Sunday, April 12, 2009

Birth and Rebirth of Radio

Talk about the birth of radio and many a great name pops up in front of our eyes; Faraday, Maxwell, Jagadish Chandra Bose and off course Guglielmo Marconi. I am not going to discuss much about this here. I would like to remember the radio we have seen in India before Television became popular and affordable and its gradual waning and miraculous comeback. Our favorite AIR, the all India Radio, commenced operation in 1936, as a government organization. The objectives was to inform, educate and entertain the masses. But it did much more than that. It had struck a cord with the masses. RabindranathTagore named it akashvani which means voice from the sky and it was a word which was coined particularly for this purpose. Radio in those days was at the center of people's life. People in the village used to get together every evening to listen to their favorite songs and for the latest news. As we know numerous plays and movies had been written with radio at core of the story. Those were the days of romanticism when songs used to be released over the radio and people used to request for their favorite songs by postcards and wait patiently for months for it to be played. Another important part of those show was the program presenter who had a different face painted in the mind of their listeners.
It was the era of the blooming of India's identity and it saw overall development in all fields related to Art and Culture. Radio was powered by film songs from popular Hindi cinema, while it inspired the development of non film music and dramas. At the beginning, radio like many other object de desire divided the society into who possess it and who doesn't.The progress of science and and technology made a transistor and tape recorder a common household item. Owning a Radio transistor in one of the states with international border came with its own set of complications. I remember as I grew up during the seventies we were required to have a government license to own a radio, which was required to be renewed every year. I remember vividly the small booklet that had a transmission tower on its blue cover page. As the surge in the popularity of the Radio continued the innovation in the industry followed closely. The most popular innovation probably was the pocket transistor with the earphone. Next popular demand was combining more than one function together which ushered in the era of 2 in 1 and3 in 1.
The history of Indian radio will be incomplete without the mention of one place called Jhumri Talaiya, a place in the present Jharkhand district, originally a sleepy mining town, which became famous in India due to its connection with Vividh Bharati programmes. A large number of song requests for the Vividh Bharati programmes would come from Jhumri Taliya. Youngsters in the town were said to compete on who sent out the most song requests in a day or month. There used to one Rameswar Burnwal from Jhumri Telaiya whose name would be repeated daily. One of the most popular program transmitted from outside India was the "Binaca Geetmala" from Ceylon.Then came the television and with its advent the popularity of the radio started to wane. The Television turned out to be the Big Brother, Hogging all the limelight and almost instantly gobbling up all the advertising revenue. The cash starved Radio started to lose out and we thought that was the end of radio.
The radio made its comeback in the early nineties with the fm transmission. I remember those days in New Delhi when the private stations started to come alive with hit music and interactive programs. More and more creative and young people started to sign up and the old slow tunes started to give way to the fast and peppy music. The advertisement jingles with the childhood memories came back feeding life into the system. Little did we realize at that time that things have changed for good. It was not the old wine in a new bottle, it was brand new product which catered to the entire spectrum of the society. Another boost to the life of the Radio came from the mobile phones with FM tuner. The FM became the USP of many a mobile phone handsets during the start of this century and turned out to be a success story for the phone makers also. The phone started to be the source of live music all the time, be it jogging or waiting for the bus or train. Unlimited songs powered by commercials and presented by qualified professionals started to get out to the listeners round the clock.
While the private fm stations are doing booming business the government owned stations seems to be losing the battle. BBC and VOA are noticing sizing down on their international programing. Shortly after India's independence from British colonizers, the cold war started to take shape and both the powers started to try and influence as many minds they could towards their side. India, with its tilt towards the USSR was the target of the propaganda of the western bloc. Voice of America and BBC started to reach and influence the masses through the air waves with various programs in Hindi and other Indian languages. Now with the cold war over and the governments around the world with budget deficits of their own are finding it difficult to justify their existence.
When I arrived in Dubai, I found that the FM Radio is a big industry in its own rights. There are almost 10 stations streaming out indian film music and gossips all through the day. I would imagine that they are great profit centres and why not they are powered by plenty of advertisements. All types of product starting from apartments to cars to music concerts are announced over these fm stations. Even TV programs are advertised over the fm stations here in Dubai.Who would not like to reach out to thousands of commuters with high spending power locked inside their own cars in the middle of the famous or infamous DJ, the Dubai Jam. Can you dream of a better clientèle than this for your product? Long live Radio but I sincerely hope that they observe a minimum of one "No Remix day" every week.



1 comment:

  1. Hi Suman,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I have been reading your posts, you do have a gift for detailed yet lucid descriptions. Your post on radios was interesting and informative and I liked your take on the Dubai-dream. Dubai is surely a very different experience from Kolkata. Do keep in touch and I will definitely be back for more of your posts.

    ReplyDelete