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VOL. XXII NO. 6, July 1-15, 2012
When Madras went on the AIR
(Excerpts from an article by S. Sankaranarayanan)

The first regular broadcasting station in the world is believed to have opened in Pittsburgh, USA, in 1920. In England, programmes were successfully broadcast by the Marconi Co. from Chelmsford on February 23, 1920. In November 1922, the BBC, with John Reith as its managing director, went on the air with regular programmes.

The Madras Presidency Radio Club was formed less than two years later, on May 16, 1924, by a group of dedicated amateurs led by C.V. Krishnaswamy Chetty. It broadcast daily programmes from July 31, 1924, using a 40 watt transmitter. It was later replaced by a 200 watt one, with which a 2½ hour programme of music and talks was broadcast every evening (with a special morning transmission on Sundays and holidays). The Club was located in Holloway’s Garden, Egmore.

Victor Paranjoti

When it had to close down in October 1927 due to financial difficulties, the transmitter was presented to the Madras Corporation which launched a regular service on April 1, 1930 from Ripon Building. The Corporation Radio Station broadcast entertainment programmes every day between 5.30 and 7.30 p.m. In addition, it also aired music lessons and stories from 4 to 4.30 p.m. for children on school days. ‘Gramophone music’ was broadcast from 10 to 11 a.m. on Sundays and holidays, and ‘European music’ on one Monday every month from 5.30 to 7.30 p.m.

Six loudspeakers were installed at the Marina, Robinson Park, People’s Park and the High Court Beach, to be operated in the evenings. Small indoor receiving sets were also provided in 14 Corporation schools. This service continued till June 16, 1938, on which date the station was taken over by AIR on its starting its operations. The AIR station, located on Marshall’s Road, Egmore, was inaugurated by Lord Erskine, the then Governor of Madras Province. Nagaswara maestro Tiruvengadu Subramania Pillai gave the inaugural concert.

The Madras station on that inaugural day also had a concert by D.K. Pattammal. S. Rajam gave a concert on the second day, with Govindasami Naicker (violin) and Madras A. Kannan (mridangam). He gave a concert on AIR’s golden jubilee celebration with the same accompanists. And, as desired by AIR, he sang the same items he had sung 50 years earlier.

When AIR started its station in Madras it had the good fortune to have Victor Paranjoti as its first director. He had a good knowledge of Western music. He introduced Western music in the programme, mostly played by members of the Anglo-Indian community. This was before Handel Manuel joined AIR. Paranjoti was responsible for developing broadcast in its totality.

Paranjoti was deeply committed to the cause of music and to the maintenance of high standards. He used to visit the homes of many listeners to get their feedback. In those days, listeners used to throng places like Mylapore beach, T’Nagar Park and the Marina opposite the Fort to listen to AIR broadcasting through kiosks. Paranjoti would frequent even these places to get listeners’ feedback! Such was his devotion and commitment to his work.

AIR had an audition system in place as early as the 1940s. Music supervisors were appointed “to assist the station directors in auditions, rehearsals and training of artistes”. According to that scheme, Vidwan S. Rajam held that position in Madras from 1944 till his retirement in 1977.

AIR was shifted to its own newly constructed building on South Beach Road (now Kamarajar Salai) near San Thomé on July 11, 1954. The programmes in the first transmission on that day from the new studios commenced at 6.55 a.m. with a short alapana in Todi by T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai. At the silver jubilee celebration of AIR in 1961, Krishnaswamy Chetty received a commemoration award in recognition of his pioneering service to broadcasting in Madras.

Madras Province’s second station was the Trichinopoly Station opened by C. Rajagopalachari, Prime Minister of Madras, on May 18, 1939. He  inaugurated the station with the following announcement: “Good morning, Trichinopoly. This is Rajaji. You are hearing the first broadcast of AIR from Trichinopoly.” The station functioned out of a single room on William’s Road in the Cantonment area. During its initial days, the station covered just 20 km and transmitted only for a few hours a day, with a five KW medium wave transmitter.

The first director of the Tirchy station was S. Gopalan. P.G. Sounderrajan, better known as ‘Chitti’, worked in the Tirchy station during its initial period. He described Gopalan as follows: “The station director Gopalan had trained himself in wireless by sheer genius… The workers there proudly equated him with Marconi. Though there was an engineering section with a chief as its head, Gopalan’s technical expertise made him an ideal boss.”

