Thursday, 22 May 2014

Prasar Bharati CEO, Sh. Jawhar Sircar's Definitive Article about All India Radio-A Must-read for all who have loved or love Akashvani

Remembering Akashvani
By Jawhar Sircar
Chief Executive Officer,Prasar Bharati

Few people may be aware that United Nations has declared  13th of February as World Radio Day, because the resolution is just two years
old. It was on this day in 1946 that the United Nations Radio was
and though belated, the humble radio has finally been given
its pride of place. It helped connect billions through very affordable
receivers and can, therefore, claim to be prime ‘democratiser’ of
infotainment in the modern world. What began in the early part of the
nineteenth century with physicists like Faraday and Maxwell working on
exciting theories and experiments in electro-magnetic waves reached its
peak when Hertz (remember ‘mega-hertz’?), Branly, Tesla, de Mousa,
Braun and other pioneers demonstrated that ‘wireless telegraphy’ was
actually feasible. In November 1894, our own Jagadish Chandra Bose
literally ‘rang a bell’ in Calcutta without any connecting wire, while six
months later, on 7th of May 1895 (Russia’s ‘Radio Day’), Alexander
Popov displayed the first ‘radio set’.
But it was Marconi who obtained the first patent in March 1897
and immediately set up his British Marconi Company and also the first
radio station in the world, on the Isle of Wight. This Italian would move
fast and far in life, and in 1909 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics,
with Karl Braun. But it was San Jose, California, that showed the world
that it was destined to become the ‘Silicon Valley’, when that very year,
Charles Herrold constructed the first really operational radio station. As a
farmer’s son, he was familiar with ‘broad-casting’, i.e., the scattering of
seeds by hand, and he gave us this term to tele-communications. Radios
would soon became the lifeline for ships out on the seas, more so during
distress, and as expected, it was developed in the First World War to
communicate with troops on the battle-front.
As soon as the war ended, civilian use picked up and in August
1920, a station in Argentina began regular entertainment broadcasts,
Detroit, Michigan issued the first known news broadcast. With typical
American business sense, KDKA in Pittsburgh went on the air on
November 2, 1920, with the Presidential election results, heralding in
commercial broadcasting. Several broadcasters in the USA followed, but
the BBC would take two more years to start its first broadcast: on 14th
November, 1922. In typical governmental style, the Postmaster General
took some months to sign the licence, but BBC had already embarked on
its mission and had started spreading its services throughout Britain.
The sudden newspaper strike of 1926 gave it unprecedented popularity
as the sole medium available, and the radio had finally arrived.
  India did not lag behind, and even as the BBC picked up speed,

