Growing up with Radio
I grew up listening to BBC World Service on the radio. Because of my eyesight troubles, the doctor had suggested that I don’t read at night. (And there wasn’t much TV to watch in late 1970s India.) For a 12-year-old, that was a hard decision. It was then that I discovered the joys of radio, and especially BBC. I had a big Philips radio, which I would position in the balcony to ensure good reception. The short waves brought the distinctive British accent into my room. For many years, the radio was my best friend. I spent hours listening. The only competition BBC faced was when cricket matches were played, and I would tune in to whichever broadcaster was doing the ball-by-ball commentary.
BBC World Service brought me news, analysis, quizzes, humour, science, plays and more. It became my window to the world. I could close my eyes and be anywhere in the world. I knew the voices of all the news announcers and presenters. The diversity of BBC programming gave me an education beyond the classroom. One of my happiest moments was when a letter I wrote got read in their Letterbox programme. And when I went to IIT as a 17-year-old, I took the radio with me. Much later, with my first salary working for NYNEX, I went and bought a Sony shortwave radio for about $250. Even in the US, the radio was my constant companion.
During my stay in the US, I also discovered AM and FM radio. Having been raised in India on the meagre offerings of government-controlled All India Radio’s Akashvani and Vividh Bharti, the sheer diversity of content available in the US was amazing. News, weather, conversations were all there with the turn of a dial. It was later that I discovered that in India, the government has a monopoly on news over radio – and that is still true in 2020s India!
Much has changed when it comes to entertainment in the past generation in India. Hundreds of TV channels have sprung up. Dozens of apps offer streams of (uncensored, at least for now) content. Podcasting is starting to grow in India. But there is one missing element in all this – talk radio.
Talk radio (think of it as talkback radio) is about interactivity and conversations. A host talks and listeners can call in, ask questions, discuss and debate. In India, what’s missing is the interactivity. TV has its monotonous talking heads and shouting panels. But radio? All it has are songs and music. No news, no conversations, no interactivity. Can talk radio streamed via a mobile app be the next innovation on the Indian media front? Can talk radio change our minds – or even open them?
Tomorrow: Part 2