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BW Businessworld

Erosion Of A Knowledge Medium

The offset to this is that all stations have the same substandard RJs who lack depth and vision, and only crave to be famous overnight

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As a kid like many other children in the metros, growing up was with radio. AIR. Akashvaani. This compulsive forced habit by the father, slowly became addictive, and radio became an integral part of my life. It was customary for radio to play in the background, and it slowly got associated with certain routines in life.

The Icons and the Wisdom they Bequeathed
As Devki Nandan Pande‘s sonorous voice boomed at 20.45 hours, it was a warning bell to all in the family that dinner had been served. It was imperative that we were at the dining table to eat together. This was followed by an equally impressive voice of Melville De Mello in English. So radio got the family to eat together. Eating was also silently listening with rapt attention to the news bulletin as any odd or strange words would evoke a question from my father enquiring as to whether I knew what it meant. Nine out of 10 times one was ignorant, and said so, much to the delight of the pleasing audience as none of them also knew. So, the next step would be to visit the dictionary after dinner and narrate the meaning and form a sentence with the same word. So radio had a subtle role in improving grammar, comprehension and vocabulary of kids growing up in the 60s and 70s. Nobody realised the value then, but as years passed one realised in social peer conversations the value radio added to your personality. There were many more greats in the news genre. In Hindi, Vinod Kashyap, Jai Narayan Sharma, Indu Vahi, etc. and in English my favourites were Barun Haldar, Latika Ratnam, Geetanjali Aiyar and Pamela Singh. Each had a voice that was distinct and immediately recognisable.

Connect with Western Music
Growing up in a middle class neighborhood had its challenges, more so, when you went to a public school. The rich man’s kid had travelled abroad, wore Levis jeans, and was in sync with the culture and music of the west. They had an early bird advantage, but not for long as radio filled in this vacuum via three excellent programmes. In the Groove was a 25-minute programme, which invited youngsters interested in western music to come audition, and present songs of their choice. These youngsters were groomed by illustrious presenters like Philip Neelam (Forces Request) and Geetanjali Aiyar (A Date With You). My doctrination of the Beatles, Elvis and Niel Diamond commenced with AIR.

Building Interactivity and Passion
In the 60s, 70s and 80s, AIR played a major role in building communities and getting people together. Sangam, Bhule Bisre Geet, Jayamala, Sangeet Sarita, etc. were legendary programmes of film music, and for significant reason. The details about the main contributors of a melody explained which raag it was based on, and the interesting incidents that happened with either the composer or the singer during the recording of the song. This incremental knowledge was a dynamite at peer group social conversations, as they set up an imaginary stature for you in the minds of others. This platform became an elite one, as listeners competed with each other to listen to their names on radio. Some names like ‘New Rajinder Nagar se Radhey Shaam Pahwa’, ‘Madangir se Ashok Mehta’, ‘Naya Jalana se Noris Morris and Doris…etc. The listeners and their localities became part of the folklore of radio. This to my mind is the greatest equity a brand can ever build.

Saluting and Motivating the Armed Forces
Who can forget the Fauji Bhaiyon ki Sewa Mein. The one-hour programme presented by a celebrity in honour of the Armed Forces. The programme went to greater heights when jawans and officers of the Armed Forces would write in with their request for their loved one in the remotest of villages. Fifty-six APO was the unanimous fauji address. The Jai Jawan and other patriotic programmes on news channels originated on AIR Vividh Bharathi.

Inculcating Passion in Sports
How can I forget the 13 meter band, and the 31 meter band on short wave 1 and 3? There was the wavering commentary from the UK of the Test matches being played there. It was the magical voice of John Arlott and Brain Johnston, who both had the ability to ensure that everyone listening could actually see the game. That was the power of radio. It was similar when the legendary Jasdev Singh commented on the Indian hockey team playing the Olympics. Thousands took to these sports after getting their basics from radio.

The King of All
Ameen Sayani. Regarded as the father of radio. Conceived and conducted the legendary Binaca Geethmala which was a competitive programme on song popularity during that week. This programme was the benchmark for all singers, writers and composers. If you had a top song for over four weeks you commanded a price which was significantly higher than all competing aristes. It was the weekly Oscar of Bollywood songs.

Quality Erosion after 2000
The government of India allowed privatisation on FM channels and invited bids as per conditions. Soon FM stations mushroomed, initially in the top 12 cities, and in Phase 3, a couple of years ago, they have gone to all towns with a population of one lakh plus. Over 800 stations churning 24-hour programming. It’s good for employment. As a result, many training academies and schools have opened up and grooming has become a booming business. The offset to this is that all stations have the same substandard RJs who lack depth and vision, and only crave to be famous overnight. It is seldom possible to identify the station you are listening to and in the process FM radio has become staid, stale and boring. The tragedy is that it’s got more advertising than content, and no one sends in a request for a melody to be played. This is because there are no melodies anymore; only songs unlike the golden era of radio and Bollywood. Even today youngsters who were born in the eighties start their Antakshari with ‘Mere sapno ki rani’, an evergreen hit of the Rajesh Khanna starrer Aradhana made in 1969.

However, AIR Rainbow and AIR Gold continue in the same tradition of quality programming; now with an addition of FM station as well. Unfortunately not marketed well in this competitive world and as a result it’s always the 40-plus who knows and treasures this wealth. But the potential is immense and it will be wise if the government realises it fast.

The author is a Delhi-based business strategist

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Gopinath Menon

The author is a Delhi-based business strategist

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