Bombay started its own Radio Club in 1923, while the Presidency Club of
Madras also set up its own radio facility in 1924. The early adventures
covered tiny circles, but by 1926, some enterprising businessmen got
together in Bombay and formed the Indian Broadcasting Company. The
IBC installed the first proper radio station in Bombay on 23rd
of July
1927 and followed it up with another in Calcutta on 26th
of August. The
number of licensed radio owners was, however, just three thousand and
by March 1930, the company had thus to wind up. By then, the British
Indian government had finally got its act together and followed the
advice of BBC’s founding director general, John Reith, who had been
trying in vain from 1923 to convince successive Viceroys on the merits of
public service broadcasting. The Crown quickly took over the sick
company’s assets and on April Fools’ Day of 1930, the Indian State
Broadcasting Service (ISBS) was formed. It parent department,
Industries and Labour, tried to offset the costs of the new service by
increasing duty on receiver sets.
 In December 1932, BBC’s Empire Service was extended to India,
but matters would greatly improve when Reith sent Lionel Fielden to
assume charge in August 1935, of the newly-created office, Controller of
Broadcasting. Described as “brilliant but impetuous….very highly
creative” and someone the “system looks on with disfavour”, Fielden
proved these epithets as he went about his job like a man possessed. By
January 1936, he gave Delhi its radio station, at Kingsway Camp:
ruffling many feathers as he went about in his brusque ‘must do’ style.
“I quarrel frightfully with all the Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries”, he
bemoaned to Lord Keith, “and I don’t see how I can do anything else”.
The establishment wanted a bland, officious media, but Fielding tried
hard to air the voice of India, as he heard it. When he invited a noted
critic of the Raj, Verrier Elwin, to speak on the radio on (yes, on) Empire
Day, he won strong enemies but several friends among Indians. On the
8th of June of that year, the ISBS was re-named ‘All India Radio’, Tagore
re-christened it as Akashvani, the voice that comes over from the skies,
through a poem that was penned in 1938, for the inauguration of
Calcutta’s Short Wave service.
Within a year, the Second World War broke out and Britain had to
act fast in India as Nazi propaganda was reaching over the Short Wave
Radio. News bulletins in India had already been centralised and even the
regional services were given their ‘ready scripts’ from Delhi: a practice
that continues till today. Their daily number was now hiked to 27. We
may recall an interesting episode when a ‘Congress Radio’ was set up on
3rd September 1942, just a few days after the Quit India Movement. It
claimed to be from “somewhere in India” and played quite a cat and
mouse game with the police, as the portable radio station shifted locations.
But on the 11th November,
the young group of freedom fighters
were caught in their act and the Police Commissioner of Bombay
squarely accused Ram Manohar Lohia of being the mastermind.
As British left the shores of India, AIR had only 6 stations
covering four metros and Lucknow along with Tiruchirapally, while the
Princely States of Mysore, Travancore, Hyderabad and Aurangabad had
four, of their own. There were just two and a half lakh receiver sets for
a population that exceeded 325 million. This would soon change, as
Nehru made radio one of his priorities for uniting the new India that
Churchill predicted would “soon breakdown under its own anarchy”. By
1961, the number of radio stations trebled and by 1981, nearly a
hundred centres catered to an estimated 90 million radio receivers.
There are 413 stations today, of which 218 are studios that originate
programmes: varying from just a few hours a day to 24x7. In addition,
195 relay centres carry different broadcasts: mainstream Akashvani,
Vividh Bharati, FM Rainbow or Gold and local multi-purpose Radio
stations. Though Short Wave is on its way out and Medium Wave
appears to be stagnating, it is FM that rules the wave and 391 of AIR’s
587 transmitters are FM, with more being added every month. It can be
heard quite clearly on mobile handsets, that will soon hit the billion
mark, but FM’s range is quite limited.
Among the most remarkable achievements of AIR was its Vividh
Bharati service which began in October 1957, i.e., five years after Radio
Ceylon had started and had managed to garner a huge following of
Hindi film song lovers across the sub-continent: all because AIR was
stopped by the then I&B Minister, Dr BV Keskar. He promoted classical
music, which captivated an unparalleled number of enthusiasts, but he
also banned “cheap and vulgar” filmi songs over Akashvani. Vividh
Bharati could, however, overtake Radio Ceylon within just a few years,
and, in the process, it helped unite India. Most Indians submerged their
inherited ‘differences’ of language, religion or region, in favour of an
emerging pan-Indian, supra-national identity. Despite the protests from
intellectuals, there is no denial that Hindi film songs became the ‘link
culture’ and is the shared sentimental heritage of not only the masses,
but even of upper echelons. For several decades before the cheap tape-cas it was Akashvani’s Vividh Bharati that not only
captivated Indians but released it from the confines of only the few who
could afford movie tickets or could possess expensive gramophones. To
the man in street, Akashvani stood for filmi geet and sombre news bulletins.
But AIR is or was more than that: it had radio plays, feature
shows, radio talks, large doses of classical music, quiz and poetry
competitions and school based programmes, as well as a very rich
archives that is yet to be tapped fully. The agricultural revolution in
India owes an enormous debt to the broadcasts of AIR, and also DD,
before and after it was delinked from AIR in April 1976. AIR also picked
up ‘rural broadcasting’ from where ‘community listening’ had started
before Independence, and strengthened it with what the farmer needed:
weather reports, market prices, agricultural tips, animal husbandry,
health and hygiene. By 1960, the number of community sets had
reached 50,000 and in the late 1960’s, the problem of power and
batteries that valve-based radios had faced would be over, as the
transistor revolution transformed India.
 The two wars in the 1960s provided Akashvani a unique
opportunity to galvanise the nation as never before. The India that
appeared fragmented in 1947, with fourteen distinct provinces of the
British and 565 Princely States, stood like a rock in 1962: behind her
soldiers fighting on icy high altitudes. Vividh Bharati started its Jayamala
programme to cheer the armed forces, with Nargis, Lata, Asha, Mukesh,
Naushad, Manna Dey and the who’s who of the film world leading it.
Then rolled out other unforgettable programmes, like Inspector Eagle,
the Bourn-vita Quiz Contest, Filmi Mukadama, Antakshari, Man Chahe
Geet, Sangeet Sarita, Chhaya Geet, et al.
 We may also remember that All India Radio actually lived up to its
name, for it never discriminated against singers and artistes like Ghulam
Ali, Mehdi Hasan, Nusrat and Rahat Fateh Ali, Mohsin Khan, Mira,
Monalisa, Shafqat Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Adnan Sami and others who
were Pakistanis. Its radio waves united souls in music and a shared
history that the politics of a ‘Two Nation theory’ had rendered asunder.

*Edited article was published in Indian Express, dated 13 Feb 2014 with the title
 “Riding the waves, a shared history”.

This article has been updated with changes in Data till May,2014
Source of Article:

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