The 70th is not necessarily an anniversary to specially mark, but 70th (as well as other) birthdays of organisations are days which call for celebration. Now, I don’t know whether All India Radio’s Madras station celebrated its 70th birthday in June this year, but I was reminded of its beginnings while searching for something else in one of my Bibles, A Hundred Years of The Hindu by Rangaswami Parthasarathy.
With the Music Season not too far away, what I found in the book is particularly relevant. The Hindu had brought out a special feature for the occasion and in it the legendary Lionel Fielden, the Controller of Broadcasting, India, expressed in the form of a letter to the Director, AIR Madras, in 2500 A.D., his views on the future of Indian (read Carnatic) Music.
Fielden wrote: “I fear that in your day Indian music as we know it will have been forgotten. I can only say that we are doing our best to save it. The impact of the West in our time is strong enough to make it clear that the younger generation is drifting into an easy acceptance of Western harmonies and moving away from the static and intricate melodies — often far too prolonged — of their own tradition. It seems that if Indian music is not to be drowned by the clangours of jazz, the addition of harmony — or at any rate some growth and progress in that direction — is essential. I do not mean by this that there is any failure to recognise the inherent beauty and individualism of Indian classical music and the inestimable value of its freedom of improvisation. The trouble is that the Sangit Vidwans refuse to accept the necessity for any measure of adaptation and persist in their contention that Indian music has already reached perfection. Acrobatic feats of the larynx, no matter what the quality of voice, are accepted as sufficient indications of a perfected art. In these days of mechanical reproduction and rapid communication, the musical language of four continents cannot but exercise considerable pressure on the fifth, and while Indian classicists still insist on long performances — stretching even to three hours for a single musician — and ignore the necessity of proper voice production, the youth of India is in danger of forgetting its own musical language altogether.”
When I mentioned these thoughts to a friend steeped in Carnatic music, he commented, “How prophetic!”
Fielden may have been the ‘Father of All India Radio’, but India’s first broadcasting service was set up in 1924 by Carnavalli V. Krishnaswamy Chetty, a Manchester-trained electrical engineer who worked with the Corporation of Madras, and his Madras Radio Club. Considerably supported by G.T. Boag, the Corporation’s Commissioner, the Club’s station functioned from Holloway Gardens in Egmore till financial difficulties forced it to wind up in 1927.
It was from this garden house that the first radio broadcast in India was made on July 31, 1924, just four years after the Marconi Co.’s programmes in Europe and two years after the BBC.
When the Madras Radio Club’s service closed down, Krishnaswamy persuaded the Corporation to run Madras Broadcasting as a municipal service — and it did so from 1929 till All India Radio’s Madras station was inaugurated in a garden house on Marshall’s Road, Egmore, in 1938. The station moved to buildings on the Marina in 1954 and then, in 1963, to its present buildings that were raised in front of its earlier Marina home. Of the present buildings, it has been said, “It is perhaps the first modern attempt in Madras at going back to a traditional Indian style of architecture.”