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An ode to the radio of yesteryear

I am sure that what I write below will find a resonance with quite a few readers who are senior citizens.

An electro-mechanical contraption, sometimes as big as a 21-inch television set, vanished from the scene altogether some three decades ago — giving way to smaller devices, gradually reduced and ultimately miniaturised to a shirt-pocket size. Yes, I mean the big radio of yesteryear powered by vacuum tubes, ironically called valves, metamorphosing into a wonder creation of semi-conductor technology called pocket radios or transistors. Finally, the entry of TV into the drawing room has vanquished the dignified and respectable presence of the radio in middle class homes in what can be termed the tragedy of decent entertainment at home.

Those were the days when the only medium of entertainment was the ubiquitous radio — which delivered a judicious mix of news, music, plays (both one act and serials), discussions, quiz programmes, sound track of films, cricket commentaries, and what not! I can still recall the famous comedian Nagesh acting in many radio serials before entering films.

Who can ever forget the excellent broadcast quality of the BBC World Service, and Voice of America and their coverage for any oversees news?

Ball-to-ball running commentary of cricket Test matches was one of the most popular ‘watched' programmes of the period up to 1970s before TV took over live telecast. Those were days of five-day Test matches which were played in Delhi, Calcutta , Kanpur, Bombay (Mumbai) and Madras (Chennai). The Madras test was always scheduled for the second week of January when Pongal holidays at a stretch for a week brought life to a standstill with the large cricket crazy crowds breathing cricket for a full five days. The commentaries were a real feast to the ears and imagination of the viewers who could visualise every ball being bowled and played through the brilliant commentators — each of them had an inimitable style of his own. Those who were regular listeners of cricket commentaries of the 1950s and 1960s could nostalgically recall the commentaries of Chakrapani (who was also an English news reader in All India Radio then for some time), Devraj Puri, Berry Sarbadhikary, Maharajkumar of Vijaynagar (popularly known as Vizzy), and, of course, P. Anand Rau (of the Dasaprakash group of hotels). Anand Rau always greeted the listeners, in his breezy and friendly voice, right on the first day with the first ball bowled at the Chepauk stadium in Madras.

Another popular station, Radio Ceylon, used to broadcast in many Indian languages — Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Telugu, besides Hindi. Five decades ago, Radio Ceylon was the most popular broadcaster for Tamil and Hindi film songs, and its popularity was more due to its impeccable style of presentation of programmes, which included a variety of songs — both old and new — to suit every listener's tastes.

Who can ever forget the one and only Binaca Geet Mala, anchored by one of the most celebrated presenter Amin Sayani, on Wednesday night every week, at 8 p.m. which went on for years together? There were no rating surveys then and, I am sure, had they been done, Geet Mala would have beaten all previous and subsequent records for a popular programme ever!

When one talks about anchors — or ‘radio jockeys' as they are fashionably called now — Radio Ceylon had a long list of excellent ones — especially Tamil broadcasters, beginning from Mayilvahanan Sarvanandha of the 1950s to several others who patronisingly imitated his superb style of presentation. Among them one who stands out even today is B.H. Abdul Hameed — who currently is doing many TV programmes and is one of the most versatile presenter ever to come on the scene. None can fail to notice his graceful and fluent presentation in flawless and eloquent Tamil free from any English word — or Tanglish which many of the jockeys merrily indulge in these days — and always spliced with very rare and yet unknown details of any personality whom he happens to present as the celebrity of the day.

The radio is gone forever to posterity except for a few diehard devotees like me who still cling to it for whatever that is left of it. Of course, it has been resurrected in another avatar as FM (frequency modulation) with a very limited bandwidth and range — which is no match to the erstwhile radio box with its three-band range in which one could “surf and download” several national and international stations from America to Europe and from Beijing to Radio Australia in the far-east with a tiny knob for navigation of the dial!

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 7:09:12 AM |

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