Many moons ago, Don Williams sang, "I try to find a way to explain to you, what’s on my mind and not sound so plain to you, but you’ll realize if you close your eyes, the feelings my words can’t show, they’re playing on the radio. Listen to the radio, oh listen to the radio…"
Decades after, in the age of FM Radio Channels, I wonder what the veteran might have to say. Like me, he would have surely deleted this song from every playlist. I don’t eat pan masalas. Buying property is the last thing on my mind. Marathon doesn’t excite me. Jewelry is for the Bhappi Laheris. So why on earth should I be subjected to a series of radio spots playing to a torturous schedule of almost 60 spots per 60 minutes? Isn’t radio supposed to play more songs?
Well they do, but songs between the ads, whereas it should be vice versa. And what is it about yelling in front of a microphone? Aren’t the RJs taught that the microphones they are yelling at are super sensitive? Just like our ears. The only seeming way to teach them a lesson or two is to make them listen to their own program on a headphone.
Ads no longer inform us on radio channels. They are crammed between the songs and force-fed to us, day in day out. The motor-mouth RJs keep blabbering stuff they could well share with their friends over cutting chaais or suttaas, why would any listener be interested why they got late for a film or how they felt during a trip to grandparents’ home or how they spent their holidays or festivals?
The RJs also have a choice to share anecdotes of actors, composers, lyricists, producers and directors, which has a connection with the songs being played. There’s a treasure of film literature beyond lazy Google searches, which could be shared everyday over a cuppa. There’s so much radio can do, which remains unexplored. Well, Anu Kapoor has been doing and redoing it consistently on radio, but we need more interesting stuff of modern-day artists, not just the old ones. There are few shows by Salim of Salim-Sulaiman composer duo and Anu Malik, which are engaging as well as informative. But we need more such stuff on air.
Well, the rantings eventually subsided after I had a brief chat with my friend, Kshitij Banker, a popular RJ from Vadodara, who states in a matter-of-factly tone, “You pay for newspapers, internet, magazines, and yet are bombarded with full page ads, pop up digital ads and so on. And radio is free so how are the radio stations going to pay the RJs, Program Heads, Marketing Executives and other technicians? Ads are the only means of revenue for us. And it isn’t something that we don’t do anything about it…there are slots where we have back-to-back songs too.”
He further elaborates, “I believe that RJs are beyond information broadcasters. The reason why FM radio works is because of its ‘local connect’. While hiring RJs, the radio stations always prefer someone local who knows his or her city inside-out. For instance, a guy from Mumbai may not be able to understand what Sindhrot Bridge means to a Barodian or Sabarmati Riverfront to an Amdavadi. During calamities or even massive traffic jams, radios are the most easily accessible mediums and prove to be really helpful and relevant. We have been updating people on traffic much before you had your Google Maps in tow.
Furthermore, the high-point of radio is that it is live. People connect with us one-on-one through this medium. Many listeners still call me up and share interesting anecdotes of their lives, not to be broadcast on the radio, but just because they feel a certain connect with me as an RJ. There are umpteen requests of playing a song that means a lot to them and mind you, this still happens in this age of online music streaming. This wider reach and closer connect is precisely the reason why our Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose the medium of radio to reach across the length and breadth of the nation through ‘Mann Ki Baat’,” asserts Kshitij Banker.
Mann Ki Baat reminds me of those good ol’ days when we used to sleep on our terrace, playing Vividh Bharati and often tuning to Radio Ceylon, marveling at the technology that enabled us to listen something from a ‘foreign’ land. This was much before satellite TV made inroads into Indian households.
The Ameen Sayani Binaca Geetmala was part of our growing up years and the MP3 collection of Ameen Sayani shows still remains a prized possession. It is indeed no wonder HMV Saregama recently came up with Caravan, a modern-day avatar of radio, which has 5000 pre-loaded songs, apart from Bluetooth and radio and is designed like a vintage radio set. How many radio shows you listen today have such potential of being compiled as an album in future? Content is often sacrificed at the altar of technology, be it films, music or radio.
Unlike the chaotic FM stations, if you tune into the Vividh Bharti today, the ‘Radio Presenters’ are always soft-spoken and the number of radio spots are negligible and they don’t grate on your nerves or radio spot voiceover artists don’t yell at the microphones. Nevertheless, you do have to endure those long lists of names like Munna, Nita, Rita, Mohan, Sohan, Seema, Nandu etc, which is thankfully aborted by that golden line – aur unke bahut saare saathi. The content intrigues you. The Radio Presenters win you over. But by the time you are hooked, they are quick to announce, 'Is ke saath hi hamara yeh karyakram samaapt hota hain, namaskar'.