The saga of All India Radio Madras began in 1938. A look at some aural delights.

Friday Review starts Randor Guy’s monthly column on AIR Madras, which is celebrating its Platinum Jubilee this year.

All India Radio (AIR) celebrates its Platinum Jubilee this year having commenced operations in Madras, the then capital of the composite Madras Presidency, in 1938. The journey through the decades has been interesting, exciting and certainly entertaining.

(This writer has been involved with All India Radio since his childhood taking part in the Children's Programmes in Tamil, and answering quizzes entitled, ‘Vinadi Vina’ at the end of the programme, invariably getting the right answer, which was announced in the following week's programme! As a college student, he represented his ‘alma mater’ on the English quiz programmes conducted by famous professors of English such as Thomas Johnson (Pachaippa’s College), Rev. R. S. McNichol (Madras Christian College) and the Tamil ones conducted by noted lawyer, playwright and stage actor, C. V. Gopalratnam, in his own inimitable humorous way.)

Two languages

As the Vijayawada station had not yet come into existence, the Madras Station had programmes in Tamil and Telugu for the Telugu-speaking population in Madras city. There were programmes in both languages, such as ‘Srothalu Korina Recordlu’ (Telugu-Listeners’ Requests), and in Tamil, ‘Neengal Kettavai.’ Carnatic Music had a major share of the aural entertainment with concerts between 7.30-9 p.m. by maestros such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Ayyangar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar , D. K. Pattammal, G.N. Balasubramaniam (later he served AIR as producer of Carnatic Music), M.S. Subbulakshmi, Brinda and Muktha, N.C. Vasanthakokilam, T. K. Rangachari, V.V. Sadagopan and others.

There were violin recitals by string wizards such as Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai and the seven stringed legend, Mysore T. Chowdaiah.

Nagaswaram also featured prominently with performers such as the legendary T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai, Thirurvenkadu Subramania Pillai, P.S. Veerusami Pillai, Kulikarai Pichaiyappa, Injiukudi Pichaikannu and Sheikh Chinna Mowla among others.

Flute by the masters including T.R. Mahalingam, Palladam Sanjeeva Rao and T.N. Swaminatha Pillai were also broadcast.

‘Thaala Vaadhya Kutcheri’ was interesting as many instruments played the rhythms after the beats were articulated, called ‘Konnakol’..

Cricket those days was a gentleman's game and not the cash-rich business of today. There were not many test matches then, but Ranji Trophy matches were popular, played mostly at the Madras Cricket Club, which had no stadium. There were running commentaries by well-known names such as Sir Robert Denniston (Managing Director of Best & Company Limited, a First Line Beach British company), the noted lawyer, S. Govind Swaminathan, and P. Ananda Rao. All India Radio broadcast local announcements in English, the local news and the rates of share markets, Madras, when one heard strange and exotic names such as Nilgiri Neergundi, Periyakaramalai, Madras Vanaspathi, and Palamalai Ranganathar.

Those were exciting times and with television unheard of until the mid-1970s, radio was the only source of entertainment to people all over the Presidency.