Ironically, just when Radio Ceylon was starting to broadcast Binaca geetmala in 1953,Govt of India took a diametrically and drastically opposite decision for the Govt owned radio.B V Keskar, the first I&B minister of independant India banned Filmy music from Akashwani in 1953. Binaca geetmala, as well as this Akashwani ban gave radio Ceylon a big shot in the arm.
Akashwani insisted on "educating" people through dull programmes, and radio Ceylon had no qualms playing latest filmy songs and also broadcasting ads. So the choice before the lay public was easy. The Indian audience took to radio Ceylon in a big way, and Indian businessmen followed by advertising their products in Radio Ceylon. In any case, Indian I & B ministry had yet to wake up to the potential of earning revenues through ads, they still insisted on earning their revenue through annual license fee on the radio sets. The annual license fee was Rs 10 in the beginning,( which was a huge sum in those days), and later it became Rs 15.
This ban on filmy music lasted for about one and a half years and the repurcussions were for all to see. The I & B ministry was forced to relax the ban on filmy music in 1955, and filmy music limped its way back into akashwani. But these half hearted measures were not sufficient for Akashwani to regain the lost ground.
Akashwani started an entertainment channel called Vividh Bharati, when Akashwani Bombay( alongwith Madras) became the first Vividh Bharati station on October 3, 1957.Govt of India had asked Pt Narendra Sharma to conceive this radio channel. He was designated as Chief producer, and it was he who drew up plans for the channel and even thought up the name "Vividh Bharati".
Announcers described it as-"'This is Vividh Bharati, panchrangi programme of akashwani". This was a tacit admission that the main channel of Akashwani was too dull and boring for lay public, and that was indeed the case.
Vividh Bharati was mainly a music based channel, but being a government organisation, it was nowhere as nimble footed as Radio Ceylon, its direct competitor. Radio Ceylon would play latest songs,whereas Vividh Bharati ( and more so the main akashwani stations) were always late in buying the latest records, thanks to the cumbersome procurement process that all government organisations had to follow.
By the time Vividh Bharati would get the hit records of 1958, it was already 1960. So there was no way Vividh Bharati could compete with radio Ceylon's Aap hi ke geet or Binaca geetmala, which always played the latest and most popular songs.There was another radio station that played latest Bollywood filmy songs. It was radio Goa. Yes, Goa did not become an Indian territory till 1962. But Goa radio did not have the same reach as Radio Ceylon so that quickly faded away. And of course, India took over Goa in 1962.
But being a government organisation hell bent on educating people, Vividh Bharati did take some unpopular but correct decisions that turned out to be masterstrokes in the long run.
For instance, despite knowing fully well that classical music programmes had few takers, they still began a programme that a populist broadcaster like Radio Ceylon never would. It was called Sangeet sarita, where a particular raag was discussed. A filmy song based on this raag was played followed by a pure classical song by a classical guru.It was broadcast in the morning.
Just before this programme, or somewhere in between, Vividh Bharati had a five minutes programme called Jharokha, where we would be informed about the programmes to be broadcast in the day.
Sangeet sarita ended at 8 A M and was followed by News. After news, it was the turn of Bhoole bisre geet at the time when Radio ceylon would be playing the latest songs in their aap hi ke geet programme.Incidentally, the bhoole bisre geet programe would actually play rare forgotten songs. In contrast, it was not uncommon for Radio Ceylon to play just 10 years old songs in their "purani filmon ke geet" programme.
Vividh Bharati would have newer ( though never the latest) songs played in their next programmes starting from 8:30 and going upto 9:30.
Afternoon session had that one hour long farmaishi programme called "manchahe geet".
Evening programmes included a classical songs based programme at 6:30, and it ended at 7, followed by a five minute Khel samachar.This khel samachar was started in 1975, and its English version, sports news was broadcast at 8 PM( though not on Vividh Bharati).
The time after the khel samachar was eagerly looked after by many.This was the time when the most brilliant master stroke of Vividh Bharati called Jaimala was broadcast.
The daily programme was a farmaishi programme open only to fauzi jawans who sent their farmaish by special mail available only to fauzis. You could not send an ordinary postcard claiming to be lance Naik Amar Singh or Subedar Ramesh Kumar and hope to have your farmaish entertained. The farmaishi posts had to come through APO ( army post office).Of course,everyone could listen to the programme, not just fauzi bhais.
And saturday's jaimala was actually special ( vishesh) and it was actually called Vishesh jaimala. This was a programme where a celebrity ( mostly from the film world, but sometimes cricketers too) would talk to fauzi bhais and play songs of their own choice. The same programme was also repeated on Sunday afternoon. However critical one could be of a government organisation,this special jaimala was pure gold. And now with passage of time, it has become more so.
