Over the years, All India Radio has played a crucial role in promoting classical music in the country

“Classical music has never been as popular as film or light music. It had committed listenership in the past and the same can be said about the present. To say that listenership of classical music has been lost in the din of film and pop music in the fast paced life today would not be a correct assumption,” says Lakshmi Shankar Bajpai, All India Radio Station Director in Delhi.

In the absence of any survey, it is difficult to say whether the number of listeners of classical music has come down or increased, she says. “One small mistake about the name of a raga or its rendering on any of the AIR programmes, and the phones start ringing to point out the mistake.”

Also in the annual music competitions that All India Radio organises, more and more youngsters are taking part. The competition is held to scout for young talent in different disciplines including classical, both vocal and instrumental.

Classical music is played for more than seven hours a day over Rajdhani, Inderprastha and FM Channels of AIR. With the availability of these programmes on FM channels of AIR as well as DTH, even overseas listeners today can enjoy this genre of music.

It was at the initiative taken by the then Information and Broadcasting Minister B.V. Keskar that National Programme of Music, a 90-minute feast of classical music began in 1952 for broadcast over AIR on Saturdays at prime time from 9.30 p.m. to 11 p.m. It is still broadcast on Sundays. These programmes are also available over FM Gold channel.

To begin with, these programmes were broadcast live. Recalling an interesting instance, a senior official said that once somebody inadvertently drank water from one of the cups of Jal Tarang. Realising this at the last moment the artist who was playing the instrument changed the raga to suit the situation of the ‘empty cup’.

Later, they started recording the programmes on gramophone records and preserved them. Today, of course, they are recorded on CDs and then played. AIR has been the launching pad for a number of big names in classical music, instrumental or vocal Hindustani or Carnatic.

Apart from a number of programmes on classical music broadcast over AIR, concerts and other programmes are organised to popularise classical and semi classical music.

The prestigious Radio Sangeet Sammelan that began in 1955 is held in almost 40 cities and towns at present. The concept of chain concerts too has been revived to popularise classical music in small towns. The team that performs in the capital city of a state, also then holds concerts at other nearby stations in the region.

In another initiative to present Indian melodies as orchestral compositions, the Vadya Vrinda Unit was started in 1952 in Delhi and later in Chennai in 1975. The inspiration to start this came from Late Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. The Vadya Vrinda Unit has a number of artistes playing on different instruments. It is part of an effort towards keeping alive and showcasing many rare instruments for posterity.

Many eminent artistes have been part of the Vadya Vrinda Units at Delhi and Chennai and Vadya Vrinda compositions of Pt. Ravi Shankar, Pt. Panna Lal Ghosh, T.K. Jayaram Iyer, Emani Shankar Shastri, H.L. Sehgal, M.Y. Kamashastri and Anil Biswas have been preserved. Salil Chaudhary and Shankar of music director duo of Shankar Jaikishan were also associated with Vadya Vrinda.

Shaam Ki Chai is another programme where exponents of classical music are invited. Recently Sarod Maestro Amjad Ali Khan was the guest of honour.

The Central Archives of AIR has a rich treasure of very valuable and rare recordings of artistes preserved for future generations.  These recordings are now being made available to music lovers through releases in CDs as ‘Akashvani Sangeet’. Recording from these archives are also played in Chayan programme over Inderprastha.

While the response towards concerts organised by AIR from artists and lovers of music has been tremendous, Bajpai feels that media is doing little to encourage these efforts.