Gopalan later served as station director in Madras and then Calcutta. He retired as Deputy Director General of All India Radio.

When AIR took over the Madras Corporation Radio and started its own broadcasting, the Madras station began bringing out two programme journals – Vanoli in Tamil and Vani in Telugu. Vani was discontinued after six issues, but was re-started on May 22, 1949. Unfortunately, these journals ceased publication on April 1, 1987.

Each issue of Vanoli covered the programmes relating to a fortnight – one issue for the period 1st to 15th and the second for the period 16th to 30th/31st of the month. It gave detailed information on the programmes for Chennai A and Chennai B, Tirchy and Pondicherry, besides giving highlights of programmes of some other stations in the South. It also devoted two or three pages to provide brief information on important programmes, the text of talks given on the radio, and several interesting articles on community and family welfare, such as education, health, hygiene, home remedies, sports, science and cookery.

Music lessons were broadcast two or three days a week, with many stalwarts taking classes. In order to help interested listeners follow the teaching, all the details of the song – its raga, arohana avarohana, tala, notations, the lyrics – and also names of the composer, teacher and the students were given in Vanoli for the corresponding period. Noted litterateur Chitti  edited Vanoli for several years.

* * *

A few words about how AIR came about. In March 1926, the Government of India entered into an agreement with a private company called the Indian Broadcasting Co. Ltd. (IBC) to operate two radio stations – in Bombay and Calcutta.

When the Government decided to draft the services of experienced personnel from BBC to run these stations, Lionel Fielden assumed charge as Controller of Broadcasting in August 1935. Within a short time he took complete control of the Company and he persuaded the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, to discard the name Indian State Broadcasting Service and adopt the name ‘All India Radio’. In spite of vehement opposition from his own Secretariat, the Viceroy accepted the name with effect from June 8, 1936. It became the official date of birth of All India Radio.

According to one version, the signature tune of All India Radio was composed by John Foulds, Director of Western Music in Delhi, together with Walter Kaufmann, his counterpart in Bombay. Another version had it that it was composed only by John Foulds. It is also said that it was played by noted violinist V.G. Jog. The instruments played were the tambura and violin.

On October 24, 1941, AIR was placed under the newly created Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In February 1943, AIR moved to Broadcasting House on Parliament Street.

On April 25, 1942, the Director General (DG) of AIR issued instructions to all stations that ‘All India Radio’ should not be translated into any of the Indian languages. What prompted the Ministry to issue that order is not known. In 1946 the DG received a letter from G.T. Sastri, Station Director, Trichy, requesting that ‘Vanoli Nilayam’ be allowed to be used to identify and describe his station. The matter seems to have rested there.

In December 1957, the DG conveyed the view of the Ministry to use ‘Akashvani’ in all announcements in Hindi and other Indian languages, and to retain ‘All India Radio’ only for use in programmes (and announcements) in English. The Trichy Station Director informed the DG that the order had been complied with, but pointed out that there were vehement and violent agitations, and even hunger strikes, against the use of Akashvani in Madras Province. It was then clarified to the Trichy Station Director that the word ‘Akashvani’ had been taken from Kannada – the Mysore station which, when started, was originally known as ‘Akashvani’. The matter went up to the level of Union Home Minister Govind Vallabh Pant who spoke to Madras Chief Minister K. Kamaraj in this regard. Eventually, the Ministry communicated that it had no objection to the use of ‘Vanoli’ to denote radio.

The touchy issue was raked up again in May 1982 by the Hindi Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which recommended that the name All India Radio be changed to Akashvani in all its non-Hindi and English programmes as well. Unaware of the earlier stormy history, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Vasant Sathe accepted the recommendation. Anticipating serious trouble in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran took up the issue with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was then abroad. And she promptly rang up Sathe and countermanded his orders, restoring the status quo!

Tamil Nadu stations continue to say ‘All India Radio’ and ‘Vanoli Nilayam’ – for example, “All India Radiovin Chennai Vanoli Nilayam.” – (Courtesy: Sruti)

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In this issue

Still no solutions to woes caused by parking
How do we curb cell-phone use on the roads?
It's fascinating to catch up with local history
Looking back
When Madras went on the AIR
Driving Down Memory Lane
The actor in the shadows
There's urgent need to list heritage in 800 towns

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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