hero's Cemetery the following day.

Ronodipuro is survived by his wife Siti Fatma Rassat, daughter Fatmi, two sons - Irawan and Darmawan, and 7 grandchildren.

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