Voice: The internet of poor

Just a day short of Valentine Day is observed the World Radio Day. The 10th edition of the Day was observed with a theme “New World, New Radio”, to highlight the services rendered by the radio medium throughout the crisis.

World Radio Day has a very brief history. It is a recent addition to the calendar of marked world activities. It was first time slated by the UNESCO in 2011 and intentionally picked February 13 to mark the World Radio Day. It was on this day in 1946 when the United Nations established its international broadcasting service.

If we look at the journey of radio, one of the oldest mass communication mediums, its survival itself is a success story. When almost all traditional media either disappeared from the scene or became redundant in the amazing technology revolution, the medium of radio not only thrived, but expanded in use. It didn’t become victim of modern technology onslaught, but embraced the technology to remain as an outstanding competitor in the field of mass communication.

Otherwise, with the advent of technology and the power of Internet coupled with the thrill of moving pictures, it was confidently prophesied that radio as a broadcasting medium would be facing imminent death. Today, the fact is that radio has emerged as the ultimate survivor, adapting itself successfully to the tastes of the newer generations of listeners and making best use of newer technologies to connect cross section of societies for development without caring for circumstances.

It’s the only medium where the content is always fresh and original. During the Covid crisis, the radio broadcasters successfully established a deep connect with the listeners and helped the audience in lifting the spirits and diminishing the anxiety through variety of programmes.

The most outstanding role of the Radio has been bringing a social change for betterment while acting as influencers through its programmes. In this era of digital age where there is a barrage of fake news, it is the radio broadcasters who have helped spread awareness and assisted listeners navigate their way through this maze of misinformation and paid news.  In the words of a broadcaster, being a very personal and distanced form of communication, radio has now become a new ‘comfort companion’ for its listeners.

Precisely, it’s the Radio which has always kept its audience intact even in extreme crisis situations – be it social, political, economic or unprecedented health emergency like Covid- 19 pandemic. This voice medium has never let its audience down when it comes to firsthand information on issues confronting them and has proved a credible means of information and education through entertainment mode.

Remarkaby, none other than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi described radio as a fantastic medium which deepens social connect, as he extended his greetings to the countrymen on the World Radio Day.

In a tweet, he said: “Happy World Radio Day! Greetings to all radio listeners and kudos to all those who keep the radio buzzing with innovative content and music. This is a fantastic medium, which deepens social connect. I personally experience the positive impact of radio thanks to Mann Ki Baat”.

‘Mann Ki Baat’ (The heart talk) is a perfect example of the power of radio as the prime minister used the medium to reach the unreached. Actually, prime minister Narendra Modi has been playing a sheet anchor’s role to keep mobilizing masses across internal geographies of the country through the broadcast of ‘Mann Ki Baat’. In fact, the radio didn’t fail him to become the third prime minister of India after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to retain power for a second term with full majority. He capitalized on the power of radio to reach to the unreached and mingled with common masses through this remarkable and apolitical radio programme. Indeed, through this programme, he built the chemistry of social strength, culture and other social values in a sustained manner and earned respect of people to whom he addressed remotely through radio.

Remarkably, addressing the public directly, especially through a medium as accessible as radio, is a commendable ground-root approach. Through ‘Mann Ki Baat’, Modi he continues to give assurance to the general public that the government is working for them. Simply, the broadcast proved a great way of communication to the masses and at the same time further enhanced the credibility of the medium. To be straight, it’s the radio which popularized Modi as the peoples’ prime minister.

However, at the same time, it would not be an exaggeration to state that the Prime Minister revived the vibrancy of radio. Soon after assuming the power, Modi in a most surprising move lent tremendous credence to radio by capitalizing on its reach. It was almost a rebirth of Radio in India when he in a conversationally manner started this very personal broadcast ‘Maan Ki Baat’ to reach Indian citizens in every nook and corner of the country.

Best part is that the radio programme has remained apolitical and with the help of listeners’ participation, it succeeded in creating several mass movements in the country. For example, campaigns like “selfie with daughters” became a social media revolution which led to greater debate about protection and education of girl child. He spoke about “Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) campaign, which later turned into a social movement. youngsters and school children have taken it upon themselves to promote the Clean India mission.

The basic point here is that the prime minister talks to masses through ‘Mann Ki Baat’ as their family member. He discussed issues confronting even poorest of the poor. The audience always feels elated as the prime minister was ‘guiding’ them to peace, prosperity and profits through  this broadcast. He gives them a feeling that none other than the prime minister personally cares for them.

To be precise, ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme is the best example to narrate the power of radio in bringing social change. The broadcast reiterates that Radio is certainly relevant. It reaches to remote geographical locations which are media-dark regions. It can be leveraged to bring in social change among the underprivileged population which have no access to contemporary media channels. Someone has rightly said, ‘voice is the internet of the poor’.  Radio didn’t become victim of modern technology onslaught, but embraced the technology to remain as an outstanding competitor in the field of mass communication.

Last but not the least. It would be unfair not to talk about the erstwhile Radio Kashmir, now called All India Radio, Srinagar/ Jammu. In fact this station is a golden page in the history of Radio broadcasting in the country.

Radio Kashmir Srinagar was among a few organizations that worked relentlessly to protect and propagate local language, art and culture. While looking back, Radio Kashmir has served as a link between people and the government. We cannot ignore the fact that it was Radio Kashmir which has given light music to add flavour to the music in Kashmir. Who can forget the efforts put in by great stalwarts associated with music section of Radio Kashmir, like Ustad Muhammad Abdullah Tibet Bakal, Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Qaleenbaft, Ghulam Qadir Langoo, Raj Begum, Naseem Akhtar, Nasrullah Khan and others in making the sufiyana music as well as the folk music alive and thriving. 
Who can forget the dramas broadcast from Radio Kashmir Srinagar. They cast magic and engrossed the audience, as people were spellbound by the excellent production values and well woven script and presentation promoting our rich cultural heritage. Notably, best dramas in the country used to be produced by Radio Kashmir Srinagar and numerous Akashvani Annual Awards and laurels were showered on the station. The drama library of Radio Kashmir Srinagar was so rich in sound effects and music that people like Melvin Demalo, the greatest broadcaster of the country, used to edit his programmes in Radio Kashmir Srinagar. Remarkably the drama artists and announcers set up the highest standards of broadcasting. Their dedication was unmatched and each of them was known among the masses for his own style of performance.

There is urgent need to restore the glory of Radio in J&K. The prime minister has himself lend credence to the power of radio in triggering social change through the means of entertainment.  Strategically Radio Kashmir, now called All India Radio, Srinagar has a very important role to play in the peace and prosperity of the region. Rejig its present set-up so that the broadcasting professionals running the station are not choked and are empowered to deliver in line with the needs of the new world with a new radio.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)