Behind All India Radio’s forgotten legacy

Casual in a chequered shirt and plain cotton trousers – far removed from the power dressing attire donned by most media bosses –  K Satyanarayana Murthy reminds us that there is more to being a radio station head than glamour.

It is a world driven by hard work, sacrifice and relentless ambition one that he came to know too well as AIR Vizag’s Director of Programming.

In a career which is essentially tested in front of thousands of people – ‘live.’ KS Murthy oversees all aspects of the AIR Vizag’s daily radio production. And, with a supportive team of artists, program curators and sound engineers; he does so with an unmatched flair.

All India Radio Office in Vizag
All India Radio Office in Vizag

Heritage Heroes 

AIR Vizag seems to be an important outlet for tribal artistic expression when the mainstream media is not always paying attention. And, it provides listeners with a vivid window into the lives of people surviving on tribal lands.

“All AIR stations across India are program specific. The station in Vizag focuses on tribal and rural programs because the city is surrounded by tribal areas. As custodians of folklore culture we preserve rural beliefs,” KS Murthy says.

“My team chronicles Samskar Geet or pristine form of folklore tunes without any music in the background. We visit villages to record folk songs like lullabies, wedding songs and funeral songs. We archive and share these recordings with other AIR stations around the country,” he adds.

Taking roots

Since the ’60s, AIR, Vizag was at the zenith of its success and popularity, not because there was no other competitive source of information and entertainment, but because it ran in a manner on par with several international radio services.

Known as Akash Vani (voice from the sky) it reached the widest audience, including vulnerable communities like industrial workers, farmers, rural women and the youth.

AIR Vizag powered them with information in an era before feminism gained momentum in India. Their women’s program not only promoted gender equality but also became a testimony to AIR’s efforts in supporting deprived women. “Our women’s program bagged an award in the AIR best programs category,” the Director says.

Flair on air

Being a state-owned enterprise, the news broadcast on AIR Vizag is not only what the government wants you to hear. There is an interesting mix of cultural, musical and religious programs on offer. The language used on air — as far as Telugu broadcasting is concerned — is top-notch, with absolutely no room for slang or banter used on the street.

“Our presenters are thoroughly coached in proper pronunciation before going on air; compared with what makes it to the airwaves today,” the Director says.

This notion soon changed to keep up with the young and at times brash FM radio which now seems to dominate the market. “We branched out to FM and launched AIR FM Rainbow to stay abreast with trends.

Rainbow’s programs are to be consumed on the go,” he says. “It is radio for the modern age with an eclectic playlist, featuring slots for local drama acts, film music, as well as semi-classical numbers. The RJs intersperse the tracks with light banter. SMS based programs and live callers are in place to suit the city’s new metropolis outlook,” he adds.

Competition but not a threat

Without doubt, the Rainbow FM station played a key role in AIR Vizag’s revival and gave it a new lease on life. In a competitive industry of private channels and the internet AIR Vizag is conscious of its edge.

“Our listeners are people of letters like Mr Prsanna Kumar, Mr CS Rao, government officials and others who closely monitor our programs and give us feedback immediately,” he says.

“Other mediums of entertainment have never been a threat; AIR has its niche market. And, private channels don’t affect our number of listeners. In fact, the problem isn’t in the numbers at all, but that our listeners are passive and don’t give us feedback,” he says.

A new team in the making

Recruitment was in full swing and the Director and his team went through 580 job applications for news presentations, radio jockeys and musicians. “Government media standards and ethics make the recruitment process stringent,” he says.

The hiring process begins with a press notification and a written exam on Indian heritage. They hire Radio Jockeys or “casual announcers” and train them in script writing and voice modulation. “We check the vivaciousness of the applicant’s voice and prefer to hire locals,” KS Murthy says

A beacon for society

The openness and diversity that flourish in AIR Vizag’s programs is a hallmark of urban culture that even in a commercial age — serves as the bedrock of civil society.

“People assume TV and Internet overshadows radio but these mediums are more demanding. The city is moving to a hurried culture and without disturbing the listeners, our shows make our way into the lives of thousands of the city’s listeners,” he concludes.

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