Tuesday, July 8, 2008

All India Radio (Akashwani) stations in India

Having discussed radio, now it is time for me to discuss the radio stations in India. It is a vast subject, so my discussion of foreign radio stations ( viz radio Ceylon of Binaca geetmala fame) will have to wait for some more time till I am through with the topic at hand.

Before independance, there were very few radio stations in India. After independance in 1947, India became a republic in 1950 and the decade of 1950 was one when the nation building process, which involved building of infrastructure, was taken up in a big way.

Radio was under the ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I & B) and the organisation that looked after broadcasting was called All India Radio (AIR),a name coined by the English rulers. The Indian officials sought an Indian term for it and they came up with the word "Akashwani", which was taken from Indian mythology. Literally "voice from the sky", the term Akashwani finds much use in ancient sanskrit literature. Gods would often make announcements for mankind in a loud voice through the sky, and that is why it was called Akashwani. Quite an imaginative term, it was. And it caught on well. In English broadcasting, the term All India Radio was used. In native language broadcasting, the term Akashwani was used. For overseas service, even in Hindi/Urdu, it was called All India Radio.

Resource strapped as the nation was, every state was allotted only a few radio stations, one in the capital city, and others in other major cities.With time,gradually, more cities would be added on the AIR map. For instance, Bihar ( it included present day Jharkhand at that time too) had only three radio stations- Patna, Ranchi, and Bhagalpur. In 1970s, a fourth station was opened at Darbhanga.

The present day concept of earning revenue through sponsorship was unknown. The way Akashwani financed itself was through government funding as well as through annual license fee of Rs 15 on every radio set purchased in the country. Draconian it may seem now, but that is how it was in those days.

Radio was seen as a means to spread education and public awareness. It was not supposed to be a means of entertainment. In fact, the then I & B minister actually said so and banned Bollywood movie music from being played on Akashwani. And that is how it remained for quite some time on the main Akashwani stations.

What was left unsaid was that Akashwani was a very good means of official propaganda. And government really used it to the hilt for that purpose. The news would only be about the achievements of the government. Opposition activities were not given any coverage. I & B minister became a very important minister, a right hand person of the Prime minister.

The Akashwani stations typically broadcasted in morning, afternoon and night. The morning transmission would begin at 6 AM with a standard signature tune( sounded like an anthem). If you opened your radio station five minutes prior to 6 AM, there would be only noise, but at 5: 58 or so, the static noise will change tone, which meant that the radio station janitor had switched the power on. And then the abovementioned standard signature tune would be played.

The first thing you would hear was "vande Mataram" followed by the introduction by the announcer something like- This is Akashwani Ranchi on medium wave 535 m band at 561 KHz and shortwave 90 m band at 3335 kHz. The various radio stations were quite resource strapped in the matter of wavelengths in which to broadcast. After some time,viz 7:30 AM, the announcer would inform that now the short wave 90 m band was closing, and listeners on this band could continue listening on medium wave 535 m band.

If you had a multiband radio, different bands had different valves inside. If the valve of a particular band became defective, other bands would continue to work, only that band would not. As it was, in my radio, the medium wave valve had conked off so after 7:30, I would be unable to listen to the radio station and would miss the commentary of the hockey match which was so keenly poised at that moment.

Commentaries were special occasions, but a normal day had a staple diet of programmes, like how a typical housewife or a hostel canteen has a standard menu for different days of the week. In the morning, they had bhajans etc, and then there used to be a news, typically at every hour.The 7 AM news was a brief 2 minutes news.The most important news in the morning was at 8 AM.From 8 to 8:10, it was Hindi news, followed by English news from 8:10 to 8:20. As 8 AM would approach, whatever programme was on will meet with a natural or unnatural end, and the announcer would announce-" It is 8 AM. Now we will relay the news from Delhi, first in Hindi and then in English".At the stroke of 8, we would hear the sound coming from Delhi- pip, pip, pip-- 8 times, and then the news would begin. This protocol was followed for every news.

As far as I can recall, most programmes on morning were "dull". The morning transmission would end at 10 AM.

