They crack jokes, discuss social issues, riff on the latest happenings… Anusha Parthasarathy tunes into radio jockeys Balaji Patturaj, Sanobar Sultana, Shankaranarayanan H. and R. Aloysious

“Action”, calls out the photographer, focussing on the four RJs who stand in a straight line, with placid smiles plastered on their faces. “ Strike a good pose,” he says and suddenly, they turn into the vivacious and funny people they are on air.

Balaji Patturaj, Sanobar Sultana, Shankaranarayanan H. and R. Aloysious are better known by their alter egos; Cross Talk Balaji (Big FM), Sano (Chennai Live), Blade Shankar (Suriyan FM) and the Naalu Mani Vaalu (Hello FM). But in a freewheeling conversation these youngsters talk at length about their work and passion.

All of them discovered the joys of radio by chance. “I was doing my PG in Coimbatore when I saw an ad for RJs and applied,” says Balaji, while Aloysious adds, “ My friends made me apply. While I made it to the next stage of the auditions, I didn't get the job. I got interested and later applied at Hello.”

Shankar, who was a chemical engineer, says, “I was interested in cinema and actively participated in the college culturals. I wanted to be in media and this seemed a good opportunity. My parents weren't okay with it in the beginning but when they heard about my show through their friends they were happy,” he says.

Sanobar was studying Environmental Science at Anna University when she decided she wanted to become an RJ.

While some of them have adapted to their shows, there were some that were designed for them. “I thought radio was a serious medium and I was a serious person. When I was made to host ‘Blade No. 1', I wondered if I would fit the bill. Initially, I would read out jokes but soon realised that this wasn't working and that I had to be spontaneous to connect with listeners,” says Shankar.

Balaji adds, “I was assigned to do a serious socially-relevant show in the beginning but Big gave me the chance to talk about anything in ‘Take It Easy'. Once when I was talking to a couple about something serious, people who listened found it funny. That's how ‘Cross Talk' happened. It became the USP of the show.”

“They designed a show to suit my character,” says Aloysious, “I'm always cracking jokes and so I began to host ‘Naalu Mani Vaalu' where I talk about random things, make fun of people and give away mock awards. When we started ‘Solli Adi', it was basically just Suresh (another popular RJ) who would anchor it. But there were too many things happening and I was taken in as co-host to help him. I don't know too much about cricket and my conversations with Suresh became a hit with our listeners.”

Radio is an addictive and powerful medium, they say. “When I became an RJ, it was supposed to be a temporary stint but I got hooked and I'm still here,” says Aloysious.

Shanker who's first show was ‘Oor Suthalam Vaanga' where he would go around and talk to people, says, “At one point, about 300 to 400 people would gather around for a chance to be on air. That's when I knew how powerful this medium is.” Sano adds that radio is not just about music, “When a girl went missing last year I got her parents on my The Breakfast Show and later the news channels followed it up. The girl was found and she called and thanked me on air.”

The four of them agree that RJing is an everyday challenge and there are lessons they have imbibed from it. “Radio has given me an identity. This is my tenth year in the job. It is important to keep the show lively and be a keen observer,” says Shankar.

“You can't take your listeners for granted and you can't be popular unless you connect with them. It's nice when people write to me and ask me to speak on important issues,” says Sano. “I've learnt that sometimes, during times of crisis, RJs should be the voice of reason and help people calm down. That's a great thing. Also, never go unprepared for a show because it will come through clearly in the way you speak.”

“Radio has made me a complete person,” signs off Balaji.