KV Network

On radios and early televisions

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K S S Pillai

It was a coincidence that reminded me of the distant past. My son brought home a large LED television on the day the Prime Minister broadcast his monthly ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme over All India Radio. News channels repeatedly showed people huddled before radio sets listening to the prime minister and nodding their heads every few minutes.

I forget when I last listened to a radio broadcast. My mobile phone has a provision to listen to FM radio stations. It has come with a pair of earphones for the purpose, but I have never tuned to those stations.

The radio had its heyday once. It was the only source of getting the latest news. It also provided entertainment in the form of filmy songs or radio versions of famous plays. The only broadcaster in the country was the All India Radio, owned by the government of India.

I bought my first radio, costing a princely sum of Rs.400, in the early 1960s with a loan from the cooperative credit society of LIC employees, of which I was a member. The amount was to be recovered in monthly instalments of Rs.20 from my salary.

The radio was big in size, compared to the much smaller transistors that came to the market years later. For clear reception, it was connected to an internal antenna. When not in use, it was covered with a beautiful piece of embroidered cloth. Licence for the radio, renewable every year, had to be taken from the local post office. Keeping a radio receiver without licence was an offence. The authorities used to conduct surprise checks to detect defaulters. People used to listen eagerly to the annual budget speech by the union finance minister to know whether there was any revision of the licence fee.

Binaca Geetmala, an hour-long programme of famous Hindi filmy songs broadcast every Wednesday evening around eight o’clock by Radio Ceylon, used to be very popular. Hosted by legendary Ameen Sayani, millions of listeners thronged around radios to listen as much to the songs as his booming voice. Pan shops with radios blaring the programme at high volume did brisk business till the programme ended after an hour.

As technology advanced, the prominence of the radio began its southward journey. Black-and-white televisions started appearing in the 1980s. By then, I had changed my profession to that of a lecturer. I used to stay, with my family, in the staff quarters of the university where I worked.

Doordarshan, under the government of India, was the only television channel in the country. There was just one television in the entire staff quarters. It was owned by the doctor of our campus health centre, who was a cricket enthusiast. During the live telecasting of test matches that stretched to four or five days – it was much before the advent of one-day matches — from faraway Bombay, there used to be a large crowd of viewers squatting on the floor of his living room. The quality of reception was poor, and someone had to rush to the terrace frequently to adjust the antenna with shouted instructions from the viewers below.

People used to look forward to Sundays when there would be hour-long serials like The Ramayan, and later Mahabharat, in the morning. They were so popular that even the traffic on the road would come to a standstill, people breaking their journey to watch these serials on the nearest television. In the evenings, there used to be a Hindi movie. Another popular programme was Chitrahaar that telecast Hindi cinema songs every Thursday evening. Every inch of the room would be occupied, leaving just enough space for the doctor and the members of his family to squeeze in.

Though there are multiple channels and sleek television sets today, they will never be able to replace the thrill one got from the early black-and-white televisions.

(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to The Kashmir Vision, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)

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