All India Radio is reinventing itself to be in tune with the times

Once upon a time, people used to wake up to All India Radio’s (AIR) signature tune followed by Vande Mataram and Mangal Dhwani and listened to the early morning news before starting their day. The names of the news readers and announcers in those days were household names across the country.

AIR or Akashvani as it is also called, ruled the air waves till Doordarshan came on the scene as a national broadcaster in 1982. Today there are 837 TV channels and 245 private FM stations. Has that impacted AIR’s listenership as many people think?

Lakshmi Shankar Bajpai, DDG (I/C), AIR Delhi, says it is a myth. AIR listenership, he says, was affected initially for some years when Doordarshan was launched as it was a novel experience for people but today AIR has bounced back. From 35 crore listeners in 2010-11, the listenership of AIR has gone up to 45 crore.

It is not just rural India where radio remains the major source of communication till date, but with the revolution in the IT sector, coming up of FM channels, rapid increase in the number of mobile handsets with radio facility and car audio systems, the urban population, too, is reverting to the old habit of tuning into AIR to update themselves on what is happening in and outside the country.

According to Audience Research Unit of AIR, 86 per cent of the vehicles that have FM radio tune into FM Gold in Delhi. Almost very shop in markets, in the lanes and by-lanes in villages and cities, big and small, have music blaring from their radio sets. AIR’s popularity becomes most evident during cricket matches when the old and young alike tune into AIR to get the latest score. Many people feel listening to commentary on radio is more enjoyable and in any case, watching a match on TV is more time consuming.

The greatest USP of Akashvani is it connects with people in their own language and dialect and it has the widest reach. AIR originates programming in 23 languages and 146 dialects across the country. One of the largest broadcasting organisations in the world in terms of the number of languages of broadcast, AIR’s home service comprises 326 stations today located across the country, covers over 91 per cent of the country’s area and 99.19 per cent of the total population.

From a farmer in a village to a tribal living in the remotest part of the country to the new generations living in the cities, from a common man on the streets to a devoted listener of classical or Western music, AIR has something to offer to all in terms of both entertainment and information.

The popularity of AIR among the farmers through the Krishi Darshan programme is legendary so much so that a strain of paddy was named after radio. Even today, AIR effectively fills the gap caused by shrinking of extension services for the cultivators. Akashvani not only reaches people through air waves but goes to the doorsteps of the village folk to connect directly with the people. Recently, a workshop was organised by AIR at the home of a farmer in Nekpur village of Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr. Nekpur is a progressive village with 27 biomass plants. Agricultural scientists visited the farms in the village during the peak of summer and discussed issues related to cultivation at the farmer’s house.

Sushil Kumar, India’s double Olympics medal winner in wrestling is in a way AIR’s discovery. He happened to listen to an appeal by coach Satpal during an interview on a programme for the rural youth. Sushil’s father took him to Satpal and that is how he started training as a pugilist. In fact, Yuvvani has been a launching pad for many prominent personalities in the world of media, theatre, art and music.

During times of natural disasters, many a times AIR is the only mode of communication for people for days together as was the case during the super cyclone in Odisha. When tsunami hit Andaman and Nicobar islands, the AIR station launched a special programme to broadcast messages from the islanders to their dear ones. During Bihar floods, AIR Darbhanga and Purnea started dedicated phone-in programmes for the flood victims. These messages received through SMS on AIR helpline were automatically transferred to a data base and uploaded on a central server at Delhi. The frontline stations of Bihar accessed these messages and within no time they were on air, reaching every nook and corner of the State.

AIR today is reinventing itself to be in tune with the times. The public broadcaster has become more interactive through phone-in programmes and holds almost 15 literary and music concerts in a month for the invited audience. News is available on phone and its website. It has presence on Twitter and Facebook.

However, one of the biggest problems today is that many of AIR’s programmes go unheard because it is almost impossible to tune into short wave and people in many places find it difficult to tune into even medium wave or the reception is very poor because of weak and old transmitters. Also most of the radio and transistor sets now being sold in the market do not have the facility of capture medium wave.

Despite all these constraints, as a public service broadcaster, AIR is trying to live up to its motto of Bahujan Hitaya, Bahujan Sukhay.

Keywords: AkashvaniAIR