Akashvani Bangalore turns fifty

BY bs chandraskhar| IN Media Practice | 08/11/2005
The Bangalore station was inaugurated on November 2, 1955 and in the 50 years since then there have been six distinct stages in the evolution of its programming.





The Bangalore station of All India Radio (AIR) completed fifty years of broadcasting early this month. The regional stations of AIR have been the main providers of news, information and culture for a majority of people in our country and AIR Bangalore is one of the more important ones. The golden jubilee of this media institution is an occasion to visit its past achievements and also understand the present problems.


Stages of Evolution


The Bangalore station was inaugurated on November 2, 1955 and in the 50 years since then there have been six distinct stages in the evolution of its programming. In its first decade AIR Bangalore preferred to play the role of the chief patron of music and arts and catered mainly to the elites. The second was the development decade when the main concerns were subjects like increasing agriculture productivity, or controlling the size of the population. 


The station reached its peak of popularity in its third decade, which strange as it may look, included the period of emergency when AIR was derisively called All Indira Radio. In its fourth decade AIR Bangalore has to watch Doordarshan replacing AIR as the prime mass media of the country. The fifth decade is the era of liberalisation and globalisation. In the first half of this decade AIR Bangalore has to face competition from private TV channels and in the second half the competition is from both private TV and private radio channels. 


The Beginning


Akashvani Bangalore was started in 1955, eight years after Independence. That the fifth largest city in the country had to wait so long to get its first radio station is a reflection of how much importance radio got in those days. This delay was in spite of the fact that, the new station worked from an old rented building with most of its staff coming on transfer from Akashvani Mysore.


However, AIR Bangalore should be proud of its Mysore link. Akashvani Mysore is the only public broadcasting station in the whole world to be started by a university professor from his own resources. In 1935 Dr. M.V. Gopalaswamy, then Professor of Psychology at Mysore University procured a small radio transmitter (of 30 Watts) through his friends in England. With the active involvement of his colleagues and students he started broadcasting a variety of programmes from the terrace of his house.  Within a short period this broadcasting center became a sort of low cost community radio service catering to the citizens of Mysore city.


In its first decade AIR Bangalore continued the traditions of Mysore Akashvani, which mainly concentrated on education and culture.  This was also consistent with the policy prescribed for AIR by the then minister of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Dr. B.V.Keskar. Adya Rangacharya, V.Sitharamaih, Veene Doraiswamy Iyengar, big names in theatre, literature and music, joined AIR Bangalore. Classical music got the lion’s share in the total broadcasting hours and in the literary and cultural programmes the accent was on achieving excellence. 


This policy had a large number of supporters and many people even today feel that classical music is still surviving in our country because of this enlightened approach of AIR.  But this elitist approach also kept away a large number of common citizens away from radio. One example of this contempt for popular tastes is that at that time the station used to broadcast 2-3 hours of classical music each day but could find just 30 minutes in a whole week for Kannada film songs!


When the first general elections were conducted in democratic India in 1952, there was no radio station in Bangalore and only one modern Kannada newspaper with a circulation of a few thousands reported events of the state. However the Chinese invasion of 1961 changed all this. There was a sudden surge in the interest in news and AIR did react immediately starting two additional news bulletins at 640 in the morning and at 1030 in the night. AIR Bangalore extended its transmission hours to relay these bulletins. 


The Development Decade


The second decade of AIR Bangalore could be described as the development decade. During 1965-1975 separate units were established in AIR Bangalore for producing programmes on agriculture, family planning, science and education. They were given adequate funds and had specialised manpower.  Development communication was a new initiative of the Planning Commission, which was based on the advice of internationally known communication experts like Wilbur Schramm and Daniel Lerner. In AIR till then, Programme Executives, generalists with a background of music or literature, were handling all type of programmes but the new units for development broadcasts were manned by those with training and experience in agriculture, health extension and science communication.


 The new Farm and Home unit of AIR Bangalore did contribute significantly to the overall agricultural development in the state. Karnataka was the second state in the country after Gujarat, which witnessed the white revolution, also called ‘Operation Flood’. Bangalore station’s involvement in this endeavour was a major factor in its success in Karnataka. The Farm and Home unit experimented with a new method of broadcasting especially to listeners who had registered their names with AIR. Many other AIR stations later adopted this method broadcasting to a committed and motivated audience. 


The science unit broadcast many innovative programmes on environmental preservation involving various agencies working in this area. These programmes were highly successful. Even AIR authorities in Delhi were impressed by the success of these broadcasts and advised other AIR stations to broadcast similar programmes in their regional languages.  Later BBC also evinced keen interest in the science broadcasts of AIR Bangalore. 


The Golden Era; Media Misuse


The neglect of film music by AIR in its earlier years and later it being forced to start a parallel Vividh Bharati service to regain the listeners lost to Radio Ceylon is well documented. As a part Vividh Bharati network a small transmitter had been set up in Bangalore. In 1972 AIR Bangalore introduced commercial broadcasting on this transmitter with a large number programmes based on Kannada films.  This service was an instant success.   The transistor revolution of the 1970s greatly extended the reach of radio and the third decade of AIR Bangalore could be called its golden era. AIR became the center of attraction in most households and people from all walks of life listened to one or the other programme of AIR Bangalore. 


This period also includes the two years when AIR was lampooned as All Indira Radio.  During the days before and during the period of emergency there was constant interference from the ministry of I&B in the day-to-day programmes of AIR. The newly appointed Media Advisors constantly monitored the publicity given to the famous 20-point programme and the people in AIR were put under severe stress. Its credibility suffered badly and perhaps listening to some specific programmes like news and current affairs might have fallen. However the total listening to AIR did not suffer for the simple reason that there was no alternative!