7:50 PM( when Jaimala ended) to 8:10 PM was the time that various Vividh Bharati kendras filled with their own programmes. Then at 8:10 PM, there would be an half hour programme that depended on the day of week. I remember looking forward to the day of qawwali. I think one day was booked for ghazals too, though I am not so sure because I was not into ghazals in any case in those days. Indeed, 8 PM on wednesday were a walkover to Radio ceylon, when they would be broadcasting their Binaca geetmala while Vividh Bharati will be playing some old songs ( ghazals, if I remember correctly) at the same time.
8:45 PM was the time for the 15 minutes long Hindi news. After the news, "late night" programmes began. Hawamahal, with its signature tune had the effect of causing my eyelids to get heavy and I would immediately feel sleepy.This programme was at 9:30, which was regarded as too late in those days.
Incidentally, the theme tunes of all these programmes were created by eminent music directors viz Anil Biswas etc, when Vividh Bharati was set up in 1957. In fact, the first episode of Hawa Mahal was written by Pt Narendra Sharma, the boss of Vividh Bharati in those days. Old timers will remember him as the person who was a leading poet and lyricist in 1940s and he was the one who encouraged Lata Mangeskar during her struggling days. The government of India had made a sensible decision in inviting a highly respected film personality to shape the destiny of Vividh Bharati. This, plus the fact that many filmy dignitaries had started their career in Akashwani, and also the fact that most Vividh Bharati programmes were recorded at Bombay, meant that Vividh Bharati could count upon unstinted support from the film industry.
The programme that came next at 10 PM was Chayageet, that was a theme based programme, where songs were played on a particular theme. And the announcers did lot of hardwork in preparing and presenting the programme.
In fact, that could be said about all Vividh Bharati programmes. The presenters had passion for their jobs and that reflected in the quality of their presentation,which was of a high standard, and always very informative. In Radio Ceylon, it was not uncommon for the announcer to just name the singer before playing a song, but in Vividh Bharati, the announcers would take great pains to name the singer, lyricist and music director. and in programmes like Chayageet, Sangeet Sarita etc, they went into much more detail.
I recall the name of another programme called Rang tarang. It was a programme where poetry were read. I found it boring. I never seriously listened to it.
Vividh Bharati was stated in Mumbai and Madras and gradually it was started in other major radio stations in the country too. In Ranchi, it was started sometime in 1960s, and it was only in the evening from 6:30 PM to 10:30 PM, unlike what it was in Mumbai etc, which not only broadcasted in three shifts, but had begun to accept advertisements as well, in line with the changed government policy which allowed advertisements in Vividh Bharati.It was caled "Vividh Bharati ki vigyapan seva" viz Commercial service of Vividh Bharati. It was only in 1975 that Vividh Bharati Ranchi too joined the ranks of "Vividh Bharati ki vigyapan seva", from merely being Vividh Bharati- Akashwani ka panchrangi karyakram, and the station started to broadcast in three shifts too.
On weekdays, there was just one or two sponsored programs, one of them at 8:10, and another at 9:00, I think. It varied from station to station. Sunday was the day when there were many sponsored programmes, right from the morning beginning from about 9 A M to 1 PM. Programmes had fancy names like "Modi ke Matwale Rahi" and "Saridon ke saathi".
One programme, that was broadcast on saturday night and repeated on sunday was "Patravali", where letters of listeners were discussed.The fact that most programmes were recorded in Bombay and a few sponsored programmes differed from station to station and were recorded by sponsors was a fact not known to many,so many listeners would write letters that pertained to a specific vividh Bharati station and to sponsored programmes,and would not pertain to programmes recorded at Bombay.
Some superb programmes were started after 1980s when people had switched over to TV, and these programmes have not received as much accolades as they deserve. In these programmes, a particular film personality was discussed. Many unknown facts about them were brought out, making use of interviews with the person recorded from time to time, as well as discussions with people associated with the person.
For instance,programmes like:
Ujale unki yaad ke, Aaj ke fankaar,Sargam ke sitare ,and (last but not the least),Sangeet ke sitaron ki mehfil- This last programme was presented by Ameen Sayani, It was definitely a much higher standard programme than his much acclaimed Binaca geetmala. It had rare recordings( from Ameen Sayani's past programmes on Radio Ceylon), and interesting anecdotes. It is a hidden gem of Vividh Bharati which has not received as much acclaim as Vishesh Jaimala, mainly because this programme has come up in the TV era.
But it shows one fact clearly, that the programmes of Vividh Bharati are of high standard and very well researched. TV programmes of comparable kind ( viz Chitrahar etc) stand no where. In fact the private FM channels too can only dream of such standards.
Akashwani ( including Vividh bharati) have an enviable archive of recordings not found elsewhere. Now a days they have offered CDs of some of these recordings for sale also, but they are making the same mistake as was made by the first I & B minister of the nation. They are only selling recordings of classical music. Great that these recordings are, you can never expect these CDs to sell much. On the other hand, if they decide to sell the recordings of vishesh jaimala, chayageet, sangeet ke sitaron ki mehfil, etc, then I can guarantee that Akashwani will earn nearly as much from these sales than what they earn from their ads. Is anyone listening ( or rather reading this) ? Please act fast before these invaluable recordings are consumed by dust and moth.