Just as 2010 would miss music legends Gangubai Hanagal, H.V.Krishnamurthy, D.K.Pattammal and C.Ashwath, the New Year would be forlorn for radio listeners hooked to music too as the satellite radio WorldSpace goes silent in India. Bidding adieu, a communication from the radio channel said, “On December 31, 2009, Worldspace satellite radio broadcast service will be terminated for all services serviced from India. This action is an outgrowth of the financial difficulties faced by WorldSpace India's parent company WorldSpace Inc. which has been under bankruptcy protection since October 2008.”
Yet another victim of recession it seems. Leaving close to 4.5 lakh subscribers high and dry, the satellite services, that include international, national and regional radio programming through portable and
mobile radio receivers owned by customers, had every genre of music making it popular across all ages. What added more zing to its reputation is its 24-hour programming that has a varied fare in its kitty, and its dedicated channels had quite a few home-bound glued listeners too - Carnatic on Shruti, Hindustani on Gandharv, sandalwood tracks on Sparsha, western jazz on Riff and western classical on Maestro…
Seetal Iyer, Group Programme Director, WorldSpace, who sounded calm, was resolute though about the radio team looking at avenues to be together. “Why people loved our fare was because of the package that we offered as a team.
I am disappointed, but we as a team have been successful. Our dedication also saw us bringing our best on Vishnuvardhan on the last day of our working for our listeners. Talks are on for handling WorldSpace's rich content in the best way to make it useful.”
Saitejas, Content Assistant and RJ for Sruti at WorldSpace says “Shreya from Puttur who participated in a programme broke down and said, “what do we do?” Listeners from Rajasthan too wondered if they could get Carnatic music ever on dedicated channels like WorldSpace. I am wondering what I will handle now, as I was being paid for what I loved to do.”
“I am a Bangalore-Chennai weekend traveller and I used to take the Kolar route only because my one-hour break at Woodys was an aural treat as the restaurant beams WorldSpace!” says S. Ranga Rao, chartered accountant. Small pleasures indeed, but that's the kind of passionate outburst one hears about WorldSpace going off the air.
“Lakhs of listeners, wonder why there wasn't a single buyer!” said Rani Thimmaiah, a fan from Mysore. “Why couldn't they think of advertisements in the channels for survival revenue at least?”
Says senior media consultant K.S. Dakshina Murthy, “I had a special bond with Riff due to my jazz leanings, and my dad had Shruti running for 10-12 hours in his room everyday. Nobody else has made it so big with Satellite radio.”
Satish Anand of Wipro says, “Satellite TV was a gift India gave to the world (SITE-satellite instructional television experiment), and satellite radio was a Third World gift to the globe. Sometime back a leading private sector bank signed a pact with WorldSpace to provide its services in all its ATM kiosks! If that was the kind of ‘WorldSpace impact,' I can't believe this premature demise.”
“I'm heart-broken. Satellite radio music is over I think,” says a resigned Ramesh Udupa who has WorldSpace enthusiasts admiring Farishta and Riff channels in his coffee joint ‘Cuppa' in J.P.Nagar.
With over 450,000 subscribers, India accounted for over 95 per cent of the broadcaster's world-wide subscriber base.
It would be of interest to know that the man behind WorldSpace was Noah A. Samara, an Ethiopia-born Sudanese. He played a pivotal role in the foundation of XM Satellite Radio, the world's first satellite radio system.
At 34, he became the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of WorldSpace Corporation.
What motivated Samara was to give millions of people in Asia and Africa access to information. He said, “In the mid-1980s, an article in the Washington Post about AIDS in Africa said it was spreading because millions of people had no awareness of the deadly disease. I came up with the idea of launching a satellite over Africa that would broadcast digital radio across continents with inexpensive portable receivers. In 1990, I quit my job and devoted my body, mind and spirit to a quest that required securing international regulatory approval from 127 countries, designing a new communications system and building and launching satellites. We needed around $1.5 billion to make it happen.”
The rest is history, and India of course had its share of melody for more than a decade. But will WorldSpace India make use of its sea of recordings with musicians for posterity? Arvind Shrinivas (080-41210730) in Jayanagar has more than 700 hours of WorldSpace Carnatic, Hindustani and Jazz
recordings in CD and DVD format. “I would be happy to share it with connoisseurs like me,” says Arvind.