Doordarshan Years


The period 1982-1991 saw the emergence of Doordarshan as the most popular mass medium of the country. In most countries television took away some listeners from radio and in India also a similar loss was expected. However many international analysts feel that radio lost more heavily in India than in other countries. The large-scale movement of trained and committed programme and engineering professionals from AIR to the more glamorous Doordarshan and the neglect of AIR by the ministry of I&B must have added to its loss of listeners.


In Karnataka, Doordarshan made temporary arrangements to telecast Kannada programmes from Bangalore in 1983 and a full-fledged Doordarshan Kendra was inaugurated in 1985. In spite of this till 1990 AIR Bangalore could hold its ground against Doordarshan.  The Delhi-centric approach of Doordarshan left very little time for programmes in regional languages like Kannada and the reach of even these Kannada programmes was limited to Bangalore city and its surroundings. Only in 1990 the other transmitters of Doordarshan in Karnataka could relay Kannada programmes from Bangalore. 


Once the Karnataka regional network was set up Bangalore Doordarshan could attract privately produced sponsored programmes and AIR lost a big chunk of listeners in the evenings. However in the mornings most middle class families continued to patronise radio as listening to radio had by then become a habit. 


Satellite Revolution


Almost all AIR stations in the western and northern parts of the country felt the impact of privately owned satellite channels right from 1992 when Zee TV started. However in Karnataka radio stations felt the impact of satellite channels only around 2000 when mega serials attracted middle class families. The first Kannada satellite channel Udaya, though started in 1994, had remained basically a film channel in its earlier years.


All India Radio could do very little about private TV channels but it has to react to the new challenge of private FM radio stations before all other AIR stations. The first of these new private FM radio stations in the country Radio City owned by Star TV came to Bangalore in 2001. The first reaction of AIR Bangalore was to start a new FM channel of its own. When competition reached Delhi, AIR revamped all its metro FM radio stations under a common brand name FM Rainbow.


AIR FM Rainbow is doing quite well in Bangalore particularly with the Kannada speaking population. It has taken advantage of the quality programmes in the regional language Kannada, which AIR Bangalore has accumulated over the years. Some young announcers, mostly college students, have been successful as DJs (disk jockeys) with their racy style of presentation totally different from the staid way listeners were accustomed to.  This service appears to have a bigger share of audience than Radio city but the later has managed to get a bigger ‘mind share’ of advertisers through deft public relation work. 


AIR has also chosen Bangalore for its first FM classical music channel- Amritha varshini. The city has also another FM channel Gyanvani run by IGNOU. 


The Past and the Present


In its 50 years AIR Bangalore has done so much to earn the gratitude of the listeners and should be happily celebrating its golden jubilee. The past is glorious but unfortunately the future, judging from present trends, is looking gloomy.  There are at least three areas of concern. It looks that the objectives of public service broadcasting are being increasingly compromised. One can also see a beginning of a reversal in the process of decentralisation of programme production. Over and above there are doubts about the viability of Prasar Bharati itself.


AIR as a Public Service


All these years AIR has persistently tried to stick to the objectives of public service broadcasting, encapsulated in its motto- bahujana hitaya;  bahu jana sukhaya (the good of the many and welfare of the many). Even after the introduction of commercials on the main stations AIR did not compromise in this basic objective of public service. As long as AIR had a monopoly of sound broadcasting it continued to be the cheapest mode for advertisers and could manage to earn a decent amount through commercial broadcasts. The emergence of private FM channels has changed this scenario. There is constant pressure to earn more with stiff targets fixed from the top. AIR stations are being forced to accommodate more and more sponsored programmes of doubtful quality compromising the basic objective of public service broadcasting.


Centralisation of Programme Production


Another disturbing trend is the reversal of the process of decentralisation of programmes. All these years AIR encouraged decentralisation of programme production and in Karnataka itself there are eight regional stations each broadcasting independent programmes of its own tailored to the needs of the people of that area. This was considered necessary, particularly for the sound medium, as the Kannada spoken in say Mangalore is quite different from Kannada spoken in Dharwar. But today centralisation is creeping in with all the stations being forced to broadcast a number Kannada programmes produced at Delhi, originally in Hindi and dubbed to different languages.  Already almost all social advertisement capsules and some rural development programmes are coming in this mode from Delhi. When there is so much talk of community radio and narrowcasting,  this centralisation of radio programme production looks disturbing.


Future of Prasar Bharati


Most of the employees of AIR had welcomed the creation of the autonomous Prasar Bharati, when it was established in 1997. But now after eight years of Prasar Bharati a combined delegation of different employees associations of AIR and Doordarshan have met the minister of I&B and have demanded that the central government should take back the control of AIR and Doordarshan dismantling Prasar Bharati. 


The reasons for this disenchantment with Prasar Bharati is easy to understand. After the creation of the corporation the staff in AIR and Doordarshan are losing facilities of housing and medical care available to other central government employees. In addition there has been no fresh recruitment in programme cadres and the promotions due are delayed inordinately. Over and above all, the financial viability of Prasar Bharati has always been in doubt. There is some brave talk of licensing radio and television sets and it is difficult to imagine that the present government will marshal the political will to impose a license fee.


In spite of all these fears the golden jubilee of AIR Bangalore is an occasion to celebrate and congratulate the station for achieving so much in its fifty years.




B.S.Chandrasekhar worked in AIR and Doordarshan for over three decades.

Contact address: baguruchandru@rediffmail.com


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