“TV gives everyone an image, but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains”: Peggy Noonan, author.
The birth of Internet augured the death of handwritten letters. And on July 14, 2013, the iconic 163-year-old telegram finally passed into history. Similarly, the invention of CDs and DVDs literally wrote the death sentence of audio cassettes. No doubt, technology has been a boon to mankind, making our lives easier. But, at the same time, it has also resulted in the vanishing of innumerable things, things we grew up with.
Much like handwritten letters and audio cassettes, the advent of television seemed to prophesy the eclipse of radio. However, radio has managed to survive in our country despite the growing penetration of television and digital media in households, thanks to its easy accessibility and affordability. Once considered the voice of the nation, All India Radio (AIR) is still considered the most reliable source of information.
Needless to say, the national broadcaster has managed to survive because it is government funded. However, despite having the widest reach, many believe that radio has failed to engage audiences, one of the major reasons for its declining listenership among certain audience groups. And now, private FM stations are giving AIR a run for its money. As we celebrate World Radio Day on February 13, we still believe that radio, which is getting labelled as a medium to play popular songs, has immense potential to lure more listeners.
It isn’t that All India Radio hasn’t tried to reinvent itself but somehow it hasn’t succeeded like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which despite constant threat from television and digital media commands more than 50 per cent share of the total UK radio listenership, with listeners spending 15 hours on average every week.
Undoubtedly, an audiovisual medium appeals more, which is why radio faced a threat at one point. When in the late 1970s television came to India, many predicted that, like in the West, it will soon be doomsday for radio in India. By the 1980s, television’s reach expanded manifold. And the emergence of satellite television in the 1990s served a massive blow to AIR.
However, in a country like India, where the majority still can’t afford a television set, radio has managed to survive. Media watchers believe that radio will continue to remain the most affordable and easily accessible mediums of communication.
For the urban listener, radio (read FM) today has been reduced to a medium of listening to popular music, with most preferring television and digital media for news, infotainment and edutainment. However, for the rural population, radio remains the most affordable medium of communication. AIR today reaches a whopping 99 per cent of the population.
Popular lyricist Saroj Pattnayak from Bhubaneswar says, “Radio is still relevant. It is easy to say that the world has gone digital, but radio is far from dead. Even today, I listen to radio because there are many songs that are not available on digital media or Internet. And with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat now being aired on All India Radio, it hopefully will attract a lot of young listeners.”
Perhaps one of the major reasons radio has survived in India is because it can overcome the literacy barrier. Moreover, with electricity yet to reach many parts of India, rural areas still heavily rely on radio.
Tarun Kanti Rout, director, All India Radio, Cuttack, says that the listener profile might have changed but listenership hasn’t. Instead, it has grown. “It is not correct to say that listenership is declining. Even today, radio has the widest reach in our country. The rural population relies on it overwhelmingly for information. It remains the most portable and inexpensive medium, cheaper than a mobile or television set,” says Rout.
Understandably, radio has its own set of advantages, which has helped it survive amidst the overwhelming onslaught of technology. Many media watchers believe that radio personalises the experience of users, driving them to imagine and decipher a piece of information in their own way.
Rout feels that smartphones have, in a way, given a fresh lease of life to radio. “Maybe the number of conventional radio listeners have somewhat declined over the years but with the evolution of smartphones and apps, people are going back to old habits. AIR is now available on digital platforms like DTH and mobile apps. Listening to the morning news on radio remains one of the most widely reported habits across the nation,” says Rout.
Old timers may still find be attached to the radio, but the young generation no longer seems to be attracted to it, particularly when it comes to listening to news bulletins and sports commentary. Rout, however, believes that radio is continuously trying to maintain pace with the changing times. “Factors like easy accessibility and low cost have led, over the years, to a proliferation of local radio stations that cater to niche populations in limited geographies,” he says.
“Radio is also like the last man standing during times of calamities and disasters. Moreover, the national broadcaster is the most reliable source of information as it never airs fake or wrong news which has become a major cause of concern for digital media. We go by our motto, ‘Bahujanahitaya Bahujanasukhaya’ (for the happiness of many, for the welfare of many),” he adds.
Interestingly, for a state like Orissa, which boasts a large fisherman population, radio is the most reliable source of information for weather updates. When the state was affected by natural calamities like cyclone Phailin, Titli, and Hud Hud and floods, the national broadcaster played an important role by sharing important and timely information on relief work and aid when other mediums became inaccessible.
As the national broadcaster, All India Radio’s focus has always been information, edutainment and infotainment. Although entertainment remains a core area, private radio stations or FM channels have taken a leap over AIR. However, when it comes to authenticity of news, AIR continues to be the most trusted source.
“We air only those shows which are informative, educative and entertaining. AIR has a list of codes of shows that can be aired. We keep experimenting with newer concepts keeping in mind the demands of our listeners without compromising on quality. Our focus has always been the culture and tradition of our state and we regularly air shows revolving around agriculture, news, current affairs and weather among others. Moreover, we cater to all age groups which is one of the reasons our listeners are increasing every day,” says Abhay Kumar Das, programme executive, AIR, Cuttack.
It goes without saying that All India Radio is continuously making efforts to lure more listeners. And like every year AIR Cuttack, which recently marked its 71st anniversary, will once again air special shows on World Radio Day. This year’s theme is ‘Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace.’ “This has always been our focus and we will continue to do so,” says Rout.
Broadcasting began in India in 1924 with the setting up of a private radio service in Madras (now Chennai).
The British government approved a license to Indian Broadcasting Company to start radio stations in Bombay (now Mumbai) and Calcutta (now, Kolkata).
Industries started operating them as Indian State Broadcasting Corporation. The Corporation came to be known as All India Radio in 1936.
After Independence, All India Radio (AIR) was renamed Akashvani and made a separate department under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The AIR network had expanded to around 146 AM stations along with a National Channel by the mid- 1990s.
Commercial radio services started in 1967 with the Vividh Bharati service, headquartered in Mumbai.
FM broadcasting in India started in 1977 in Madras (now, Chennai). Till the 1990s, AIR was all that the Indian audiences had. However, private broadcasters were present in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Goa and Chennai, which resulted in the emergence of private FM slots.
Over the years, a number of private players have emerged, with the majority exclusively dedicated to pop and film music.
The long journey
June 1923: Radio Club of Bombay makes the first ever broadcast in the country.
April 1930: Indian Broadcasting Service, under the Department of Industries and Labour, starts operations on an experimental basis.
August 1935: Akashvani Mysore, a private radio station begins operation.
June 8, 1936: Indian State Broadcasting Service becomes All India Radio.
August 1937: Central News Organisation (CNO) comes into existence.
August 15, 1947: India becomes independent. Six radio stations in operation — Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Tiruchirapalli and Lucknow.
1956: Akashvani adopted as the National Broadcaster.
1957: Vividh Bharati service gets launched with popular film music as its main content.
Today, AIR has a network of 262 radio stations, broadcasting in 23 languages and 146 dialects.
The programmes of External Services Division are broadcast in 11 Indian and 16 foreign languages reaching out to more than 100 countries.
AIR presently has 18 FM stereo channels, called AIR FM Rainbow, targeting the urban audience in a refreshing style of presentation.
With the FM wave sweeping the country, AIR is augmenting its Medium Wave transmission with additional FM transmitters at regional stations.
Following the government decision on transition to the digital mode of transmission, AIR is switching from analog to digital in a phased manner.