The afternoon transmission would start at 1 PM, with the same ritual ( the noise changing tone, followed by the signature tune of Akashwani). After a brief 5 minute news in two languages,the afternoon programmes began with a programme on Bollywood film songs. The I & B minister's ban on Bollywood songs had been lifted about one decade back).The songs were not current, but a couple of years old at least, but something was always better than nothing.Then there was typically a programme for housewives where tips were given on cookery,knitting and other such stuff.It was followed by the news at 2 PM, which was just as important as the 8 AM news in the morning. This time though,the English news preceded the Hindi news. I do not recall when the afternoon programme ended. It ended ataround 4 PM or so, and it varied from station to station.

Evening programmes started at 6 PM and went upto 11 PM. This was the prime time, and it had many programmes. The first programme was what many city slickers disliked. It was for farmers, where agriculture experts would give tips on agriculture. This was followed by a programme which was sort of like a "chaupal" where people gather under a tree and discuss various matters. I do not recall what this programme was called, but it had a lady, nicknamed Sugiya bahan talking in rural dialect and a gentleman talking in Hindi, discussing various matters, including replying to letters, and playing folk songs.

I found it a down market programme, and disliked it ( I only liked Kishore Kumar singing latest R D Burman songs those days), but now that I think of it, it was a very well conceived and executed programme, and it certainly connected well with its target audience. I am sure other Akashwani kendras also had similar programmes for their local audience, but i doubt if any of these programmes came near the above programme of akashwani Ranchi.Sugiya bahan, a city dweller in real life became a legend in Ranchi and the areas surrounding it. She was sort of like the Ameen Sayani of akashwani Ranchi to her target audience.

The night time at 8:45 was the time when the major news bulletins ( lasting 15 minutes each) were broadcast in Hindi followed by English, and in case of certain stations, followed by Urdu news of 10 minutes duration. so people not interested in news had to wait patiently for 40 minutes for news to end.

Most programmes were stand alone programmes broadcast by one station for its local population. But there were programmes that were broadcast by several stations.The most obvious of them all were the national programmes that were broadcast by one station ( typically Delhi) and relayed by all other stations, viz national news, sports commentaries, address to the nation by President/ Prime Minister etc. The announcement for a national programme typically did not mention the source station, it just said- "This is Akashwani".

Then there were pradeshik (regional) programmes, viz pradeshik news, that was broadcast by one station and relayed by all other stations in the state.For example, in case of Bihar,if the originating station was Patna,which was the case for 7:30 PM pradeshik news, the news reader would say- "This is Akashwani Patna, Ranchi, Bhagalpur.Ab aap Anant Kumar se praadeshik samachar suniye( now listen to the regional news by Anant Kumar)".This Anant Kumar had a booming voice. Later, Akashwani Ranchi too came up with its own Pradeshik samachar and the news reader would say- "This is Akashwani Ranchi ,Patna, Bhagalpur." The protocol of seniority was strictly mantained. Name of the host station came first, followed by other stations in the state in the order of seniority, which in case of Bihar was Patna > Ranchi > Bhagalpur. there were only about 80 odd radio stations in India by the turn of 1970, which became 100 sometime in the middle of that decade.

In 1950s, when the then I & B minister had banned filmy music from Akashwani, the demand for such song based programmes were met by Radio Ceylon, and that station should have thanked the honourable I & B minister for acting as their inadvertant promoter.By the time Akashwani realised its folly it was too late and Radio Ceylon was firmly in the driver's seat as far as popularity of its song based programmes ( Aaphi ke geet,Binaca geetmala etc) were concerned. To atone for their mistake,Akashwani started a dedicated music based channel called Vividh Bharati.This deserves a separate post, and I will come up with a detailed post on Vividh Bharati later.

As a child, I had the opportunity to pass through Akashwani Ranchi centre quite a few times,and I would wonder what it was like within that premise, which was of course out of bounds for public. And I was very much part of the common public.

