Home Forum The Radio Saga Continues…!

The Radio Saga Continues…!

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By Roli S

This all started when recently we were driving back from my brother’s house and my son had switched on a podcast for us to listen to and Cyrus Broacha was in conversation with author Amish Tripathi about the latter’s latest book, titled ‘Dharma’. I was intently listening to the conversation and was interpreting it in my own way, agreeing with a few things while questioning and expressing my opinion on a few other answers given by the author.

Observing my intense involvement in the talk, my son asked whether, in the 70s and 80s, when I was growing up, were the radio programmes equally thought provoking and whether ‘listening to the radio’ provided the same sort of entertainment or information to us during that era? A seemingly innocent question but it gave rise to so many memories and emotions, and I went down memory lane, musing over the past.

I recalled that during most of my growing up period listening to the radio was the only means of ‘entertainment’ and radio and transistors were the main instruments used for the purpose. Much later, the two in one became popular, which had a radio and cassette player, both, in the same instrument. For a long time, the two in one remained the most popular audio entertainment for all of us.

Nowadays I see many memes that show me the old radio, that rectangle piece made of plastic with knobs and needles, memes saying – “if you recognise this instrument, then you must be very old”.

I admit that I may be old, but the ‘old radio’ will not go away from my mind, ever!

The 13th of February is celebrated as World Radio Day and I have been remembering my sweet old radio, the same one which I used to tune in to for all my entertainment needs – listening to songs or cricket or hockey match commentaries. Waiting eagerly to know how many runs Sunil Gavaskar had made, or wickets BS Chandrasekhar or Kapil Dev had taken or catches Farokh Engineer had lapped up.

During the winter season it was common for the family to sit, soaking in the sun, sipping cups of hot tea with the large radio kept on the verandah. I still remember the radio used to have a big light in the top right corner, which glowed green when it was on. My mother used to turn the knobs to tune in to the latest radio service available and as far as I remember, it was mostly Vividh Bharti she would select. We could hear names of people from all over India who would send in their demands to hear a particular song and just by listening to those names made us one family of Indians, having the same choices, the same interests! The radio used to be such a connector during those days! Those were people from Mumbai, Hyderabad, Baroda, Jaipur, Kanpur, Jhumri Telaiya, etc., all wanted to hear the same song that we wanted to hear sitting in a remote small town of north India.

With the question asked by my son, a whole lot of memories and events revived in my head. I remember my grandpa telling me that, in 1952, film songs were banned on All India Radio because the then government felt they were corrupt and degenerate. Only classical music was aired, instead. This alienated large swathes of the country’s population, but later, ironically, it was Hindi movie songs, and Vividh Bharati, which had unified the country as nothing else could.

From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Odisha, India was one. In fact, this unification was far more solid than the political merger of princely states into the Indian Union. The contribution of Radio I wanted to tell my son was much more than that of a mere instrument of entertainment! The radio had also contributed purposefully during the 1962 war with China, when, with programmes like ‘Jaimala’, the entertainment legends like Lata Mangeshkar and Dev Anand, etc., boosted the morale of the Indian forces. After that there was no looking back for Vividh Bharti and India and even today, if I am not mistaken, Vividh Bharati covers 97 per cent of the Indian population – more than Doordarshan and Cable TV.

I grew up listening to radio programmes with family sitting in the evenings enjoying programmes like Sangeet Sarita, Bhule Bisre Geet, Chhaya Geet, Indradhanush, Binaca Geet Mala, and Aapki Farmaish which had the anchor patiently reading out names of people from tiny, remote villages with names like Jhumri Telaiya. Listening to those names was even more amusing than the songs all of them requested. I also remember that, on occasions, the whole night we used to huddle around the radio to listen to the commentary of cricket matches, when the Indian team used to play overseas.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s, what kind of radio programmes were popular and did ‘listening to the radio’ provide some sort of entertainment to us during that era?” asked by son. I answered  when I came out of my day dream, “Son, you are born in a generation of plenty, where you can choose between FM channels and Podcasts from around the world but, in the past, the powerful chords that emanated from the simple radio filled the hearts of people of India much the same way as the warm winter sun does and the cool summer breeze does. It also brought people together like in recent times the monthly podcast, ‘Mann ki Baat’ does. After the British left India declaring it is no country, only a cluster of small states, trying to find some meaning!”

(Roli S is an Educator and Author based in Thane)