Friday Review » History & Culture

Updated: October 3, 2013 17:10 IST

Sounds… and music

Randor Guy
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People flocked to the beaches to listen to radio programmes being broadcast through loudspeakers.

Not many are aware that long before radio broadcasting began in Madras (now Chennai) around 1920s there was a private broadcasting service run by the Madras Harbour. A transmitter was located in the Government building opposite the main gate of the Madras Harbour, where the Supreme Court of Madras later functioned and which, much later, became the Madras High Court. From this site, messages about arrival of ships and such were broadcast to the Harbour authorities by way of information. Noted historian C.S. Srinivasachari, popularly known as ‘Chicca,’ mentions it in one of his writings.

Madras, then known as the Madras Presidency, was a sprawling area containing 26 districts and covered almost the entire South India with the exception of native states ruled by maharajas and nawabs, Mysore,

Travancore, Cochin, Pudukottah and Hyderabad. Madras city was – and continues to be - the cultural capital of the province.

In 1924, a brilliant engineer of the Corporation of Madras who was trained in Manchester, England, C. V. Krishnaswamy founded what he called the ‘Madras Presidency Radio Club’. Sadly, the club, which was

well received by the culture-conscious citizens ran into financial difficulties and CVK, as he was known, successfully persuaded the Corporation of Madras to take over the broadcasting in 1929.

Loudspeakers on the beach

The Corporation broadcasting service broadcast programmes in the evening consisting of music, news and cultural events. Not many homes had radios in those days and the Corporation set up loudspeakers in places such as the beaches known as the High Court Beach, Marina, and San Thome.

Long before the present Reserve Bank of India edifice was built and the development of the Madras Harbour, the High Court Beach was very popular with residents of North Madras. There was a short road leading to the seafront from the South Beach Road and on it there was a zinc metal kiosk on the left that had a radio set with a man who operated it, and which was heard by people on the beach where loudspeakers were mounted on the top of a metal pole and fixed in the sand. It was a novelty and many people flocked there just to listen to music and sounds coming out seemingly from nowhere!

In one film, ‘En Manaivi’ (‘My Wife’, 1942,) produced by the Indian movie mogul AV. Meiyappan and directed by noted filmmaker Sundar Rao Nadkarni, a rustic woman coming from the rural areas and stranger to the city is totally bowled by the music. She sings a song, which became very popular, containing references to the music on the beach and to a bullock-less cart (‘Maadillatha Vandi’ ) flying about in the sky above Meenambakkam…

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