History & Culture

The faces behind the voices

R Sinivasan and his wife Sri Meenakshi, have been working for All India Radio Tiruchi for four decades. Photo: M. Moorthy

R Sinivasan and his wife Sri Meenakshi, have been working for All India Radio Tiruchi for four decades. Photo: M. Moorthy  

R Srinivasan and Sri Meenakshi on how their long years of service at All India Radio Tiruchi have helped to forge new bonds with listeners

Like most couples who have been married for a long time, R Srinivasan and Sri Meenakshi tend to complete each other’s sentences when they speak. But the couple, who have been life partners for 43 years, share an even closer relationship with thousands of radio listeners, as the voices behind many noteworthy programmes on All India Radio (AIR) Tiruchirapalli for several decades.

“We’ve become immersed in radio broadcasting, and wouldn’t like it any other way,” says Srinivasan, who joined AIR’s Vividh Bharati Commercial Service as an announcer in 1969. “As a schoolboy, I used to be a keen listener of radio announcements, particularly the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival coverage from Thiruvayaru every year. Little did I know then that I would be doing the commentary for it for nearly 30 years from 1981!”

Sri Meenakshi started working as an audio drama artiste in AIR as a teenager in the late 1960s.

“For 2 years, I presented a musical opera on the work of the 63 Nayanmars, titled Siruvan Kanda Sivanadiyar. I used to love listening to the radio, and would dream of producing AIR programmes like my senior colleagues,” says Sri Meenakshi. She formally joined the service as an announcer after her graduation in 1974.

While Srinivasan retired in 2008 and Sri Meenakshi in 2012, the couple continues to work in AIR on extension.

Srinivasan, 70, presents the morning literature-based show Tamizh Amudham and Sri Meenakshi, 65, takes care of women’s programmes like Poovaiyar Poonga.

Seamless production

As it celebrates its 80th year, technology has changed the way AIR Tiruchi reaches out to the people, but veteran announcers like Srinivasan and Sri Meenakshi still cherish the way the medium worked in the old days. “We were anonymous for nearly 30-35 years of our career, because unlike today, radio announcers were never named in those days,” remembers Srinivasan. “In fact, it took me 20 years to trace the name of the announcer [T Subramaniya Desikar] whose Thiruvayaru coverage I had been inspired by in my childhood. It was only after we started presenting the programme Neyar Kaditham [Listeners’ Letters] that we got an opportunity to announce our names on air.”

Despite the low-profile approach, AIR programmes had a loyal fan following for several decades in the pre-cable television era. “We didn’t have computers, and quite a lot of our work was manually coordinated, but we did it all seamlessly,” says Sri Meenakshi.

The couple hosted the very first dial-in song request show Vasantha Azhaippu at the inaugural broadcast of Rainbow FM in 2001. “We were like dancers in the studio in those days; our hands were everywhere, answering phone calls and playing the music CDs correctly. And if someone asked for an old song, I would walk across to the records library to fetch it,” says Sri Meenakshi.

With the advent of commercial radio stations, AIR has had to adapt itself to changing tastes. The overwhelming popularity of cinema in the State has seen a predominance of film content. “We also used songs in our programmes, but always with a mix of informational and educative messages,” says Srinivasan. “These days, the media seems to focus only on films. It will naturally affect the quality of programming.”

New skills

Their long innings has given the couple an unexpected set of job skills. Sri Meenakshi, for instance, has developed a prodigious memory for film songs. “Many people call me up to cross-check names of films or songs, and I am happy to recall everything from the production date to the lyricist, for them. It’s a skill I picked up while working for 18 years in the AIR records library. Even I don’t know how it comes back to me!”

Srinivasan says that the radio taught him how to research ideas for scripts in the pre-Internet era. “I have often gleaned topics from the most unusual places, such as old newspapers. I’d also buy secondhand books to read up on a wide variety of issues. These sources leave you with a rich database of ideas,” he says. “Despite all the informal chat going on air, nothing succeeds like a well-written script.”

“I don’t think you can erase your professional knowledge completely if you keep up with the times,” says Sri Meenakshi.

In 1994, Srinivasan was one of the associate presenters on an AIR programme that examined the future of the radio. “All the people we met told us that we should reach out to the public. Though we have come out of our shell, I feel we should motivate, but not become one of the people,” he says. “Many people look up to radio announcers as role models. We are fortunate to have been encouraged by our colleagues in our work. Both my wife and I got to achieve our dreams, because we listened to the radio!”

***

On air for 80 years

It has been a landmark year for AIR Tiruchi, as it celebrates its 80th anniversary.

This branch of the public service broadcaster, one of six pioneering stations in pre-Independent India, and the second in the erstwhile Madras State after Chennai, caters to 10 districts – Tiruchi, Peramabalur, Ariyalur, Karur, Salem, Namakkal, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Pudukottai.

It was inaugurated on May 16, 1939 by a message from C Rajagopalachari, the then Chief Minister of Madras State and Lionel Fielden, the first Controller of Broadcasting.

AIR Tiruchi has three channels – the youth-oriented FM Rainbow (5am to midnight), news and information-heavy Primary (5.45am to 2.45pm; 5.30pm to 11.05pm), and the 24-hour Carnatic music Ragam DTH (produced in collaboration with AIR Bangalore) – to cover topics ranging from agriculture and education to women’s issues, culture and literary appreciation.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 10:57:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/r-srinivasan-sri-meenakshi-nahla-nainar-all-india-radio-tiruchi-interview/article25799159.ece

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