Years ago there was a time when radio had been written off in India. The advent of video culture had killed its predecessor, but it soon bounced back from the dead. Today, our mornings are a little less cluttered and the swarming cars a little more bearable as there are fresh new songs setting the mood every day. Radio has invariably and unknowingly swivelled into our daily routines and has now become an inevitable part of it.
Gone are the days when an RJ’s job was restricted to playing music and introducing songs only. An RJ today dons multiple hats; right from entertaining us to informing us about things we ought to know.
“The world of radio has expanded widely, thanks to ‘infotainment-focused’ radio stations. In India the number of active listeners and engagement time with radio, both are increasing since 2000, thanks mainly to entertainment-focused private radio stations. The private radio stations consciously target young people. So over a period of time there is an increase in young listeners”, says Dr Mrinal Chatterjee, Professor and center head of IIMC Dhenkanal. Chatterjee is a former anchor for multiple radio programmes for All India Radio (AIR) Odisha.
In India, apart from AIR and public broadcaster Prasar Bharti, there is a total of 245 private FM radio stations in operation currently. AIR breaks not just physical barriers but language barriers too and ties the entire nation in a single thread of togetherness.
“Back in 1930, when the radio setup was in its initial days, little did people know that it’ll be the most impactful medium to strengthen the whole process of nation building”, an official from AIR said. On the other hand, radio – being a poor man’s medium – has had a rich literary life on AIR. Stories have been narrated (and regionally translated) on the long-playing Hawa Mahal (on Vividh Bharti) since 1957, and drama, on the National Programme of Plays, since 1956.
Binaca Geetmala, a weekly radio countdown show for top Bollywood songs was broadcasted on Radio Ceylon from 1952 and went on till 1988. It was later shifted to Vividh Bharati service of AIR in 1989. Being the first of its kind, the show grew out and became the most popular radio programme in India during its run. It was sponsored by Binaca, from where it got its name.
“We used to say that a good radio station is the one you can see, and not just hear. AIR did a great job in that. Most of the announcers spoke in a very simple, Hindustani style. AIR became an epitome of Indian culture. It moved from tradition to tomorrow, from parampara to pragati, from tehzeeb to tarrakki… It was a great medium to keep the yesterday alive”, Ameen Sayani (Presenter, Binaca Geetmala) said in an interview. “It became all dhoom dhaam, because it was believed that the youngsters enjoy it. Slowly the tradition started vanishing, and that continues even today, unfortunately. But there are some good stations too”, he added.
Taking the time frame from ‘ancient’ to a decade back, one experiences major operational changes in the way radio shows were marketed and presented. Not only the target audience but accordingly, the scripting encountered structural changes as well. Shows such as Suhana Safar with Anu Kapoor, Yaadon Ka Idiot Box with Neelesh Misra and others have portrayed a dimensional shift in comparison to yesteryears’ way of entertainment through frequencies.
“Radio to succeed as a medium needs to be intimate. It has to strike an emotional chord. I don’t say, this particular programme style will be the future- but yes, emotion quotient was, is and will be a defining point for radio”, Chatterjee added.
“We always seek and create an opportunity to get direct feedback from our listeners as much as possible. We work towards entertaining audiences through a differentiated bouquet of shows”, said Neelesh Misra, host of Yaadon Ka Idiot Box. “My love for storytelling and entertaining has come together with my show. I am excited to meet my listeners, engage with them and entertain them on a platform which has the backdrop of our country and storytelling”, he added.
However, while retro favourites continue to attract listeners, there are new shows that have captured the popular imagination.
AIR – along with other radio stations – has been truly living up to its motto Bahujan Hitaya, Bahujan Sukhaya, while serving continuously to inform, educate and entertain the masses since its inception.
Yuvavani was started in 1973 as a youth outreach medium putting out programs on education, skill development, employment, music, and arts. But the rapid spread of FM channels in the last few years – which targeted the youth – led to a sharp decline in the popularity of Yuvavani, which is why the three-decade-old youth-centric radio station, was taken off air from June 1, 2014, and created a big ruckus. For its part AIR service in Jammu, Srinagar, Kolkata and Delhi, felt that the service had dipped in popularity and was no longer economically viable.
The News Services Division of All India Radio plays a significant role in disseminating information thus meeting the information needs of the people and promoting national integration. Besides the news bulletins, a number of Current Affairs programmes on topical subjects are broadcasted on a daily and weekly basis by NSD and its RNUs.
These programmes have varying formats such as discussions, interviews, talks news magazines, analysis, and commentaries. Newsmakers, experts, and the general people analyse and debate on burning issues for various fields. Some of the very popular programmes include Characha Ka Vishai Hai, Samayaki, Spotlight, Market Mantra (Business Magazine), Sports Scan (Sports Magazine), Samvaad Countrywide, Money Talk, Surkhiyon Se Pare and Human face.
Other private channels have also been working to create awareness and serve the public through their programmes. For their CSR initiative ‘Bajao for a Cause’, 93.5 Red FM associated with The Max Foundation for ‘Chai for Cancer’ campaign to help people undergoing the often long and expensive treatment for cancer, by hosting Chai Addas, wherein a cup of tea costs Rs 100, and the proceeds go towards the welfare of cancer patients.
They also came up with an initiative to raise money for the visually challenged kids from the NAB ( ). Many organisations too supported the cause.
Known for creating cult campaigns, BIG FM joined hands to create interest among consumers about the new way of sharing the internet through the India Sharing Season campaign. As a Life Banao initiative from their tagline Suno Sunao, Life Banao. BIG FM has already started engaging listeners across its 31 stations to contribute their unique stories on ‘sharing’.
“I have always been a radio person. My morning routines are where I get to know most of what is happening around in the world . How can we forget when a man donated 10 lakhs to a radio station and the latter gave it to people who really deserved it” says Rohan Malik from New Delhi.
Big FM also launched a water conservation awareness drive – ‘Bucket Hidiri Neeru Ulisi’ (Paani Bachao, Life Banao), in Mangalore. Calling for national support from listeners to fight the crucial problem of water scarcity, the FM channel encouraged participation from children to drive the crusade and remind grown-ups to conserve water.
Many radio channels have made it easier for citizens to avail real time traffic related updates such as obstructions, rallies, and blockades due to accidents, along with suggestions of alternative routes on FM Radio through programmes.
AIR has stepped up its activities of Agriculture Broadcast with the launch of exclusive project Mass Media Support to Agriculture Extension with the title Kisan Vani for AIR from February 15, 2004 in collaboration with Ministry of Agriculture to inform local farmers the daily market rates, weather reports and day to day activities in their area at micro level.
“Radio can play a key role in creating awareness about flagship programmes like Swachh Bharat and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao as it connects with the grassroots”, said former Information and Broadcasting secretary Bimal Julka.
Many radio channels have been at the forefront of addressing social issues through its on-air and on-ground campaigns. Continuing its endeavour of underscoring a few rampant social problem in the country of many.
"We used to say that a good radio station is the one you can see, and not just hear. Most of the announcers spoke in a very simple, Hindustani style. It moved from tradition to tomorrow, from tehzeeb to tarrakki… It was a great medium to keep the yesterday alive - Ameen Sayani, Veteran RJ
"The world of radio has expanded widely, thanks to ‘infotainment-focused’ radio stations. In India the number of active listeners and engagement time with radio, both are increasing since 2000. The private radio stations consciously target young people - Dr Mrinal Chatterjee, IIMC
"I have always been a radio person. My morning routines are where I get to know most of what is happening around in the world . How can we forget when a man donated 10 lakhs to a radio station and the latter gave it to people who really deserved it - Rohan Malik, Avid Listener