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This is basically an anti-establishment critical view of the Indian Radio World which is plagued by the Herd Mentality crippling innovation and evolution of creativity that is so omnipresent in our blood

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Advent of FM Broadcast in India

The Nation with more than couple of billion ears still rely on audible invisible radio waves to feed it with news and entertainment. Most of these ears still have radio as the only source of entertainment, enriching their lives, fuelling dreams, cementing love and bonds, giving wings to learning and bringing the world as close to themselves as their own heartbeat, 24 by 7.

If it wasn’t the advent of modern times where science unravels so many magic that mystery soon would be an extinct word, then radio would have been the most lethal and potent practice and Jocks those magician and witches touching lives of so many people in ways unimaginable. If it was me who learnt Spoken English (BBC - Professor Grammer and Pop Words), practiced written English (A Date with You(DelhiB), In the Mood(National Channel), HeartBeat(RadioMidday - Blore), Saturday Date(RadioMidday - Mumbai)) through radio then It was Ekam who sealed her first job because the interviewer and she both found liking to this one particular Radio Jockey and his favorite song(read myself, song - Ek Din Fursat mein, Film: Zindagi Rocks). There are numerous such stories and each one has its own unique story about how radio touched and embellished and enriched their lives.

So how did radio start in India, well it would be enough if we start this track back from the time we started the FM Broadcast in India. AIR lists July 23, 1977 as the date when the First ever FM Broadcast happened in India and it was from the AIR studios on the Marina beach in Chennai. But this was purely a technological milestone as the programming wasn’t any different from what had been made available through the Medium Wave or Short Wave broadcast (AM Stations) . It took almost another 16 years for it to suddenly get younger and peppier and probably to also change its gender from being the sober, mature male-ish to a more amiable, affable and alluring female-ish. It was 15th August 1993 when first ever Private broadcast went on air from FM Studio in the Broadcasting house (old) off the Parliament Street in Delhi. That was probably the most important of all milestones for the youth of this billion plus country. It kicked in the whole new revolution, suddenly everyone was hooked to these invisible voices, Television took backseat, Radio Jockeys were the rockstars and India ushered into its Golden period of FM Radio Broadcast.

Government was making money and TimesFM (now Radio Mirchi) and Radio1 and Radio Midday(now RadioOne)were producing some of the finest radio shows. The present middle age population of the metro in India owe their first crush to TimesFM and Radio1-RadioMidday for everyone fell for one of Yuri, Roshan Abbas, Rajat Kapoor, Sidharth Kannan, Shamshir Luthra, Meenakshi Rani, Shreja RamaChandran, Parvati Rathore, Jaggu, Tarana, Nikhil Chinappa, Malaika, Ravi Iyaar, Cyrus Broacha and so many others. They were the true stars, peoples star for they could afford to sit right in the middle of their fans without having to bother about being mishandled or losing their privacy. Then came the blow from the Supreme court where TimesFM and Radio1-RadioMidday were asked to vacate their slots from the then 5 Commercial FM stations operating in India (4 Metros + Panaji) called AIR FM - I. With it came an end to the Era of English/Western led Radio.

Suddenly English JockLinks and Western Music wasnt worth for the radio broadcast and the local languages took over. Most of these jocks adapted local languages and joined AIR Payroll(contracts)until 1st July 2001, when in Bangalore, from their studios in Ambassador Towers, Radio City became the first ever 24 by 7 Private Radio Station to broadcast in India. Rohit Barker and Vera M became the first ever voices to bless this world with their antics and music. Once again Radio used English to communicate with listeners and non local music as the first presentation and it was well received by the listeners. This was to in times to come replicate to the rest of the country with Mirchi launching Indore as their first station and Red FM launching their first station in Mumbai. But very soon it was only Radio City(in Bangalore) and Go FM (in Mumbai) left as the nation's only English broadcasting stations with the rest hatching their chickens on the local language. Radio had moved from being a classy, niche, aspiring (a term I use to mirror the capability of radio to infuse and enthuse its listeners) to just being as one of the listeners and helped radio get its advertisers through mass numbers.

GO FM bled and finally died for India wasn’t ready for niche radio yet and the advertisers wanted numbers and this was when the only way one could credibly table numbers was to take one walk down the street for there wasn’t much of a mechanism to present that statistics. Radio lost out on Infotainment and since then till date it has all been an entertainment channel. Round 2 of Private Radio Happened and Zee TV fronting dubious entity which had pushed up the license fee in round 1 wasn’t there to hack up license fee but Reliance led BIG added that mad fuel to the fire and the licenses weren’t coming down a bit. This added the much needed variety to the stations in round 2 but alas radio failed to offer any differentiation. Radio has been just a "one-of-them" and hasn’t yet been able to lead its listeners, failed to give meaningful dreams, that ability to associate a phase of their life with radio. Jockeys are just another voice, typecast, repeated, blared down the eardrum and are just short of becoming nuisance. Maybe, probably as a return of all good work that it did in the past radio is still heard but just heard and not listened to. I will dwell on what radio could do to be listened to in my later blogs.

(Names, Dates and facts are true and probably not registered anywhere except in the heart and mind of a true radio freak like myself, the opinions expressed here are completely mine)

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Independent and reckless Mind machine