Legendary broadcaster Ameen Sayani tells SAVITHA GAUTAM about the heyday of radio and the shows he hosted

Between the 1950s and the 1980s, Wednesday evenings, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., were very special for Hindi film music lovers across generations and political borders. The reason? It was "Binaca (later Cibaca) Geetmala" time on Radio Ceylon. As they heard the inimitable voice of Ameen Sayani begin the programme with "Behanon aur Bhaiyon," another musical journey had begun. You wonder if that magical quality of his voice is still in tact after so many years as you prepare to meet him at Hotel Savera. When the legendary broadcaster walks out of the elevator and wishes you, it is "Geetmala" time all over again. Apologising for walking in late, he says, "You know, it's been 20-odd years since I visited your city. Those days, I used to come here regularly to do some publicity work for directors such as AV Meiyappan, Nagi Reddy, L.V. Prasad and S. S. Vasan." Sayani is in the city to host "Gaata rahe mera dil," the annual music show organised by Divine Mother Society, this evening at Kamaraj Hall. Radio has come back into our lives like never before. In that context, did "Video really kill the Radio Star?" "No. I believe, radio killed itself," says the septuagenarian, who hosted "Geetmala" for a record 45 years. "When AIR was banned from broadcasting Hindi film music in the 1950s, its downslide had begun. And to think it was the golden period of Hindi film music!"

Fascinating medium

He adds, "Radio is a fascinating medium. When you listen to a note or a word, you paint a picture in your mind and a creative process evolves. In that sense, it is a medium which is very participative and involving." There's more to this Mumbaikar than just "Geetmala." Born in 1932, into a family that was committed to the Freedom Movement, Sayani got to interact with many leaders. "I remember sitting with Gandhiji and Nehru when they came home. They taught me how to communicate effectively." Sayani was initiated into broadcasting by his `guru' and brother Hamid Sayani, when he was just seven. For Sayani, every show was a challenge, be it the Bournvita Quiz Contest, Sangeet Kay Sitaron Ki Mehfil or Music For The Millions."When I took over Bournvita Quiz Contest after my brother's death, I had no clue what to do. I remember we had an argument with one team. The answer I had to a question was `plaster of Paris' whereas the kids said `gypsum'. They argued gypsum was plaster of Paris! I panicked. Later I managed to find an encyclopaedia that said gypsum becomes plaster of Paris only after the water content in it is drained! That taught me a great lesson never take anything or anybody for granted." He hosted the show for seven years. Even tougher for Sayani, who finds a place in the Limca Book of Records for hosting over 54,000 radio shows and doing voice overs for 19,000 ads, was the song selection process for "Geetmala." He recalls, "We got ratings from music shops and a select panel from the film industry and arrived at the final listing. Did you know "Man dole" (Nagin) topped the charts for two years? After that it was decided that no song could stay on the top for more than 25 weeks." Incidentally, his personal favourite "Manre tu kahe" (Chitralekha) never figured on the list! The film buff has a fantastic collection of interviews with the who's who of the film industry. "I have recordings of about 1,000 interviews," he says. Some of them were re-broadcast on Red FM some time ago. "I want to revive the programme. I hope somebody will be interested," he says. On a concluding note, he has this to say to today's RJs. "Each of us has a distinct personality. As hosts, we have to identify that trait, hone it and project it before the listeners. That way, we can create an identity of our own. Also, whatever the medium, remember to combine entertainment with a social message."