Saluting the Radio on World Radio Day

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When I was young I’d listen to the radio
Waitin’ for my favorite songs
When they played I’d sing along, it made me smile…

The opening lines of the classic ‘Yesterday Once More‘ by the Carpenters, perhaps, sum up the charm of the good old radio particularly in the context of World Radio Day – the eighth edition, instituted by UNESCO was celebrated yesterday (February 13, 2019).

Saluting the Radio on World Radio Day History comes alive through the radio. And the radio finds a place in history. It’s been the activist behind freedom movements, the informant of daily news and instrumental in warning the public about natural calamities. It’s the symbol of democracy – it finds a place with the marginalized farmer inasmuch as it is found on the cabinet in a rich man’s living room. Marconi would never have imagined the influence and sway that this device would have when he invented it in 1895 in Italy.

When we mention radio, and look back with nostalgia, we are often reminded of All India Radio’s Vividh Bharati Service that featured such enduring programmes like Jaimala, Vishesh Jaimala aimed at the armed forces and Bhule Bisre Geet. Vividh Bharati provides almost 15 – 17 hours of entertainment daily in several languages, to this day.

Who can forget the Bournvita Quiz Contest hosted initially by the late Hamid Sayani and after his untimely death in 1975, by his brother Ameen Sayani. Several other classic shows were also hosted by Ameen Sayani, including the extremely popular Binaca Geetmala, which was hosted on Radio Ceylon.

Remember the famous BBC commentary team of Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Henry Blofeld, Trevor Bailey and Brian Johnston commenting on the famous 1974-75 Ashes series that Australia won 4-1? Incidentally it was the first time that the first day of the Third Test at Melbourne was held on Boxing Day – December 26 – in a cricket series, now a cricketing tradition. When Henry Blofeld described a vicious Jeff Thompson bouncer, you could almost feel the ball weaving past your own hairline! Such was, nay is, the magic of radio!

Radio was the start for many of the household names in Carnatic and Hindustani classical music – Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and DK Pattammal are some outstanding luminaries, who built their career beginning with All India Radio. Surojit Sen and Lotika Ratnam (sister of Surojit Sen) made the 9.00 p.m. English News their own, one with his resounding baritone and the other with her precise diction and pronunciation. Jasdev Singh in Hindi and Melville de Mellow in English alternatively, transfixed us with visions of the Republic Day Parade and the Independence Day celebrations.

Necessity forces change and radio which once was only available on AM (amplitude modulation) also embraced FM (frequency modulation), albeit, with far more clarity.

Privatization also came in, breaking a monopoly that was held by the Government of India. This boomed after 2001 when the privatization of FM broadcasting began. As of December 2018, there are more than 369 operational private radio stations in more than 101 cities and towns across India.

Radio covers 97% of the landmass and 99.1% of the population of India. That radio is growing and is extremely popular can be gauged by the fact that several mobile hand set manufacturers are adding radio capability to their handsets, making access available to people on the go! As an advertising medium, it is expected that radio will earn around Rs. 2000+ crore (about USD 280 million) in advertising revenue in 2018-2019.

But that is not all – for corporates, for example, there are several interesting ways to use radio programming to disseminate messages. Think private radio for internal communications, across boundaries, multiple locations, languages and suddenly the scope for radio becomes enormous.

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