Radio 79 New Delhi, a free online radio service, seeks to provide a platform for independent musicians in Delhi and beyond

Way back in 1984, the British rock band Queen performed and recorded “Radio ga ga”, a song that had all the qualities of an anthem — a sing-along rhythm and a symbol that an entire generation could identify with. Partly a complaint about the state of music (“We hardly need to use our ears, how music changes through the years”), the song also hopes things will change.

In 2009, Radio 79 also started with the same hopes and complaints. Initially an online radio with three streams — Relax, Trip and Dance — late last year they added a fourth stream called Radio 79 New Delhi.

According to founder and creative head Nikhel Mahajan, “When we launched in 2009, the idea was to make it a platform for independent musicians. Initially it was more to expose the international music market to Indian people. Three years hence a lot had changed in the Indian market, lot many people were making music in India. So we decided to make a stream that promotes Indian artists, and promotes them to international as well as domestic audience.”

Calling itself the “voice of alternative India”, Radio 79, a 24x7 service, features genres ranging from ambient, chillout, rock and roll, reggae, jazz and blues to dubstep, psychedelic trance, electro and techno. There are 12 programmes every day, including two live ones. Although pan-Indian in its taste and selection, there is a special focus on Delhi artistes. Each Tuesday, there is a show called Pressure Drop with the Reggae Rajahs. On Wednesdays, a Delhi based band is invited to the studio for a programme called Special Agents. Bands like Syncopation, The Prateek Kuhad Collective and, most recently, Parikrama have appeared on the show.

Finding artistes to fill out a schedule has never been a problem. Radio 79 is part of Audio Ashram, a music label selling promoting and managing various artists and styles of alternative electronic music. Moreover, the people managing the radio are involved with music in different capacities. Mahajan runs three solo music projects, while Prakhet Sunder, a DJ and producer, is responsible for the content, which is curated on a daily basis.

It is the knowledge that comes from such an involvement with music, rather than estimation and guesswork, that drives the radio, they say. “We are our first audience. If I can’t sit and listen to the radio then it’s a problem, but if all of us can listen to the radio then from here we’re good. We think the audience will also enjoy it…the breakfast show is about making people feel happy, so you are playing that kind of music. Maybe something that makes me happy will depress you but the odds of that are very low…we are working on that equation.” The nights tend to be more ‘hardcore’, while the afternoons are reserved for jazz, blues and ambient music, Mahajan informs.

Additionally, the team comprises Karan Talwar, who is responsible for business development, and Jaskaran Sandhu, a radio jockey. “The jockey industry in India is not really for alternative scene, it’s for FM. That kind of radio is not what we guys are, we don’t listen to that, we don’t care about it. We give very relevant information about the song, about the artistes. FM, you know, is tamasha,” says Mahajan, who has also worked as a creative producer for an FM station.

Over the past few years, the visibility of alternative music has grown, with the emergence of new platforms online and offline. But it’s far from being sustainable, they say. “We are living in a time when everything is all bout mainstream marketing, even if a terrible product is marketed properly it does well. The difficult thing for us is that we have genuine talent, and that talent is trying to make it in a country where mainstream stuff is promoted so hard that the alternative scene is pretty much non-existent.”