The humble origins of radio broadcast in India

Madras city, a decade short of a century ago, made broadcasting history in South Asia.

On May 16, 1924, the Madras Presidency Radio Club (MPRC) transmitted the country’s first radio broadcasting programme from Ripon Buildings. The objective of the club, led by C.V. Krishnaswami Chetti, a Manchester-trained electrical engineer of the Madras Corporation, was to stimulate interest and foster the study of radio communications in the Presidency.

For Chetti, the radio held the keys to propelling the country out of the ‘pocket of darkness’ it was then wedged in. The club wasted no time in laying the groundwork to establish the broadcasting service. The first batch of wireless sets was procured from the British Marconi Telegraph Wireless Company.

Their agents conducted sessions, demonstrating how to use the sets, for members of the club. On 1st Line Beach, a series of receiving sets were displayed for sale to encourage curiosity in the new medium. The club’s station began regular broadcasts by July, from Halloways Garden in Egmore.

The club offered its members practical training on manipulating the apparatus, opportunities to attend lectures by experts like W.H. Calway, as well as exclusive access to important radio journals.

In an effort to increase membership, the management initiated drives specifically to appropriate students and ladies. Even a bar was opened on its premises to appeal to a wider demographic.

It was, however, only with the relaying of recorded concerts from the newly-built ‘draped studios’ the radio club hit the jackpot.

The recorded concerts of instrumental pieces, vocal compositions and monologues by humorists proved to be hugely popular. Within the first year, the club aired around 40 English and 52 Indian concerts that captivated the nascent listening public in the city.

By 1927, the club, which primarily relied on amateur local talent, began attracting professional artistes. So much so that radio listeners’ clubs began to crop up. One reader from Madras, for instance, in a letter to the editor in The Hindu talks of the need to start a listeners’ club.

The club, however, was forced to shut shop having run into financial trouble. The service was continued by the Corporation which ran it as a municipal service from 1929.

There were ambitious plans of expanding the broadcasting service through the Presidency, including in mofussil areas. Loudspeakers were to be strategically placed in important parts of city.

Twice every week, after 5.30 p.m., the beaches of Marina, Santhome and the High Court would resound with the reverb of amplified radio broadcasts of music, and 10-minute lectures. Radio was to be used as an integral element in classroom teaching as well, with indoor radio receivers being fixed in Corporation schools.

Nine years later, in June, All India Radio established its station in Madras, taking over the service. The radio wave, as it were, had already made a sweep in the Presidency.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 1:18:50 AM |

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