Decades before satellite television and FM radios began capturing the imagination of audience, at least two generations grew up listening to the All India Radio (AIR). Today, the country’s humble radio broadcaster turns 85.
Although the first broadcast in India had started through the Radio Club of Bombay in 1923, it was only on July 23, 1927 that the Indian Broadcasting Company Ltd was set up as a collaborative venture by the Government of India, which later evolved as AIR.
Lakshmi Jayant, who served the AIR as a newsreader for 39 years, recalls that the first news bulletin was broadcast on a service called 7BY from the Bombay Station. “But 7BY did not last long. It went into liquidation in less than three years,” she says. From this had evolved the AIR, later renamed Akashvani in 1956.
“From the war time broadcasts to Emergency, I can never forget the tone of the announcer, ‘This is All India Radio giving you the news’. The authoritative tone was so compelling that one had to believe that this was ‘The News’. It was literally Akash-Vani (voice from the sky) implying God’s voice for us,” she muses.
However, it was not always a goldmine jackpot for AIR as it faced competition from Radio Ceylon, one of the oldest broadcasters in the world. “Radio Ceylon’s Hindi service launch coincided with the golden age of Hindi cinema. Simply put, they were at the right place at the right time. This gave Akashvani a tough run,” recounts Lakshmi.
In October 1957, AIR bounced back by launching Vividh Bharati targeting youth with cine songs. In a span of a decade, it started accepting advertisements as well and by this time, it had rooted itself deeply in the psyche of Indian audience and corporate houses making the cash registers ring.
AIR Coimbatore Programme Head N Tamilvanan reminisces “those days we had a lot more educational programmes for farmers on agricultural sciences.” The Coimbatore Station was started in 1977.