Now, I have been to the Akashwani premises of a few Akashwani kendras ( Chhindwara, Jabalpur,Mumbai etc) and I know people there who would happily show me around the place if I wanted, but I no longer feel the same curiosity that I felt as a child.These days Radio is no longer regarded as highly as was the case 30-40 years ago.My daughter has participated in Children's programme in akashwani Jabalpur( Children's programme is broadcast every sunday on all Akashwani kendras) and she has been to Akashwani Mumbai quite a few times, but she does not attach any importance to that.I guess one does not appreciate things that one gets easily.

Things have changed, and now a days we have private radio stations (called FM channels) and they are growing in popularity. But I doubt that they will ever recapture the glory days of Radio, which ended in India in 1980s with the advent of TV.But now that I have had enough exposure to TV in India, and I have seen the declining standards of majority of their programmes,I am yearning to go back to the days of Radio.


Ravi said...

Dear Atul,

I encountered your blog today searching Binaca geetmala and what a find it was. You have very good memories of the old radio days. Invaluable in fact. And because you write well, you should really think of writing a whole book on this, which will be a good sociology of radion India. I have spent the whole day reading your blog entries and will come back to it. I will especially look forward to your posts on vividh bharati. I am sure you know there is an email list around vividh bharati. want to join? Also, would you remember the exact years of ban on film music? when was Vividh bharati exactly started?

thanks a ton for sharing your memories
ravikant at sarai dot net

squarecut.atul said...

Thanks a lot for your nice words, Ravi. It is sweet comments like yours that encourages me to post such stuff.

Raja Swaminathan said...

Again, I am totally fascinated by your style of writing, Atul. The way you discuss something makes people get involved in the subject. I am sure there will be many who will be learning about Indian radio, about Binaca geetmala for the first time from your blog.

Considering that all this is fast disappearing from Indian society as times have so rapidly changed, I think you are - maybe even unintentionally - doing a great service by educating Indians about their legacy.

Looking forward to more such blogging from you.

Hemant said...

Wonderful blog !
I searched high & low, if there was any way to get streaming Vividh Bharti/Akashvani over the Internet.
Although it's not the same thing I found two reliable streams that come very close. Radio NRI's
"Bollywood classic Hits"
found here
Best part is, with a multimedia phone...you can take it everywhere with you.

squarecut.atul said...

Thanks for your comments and links, Hemant.

daverohitb said...

Listen Live to Vividh Bharathi, Online, on my radio from Bangalore, India.
Vividh Bharathi is broadcast in Stereo, on FM on 102.90 Mhz. in Bangalore, I generally relay on the web the Hindi Music played on Vividh Bharathi from 13.30 UTC ( 19.00 Hrs Local time ). It is a live broadcast of Vividh Bharathi, it is not a recording.
To listen to my radio station you have to register on the Global Tuners web site, IT’S FREE ! There web site is http://www.globaltuners.com/ or else google it IT’S FREE !
Register on there web site, it’s one of the best in the world, most of there receivers are PC controlled , so that an user can tune these receivers from his own computer, irrespective of where he is in the world, a few receivers are audio only nodes, like my Radio Bangalore.
Apart from FM stations of Bangalore I also relay medium wave broadcast of regional stations of All India Radio.
I have a 3 Foot loop antenna some 30 feet of the ground which works pretty good. On Medium wave. For FM I have a FM Dipole, which works excellent for the local FM stations.
Happy Listening
Rohit Dave

kori said...

Came across some recordings of Binaca Geeth Mala on this website...

Happy listening!

vishal said...

Its a good news for the internet radio listeners, now you can listen your favourite internet radio through this web site, we provide unlimited music 24/7, so go a head click here to rock.....
Enjoy your music,
Thank you.

vishal said...



andy aka phuchu said...

Just a question why was exactly filmy songs banned , google not getting any solid answers

Anonymous said...

I was captivated by this blog, almost feeling as if I could have written it myself! Those were the days - The Golden Age of Radio. Indian radio today has now descended into a joke! A bunch of American radio wannabees. A comedy of laughable amateurs! Disgusting!

Rohit Jagessar said...

Thanks you very much for the nice posting it is very informative post for us we are also in the same in this business please visit our website. Thanks You anain…

Somnath Singh said...

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