New Delhi, February 12
“You had your time, you had the power, you’ve yet to have, your finest hour, radio…” Thirty-nine years after Queen’s cult song “Radio Ga Ga” rocked the airwaves, listeners are agreed the best may still be around the corner for that much loved, so familiar and evolving with the times ‘audio device’. Quite simply, the radio.
It was sometime in the 1960s. Nemichand Barola was about 10. And remembers vividly melodious tunes from Radio Ceylon playing from a radio in a tiny paan shop in his hometown Ajmer adding to lazy afternoon vibes.
Some six decades later, Barola, now a retired school principal, still prefers radio over television and turns to it for an odd little melody from his younger days and the essential news broadcast from an All India Radio channel.
“Radio doesn’t disturb me when I am writing or doing any work, it is not possible with TV or mobile phones. I don’t have to stop my work to listen to the radio,” Barola told PTI.
It’s his connect from his yesterday to his present, the great societal leveller that binds cities to villages, rich to poor. Once a lifeline to keep in touch with music trends, cricket matches, and the news in distant corners of the country and still a mainstay for many.
On the eve of World Radio Day on Monday, it is the simplicity, reach and accessibility of the medium that still connects the likes of Barola to the old-worldly charm of the radio in an age of innumerable news channels and music streaming services, say experts.
“Radio is a very convenient and easy medium that can be accessed by anyone anywhere. You don’t require internet connection, you don’t require electricity to operate it. And you don’t need to sit in front of it to listen,” said Jainendra Singh, retired broadcaster and additional director at All India Radio.
The days of transistor sets are long over but the means of listening to radio have increased with the introduction of smartphones, audio platforms that customise playlists, FM radio in automobiles and devices such as Sony’s music streaming box ‘Caravan’.
In rural areas and economically marginalised sections, a large number of people rely on basic mobile phones that come with an in-built radio feature: a real gamechanger, according to Arti Jaiman of community radio station ‘Gurgaon Ki Awaaz’.
“During the lockdown, when people were short on money to recharge their phones for the internet, they turned to their basic phones and listened to educational programmes free of charge on the radio,” she said.
While Barola’s love for the radio comes from an era when the visual medium hadn’t reached the masses, 25-year-old media professional Falak Afshan from Hyderabad says radio was her first love because of its refined mix of chaste Hindi and Urdu.
“I started with All India Radio to improve my Hindi and Urdu, which eventually became second nature. Also, my father loved to listen to music on the radio, so be it Mehdi Hasan’s ghazals or Usha Uthup’s songs, something would always be playing,” Afshan said.
Listeners from two different eras, Barola and Afshan are but few of an increasing number of Indians who are connected by the undeniable charm of the radio.
The persistent attraction of the radio is evident from the latest Economic Survey which noted that FM radio has flourished in the last few years.
According to it, the number of private FM radio stations has increased from 243 in the quarter ending December 2015 to 388 in the quarter ending June 2022.
FM radio, which is generally associated with entertainment programmes, also catered to the migrant population of urban areas through community radio stations.
Jaiman noted that it creates a “media space” for local villagers, migrant workers and their families to talk about their issues and find a cultural connection in a city that was urbanised at a breakneck speed.
“The way this city has urbanised over the last 30 years, there is no space for the local culture for the language. A lot of people say there is no culture, not realising the culture got built over, and got surrounded by tall buildings. Our effort was to create that bridge, where you can turn on the radio and listen to songs in Bhojpuri, Garhwali, Maithili and Haryanvi,” Jaiman said.
Since its inception in 2009, ‘Gurgaon Ki Awaaz’ now has over five lakh unique listeners and more than 50,000 who listen to the online radio programmes.
“These people are not just from India but all over the world. So that is a big shift that has happened,” she added.
It is also the ability to connect with the broadcasters at a personal level that has given radio an edge over its more modern and visual counterparts.
Apart from the simple pleasures of listening to music all day long sitting in his balcony in Delhi’s Burari, Vinod Gautam, a retired government employee, finds joy in connecting with the presenters and takes pride when relatives call up to tell him they heard his name.
“I have talked to so many presenters of Vividh Bharati and FM Gold over the years, I still do. I once even complained to a presenter that they don’t take calls from regulars, the slack was readily rectified,” the 64-year-old said.
He added that the low hum of even a quiet radio channel soothes him. Television, on the other hand, has increasingly become a “source of stupid nonsense”, he said.
To be able to connect with their listeners at a rather personal level is a gift of the radio, according to RJ Prateek of Radio City Lucknow.
“We love that people of every age group talk to us like friends. They share their emotions, their feelings with us. We have even discussed global issues with our listeners,” Prateek said.
With increasing penetration of the Internet, radio presenters like Prateek have also started connecting with their audiences on social media platforms.
To get back to “Radio Ga Ga”… for Barola, Afshan and Gautam and countless others, radio is that old friend who should “stick around, ‘cause we might miss you, when we grow tired of all this visual”.
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