My love affair with the radio
As the youngest child growing up alone, the next sibling being ten years older and living abroad, the radio was my constant companion. The radio was my first music guru, and you will be surprised, it still is my favorite media device.
Cyclones were constant visitors to the east coast of India. The coast of Madras would get a direct blow sometimes, but most time, we would escape the direct effects as the ‘eye’ had a mind of its own. Andhra Pradesh, the unified version, would get the most out of it. Again, I’m vacillating here. The topic is All India Radio. I was beginning to say that weather bulletins would often be issued over the radio during the cyclone threat. So between bulletins, Madras A would intersperse the bulletins with fantastic programming. So, I would get up red-eyed, glued to the radio all night. Hey, those are some great opening lines for a song!
It is believed that in 1920, the first regular broadcasting station in the world went on air in Pittsburgh, United States. On February 23, 1920, the Marconi Company transmitted a program from Chelmsford, England. The BBC began broadcasting regularly in November 1922, with John Reith at the helm.
The genesis of the Madras AIR
In Chennai, The Madras Presidency Radio Club was formed less than two years later, on May 16, 1924, by a group of dedicated amateurs led by C.V. Krishnaswamy Chetty. It broadcasted nightly music and talk show that lasted for two and a half hours (and a morning transmission on Sundays and holidays). Beginning on July 31, 1924, it transmitted daily with a 40-watt transmitter. A 200-watt one eventually took its place. The club met in Holloway’s Garden, Egmore.
When financial difficulties forced its closure in October 1927, it donated its transmitter to the Madras Corporation, which began broadcasting regularly from Ripon Building on April 1, 1930.
The Marina, Robinson Park, People’s Park, and the High Court Beach each had six loudspeakers tuned to the sunset broadcasts. Fourteen Corporation schools also received small indoor receiving sets.
The official launch of AIR
This continued until All India Radio’s official launch on June 16, 1938, when the station was taken over by AIR. Lord Erskine was the Governor of Madras Province when he inaugurated the AIR station on Marshall’s Road in Egmore. An inaugural naadaswaram concert was performed by the great Tiruvengadu Subramania Pillai. On that same day, Smt. D.K. Pattamal, the doyen of Carnatic music, performed too. On the second day, Vidwan S. Rajam performed with Madras A. Kannan on mridangam and Govindasami Naicker on the violin.
On AIR’s 50th anniversary, S. Rajam performed a concert accompanied by the same musicians and, per the wishes of AIR, he sang the same songs he had sung fifty years ago at the inauguration!
AIR was lucky to have Victor Paranjoti as its first director when it opened its Madras station. Legendary Indian Conductor Victor Paranjothi was the first Indian accompanist of the MMA’s choir. He knew a lot about Western music. He included Western music—performed mainly by Anglo-Indians—in the show. Back then, Handel Manuel hadn’t yet joined AIR.
Paranjoti cared deeply about music and about keeping standards high. In the past, he would travel to listeners’ homes to collect first-hand comments. Mylapore beach, T’Nagar Park, and the Marina across from the Fort were once bustling with listeners tuning in to AIR broadcasts at kiosks. Overall, the high standards of broadcasting can be totally attributed to Paranjoti.
As early as the 1940s, AIR had its in-house auditioning system. Music supervisors were hired to assist the station directors in auditions, rehearsals, and training of artists. Vidwan S. Rajam was the music supervisor for AIR Madras from 1944 until his retirement in 1977.
The move to AIR’s present location
On July 11, 1954, AIR relocated to its brand-new building on South Beach Road (now Kamarajar Salai) in the San Thomé neighborhood. The new studios’ first broadcast began at 6:55 a.m. with T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai playing a brief alapana (exposition) in the Todi raagam.
In 1961, at AIR’s silver jubilee celebration, Krishnaswamy Chetty, one of the founders of the Madras Presidency Radio Club, was honored for his groundbreaking contributions to broadcasting in Madras with a commemoration award.
The language controversy
The Trichy and Madras broadcasting station used to announce themselves as Vaanoli Nilayam (Tamizh for a radio station). On April 25, 1942, the D.G. of AIR ordered all stations to stop translating ‘All India Radio’ into any of the Indian languages. No one knows what prompted that order from the Ministry. In 1946, G.T. Sastri, the director of Trichy’s radio station, wrote to the Director General, asking for permission to refer to his facility as ‘Vanoli Nilayam,’ and that’s where the discussion ended. However, In December 1957, the D.G. communicated the Ministry’s decision to change all Hindi and other Indian language announcements to “Akashvani,” while keeping “All India Radio” for use in English.
The director of the Trichy station reported to the D.G. that the order had been carried out. Still, he also mentioned that there had been violent protests and even hunger strikes in Madras Province against using Akashvani. The director of the Trichy station was informed that the name Akashvani was in the Kannada language and not in Hindi; the original name of the Mysore station was Akashvani. However, the agitators were not appeased.
Govind Vallabh Pant, the then Minister of Home Affairs for India, discussed the issue with K. Kamaraj, chief minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Ministry of Communication eventually confirmed that the term ‘Vaanoli” could be used interchangeably with “radio” without any qualms.
In May 1982, the Hindi Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting brought up the contentious issue again by suggesting that All India Radio change its name to Akashvani for all its programming, including its Hindi and English offerings. The Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Vasant Sathe, unaware of the tumultuous past, agreed with the suggestion. Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran raised the issue with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was abroad at the time because he expected serious trouble in Tamil Nadu. And she immediately called Sathe to cancel his directives and return things to the way they were.
[…] at the All India Radio, he named himself Uncle Handel. He would play the piano and children from different schools would […]