After a long time yesterday I switched on Vividh Bharati and was pleasantly surprised to hear that they were playing only requests received on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. A far cry from the snail mail system that I remember. A few minutes later I heard another message asking defence personnel to send in their song requests by SMS for the popular Jaymala programme and I thought wow they sure have caught up with the times.
The mention of Jaymala brought a lot of memories. 90's was when I started listening to the radio religiously and back then Vividh Bharati was the most popular service in my city. FM channels hadnt yet launched. As I had an afternoon shift in school, my typical day used to start with Chitralok at 8:15 in the morning. It was a programme completely dedicated to latest songs and film promos. Satellite television was just catching up, so most of the film promotions were still done on Radio. The programme used to go on till 10 am and that was the time I used to get ready and prepare myself for the day after some last minute homework, done listening to some of the loser songs mentioned here. On holidays I used to even listen to Manchahe Geet in the afternoons. Evenings after school at around 6:30 there would be regional presentations and then come 7:10 pm and it would be time for Jaymala, the special programme for requests of defence personnel. The programme also had a weekly celebrity episode where many singers, actors and other Bollywood personalities would come to present their favourite songs and some message for the Fauji bhai. The signature tune of this programme, something like a tune from a military band, is something I will never forget. 8 o'clock was the time for Hawamahal, the daily programme that had radio adaptations of plays and short stories. Though I wouldn't listen to it regularly, I remember liking most of what I had heard. 8:30 was new songs again and then by around 10 there would be Chaayageet. This had some of the most melodious numbers. On weekends programmes like Pitaara would have nuggets of repeats of popular programmes. There were many more programmes that I used to follow then, but do not remember the names of anymore. My parents used to reminisce about Binaca Geet mala which I have never heard unfortunately. They even recall listening to the audio of hit Hindi films that used to be broadcast on weekends, entire movies would be broadcast.
Song requests programmes like Hello Farmaish were the most popular shows as they were very interactive. There were also shows where you could mail in your requests and who can forget the ever present listeners from 'Jhumri talaiya' who would always request some song or the other. I remember my father doubting the existence of 'Jhumri talaiya'; he used to say that AIR probably cooked up this place to show more listener demands hehehe.
I attribute all my knowledge of hindi film music to the Vividh Bharati service. My knowledge of songs from those of Hemant Kumar to Sonu Nigam and Geeta Dutt to Alka Yagnik all come from listening to AIR regularly. And if I manage to sing reasonably well today, that is also because I used to sing along loudly while the radio was playing. Some of the most repeated songs on radio those days were from the films Abhimaan, Aashiqui, Phir Teri Kahaani Yaad Aayi, Aandhi, Naaraaz, Naajayaz, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Saajan, Vijaypath, Shree 420 and Baazigar. My antakshari skills those days were just great and it helped that we were a generation of antakshari freaks. Like Doordarshan had its Rukawat ke liye Khed hai, AIR had this particular whooshing sound that would interrupt broadcast clarity. It was probably because of some astral object interrupting with the radio signals. At times, the broadcast would be interrupted by electricity cuts in the studios. Even these sounds are ingrained in my memory.
I also remember the transition in radio. My uncle used to have one of those huge radio sets the kind that you see in that song in Abhimaan. We had a sleeker and slightly smaller Philips radio initially. And later on we bought one of those newer sets but Philips again. Murphy was gone by the time we had started buying radios. Later on briefly we had a Chinese two in one system and more recently listening to radio was just on phone. And now I listen to it on my Dish TV service.
I have also seen the deterioration in the popularity and revenues of AIR. When I initially used to listen to Chitralok, which was a sponsored programme, it used to play new songs for around 2 hours. Gradually the number of new songs reduced and the time reduced to 1 hour and at last count (which was around 5 years ago) it was reduced to a paltry 15 minutes. Around the time the duration of new songs decreased, AIR was also getting mails constantly from people that new songs were against the culture. It was also the time when cable TV and FM channels (only allowed in the metros then) had started eating into AIR's pie. But AIR still managed to survive because of its immense reach. Today only those who love to listen to old songs without some shrill RJ ranting out PJs, switch on to AIR. But FM channels have also realised the potential of this loyal customer base and have started sober programmes featuring old songs.
The newer generations don't know much about AIR and if the organisation continues to go on with whatever policies it has, there would be a day maybe when people will no longer listen to it at all. AIR will probably exist only because the government hasnt pulled it off the bandwidth. Not the way a radio channel that entertained so many generations should end up. AIR still scores high on reach which is why it is still doing well in the mostly inaccessible regions of the country, at those places, AIR still is one of the major sources of entertainment.