Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fascination for the Radio

The sound from the radio has always fascinated me. My earliest memories recall a Made-in-England 8-band Bush radio, a gift from a family friend, from the famed Paints dealer on Ashoka Road, Salar Masood & Sons. Almost fifty years later it remains a working model. It has undergone minor repairs and sat in my father's friend Adam Khan's Silicon Electronics for two years unattended. Vacuum tubes have been replaced but I have seen to it that it still functions. Sound from it is so different and deep. Connected to it was a 10-feet long copper-wire mesh antenna near the ceiling that also helped support cobwebs! There was a special wall shelf out of reach of children on which this was placed in the living room and was operated only by the elders.

The radio was on every morning and evening, without fail. All India Radio, Bangalore was the most tuned in station even though Mysore was where the first radio broadcast was made in India in 1936. The first broadcast was unofficially made in 1927 itself. Besides, “Vividh Bharthi” was tuned on Shortwave for its transmission of Hindi film songs. Its “Binaca Geet mala” every Wednesday was a great hit, due to its presentation by Amin Sayani whose voice still echoes! Hotels became famous not because of its preparations, but people flocked due to the presence of a radio there. Not every home had a radio in the 1950s or 60s. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Broadcasting Corporation also was famous for its broadcast of hindi songs at convenient times. Here is a picture of the hotel, Meenakshi Bhavan, which was famous for Binaca Geet Mala!! Meenakshi Bhavan as it is today, in Krishnamurthypurm.

I must add here that my father who did his Diploma in Sound Engineering in one of the earliest batches at the Technical Institute in Bangalore in 1949, worked at the Radio Station for a short period after his passing the diploma. He later worked as a sound recordist with distinction in the film industry in Bombay between 1951 and 1957 under a few reputed companies before he had to return to Mysore. While there, he has recorded many songs of films and one particular film he used to mention was "Phakheezah" in particular and he used to narrate how Lata Mangeshkar rehearsed before a recording. See picture of my father at a radio studio in the early 50s.

Programmes of AIR Bangalore that were much sought after were “pakshinota” (bird’s eye view of the programmes for the week every Sunday morning), Pradesha Samachara (Area news), Kannada news and Chitrageete (film songs). But the one that attracted most was the Sunday afternoon show of “sound track” of Kannada films: members of family would sit close to the radio (with volume blaring!) to listen. None would dare talk in the middle!

What Live telecasts of cricket matches of today were Ball-by-ball commentaries of Cricket Test Matches of bygone days. When any team toured India, radios did extra hours. Also for Davis Cup Tennis and Ranji Trophy cricket matches. Radio was a great source for entertainment and information to everyone at home, besides the newspaper, “Taayinaadu”. The Hindu was also widely circulated, but we subscribed that kannada paper.

People would curiously inquire, as part of conversation, which radio their home had, if they had one at all. The next question was which brand and how many bands it had! More the bands, more the envy! Radio owners were looked at with awe, much like those who owned wrist watches or even cars or scooters. Those were such days.

The late 1960s saw the advent of the transistor radio. It had the greatest advantage of portability and it required no cumbersome external antenna. That was much to our amazement. It had become a great fashion, at least to some, to show off their ownership of transistors. They would keep them in shoulder bags, play with a loud volume as they went walking or on their bicycles. The main idea was to get noticed, not to listen to programmes! To accompany the Bush, our first transistor was a National Panasonic 3-band. After our 4-day taxi-tour in 1969, we saw the car driver Ganesh using one to pass off time at leisure and he was ready to sell that imported set from Japan after our return! He sold us for Rs.800/-, a substantial sum of those days. It served us for a long time and gave us great joy until I gifted it off to a friend who is using now.

The 1970s saw me explore the depths of Shortwave bands esp. on the Bush radio. One Shankar came with the information in 1973 that his father had tuned in to the BBC on the 31-metre band and was listening to live cricket commentary of the Test Match between West Indies and England. That opened the door to a world of its own – the hobby of “Shortwave listening and DX-ing”. More on it later.

I came home, located the 31-metre band on the Bush, patiently turned the analog needle as slowly as I could, because I found so many different stations crammed between one another so closely! I later came to know that just 5 kHz separated them. I finally ‘caught’ what I was looking for - cricket commentary from the BBC! It was an excitement I can never forget. Though commentaries were aired before but they were relays from AIR Bangalore on Medium Wave, which was 'nothing special'. It was a ‘turning point’, in every sense! That was also when I learnt what those numbers meant on that analog dial.

I did enjoy the commentary, learnt so much from it – language and also the game itself, by persistent listening. There were some very renown commentators behind the microphone like John Arlott, Alan McGilvray, Fred Trueman, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Lindsay Hassett, Bill Lawry and so on. Their voices are taped from the 2-in-1.

2-in-1, the radio cum tape-recorder was the next step that happened, thanks to
one HM Srinivas, a late colleague and music lover. He helped me buy my first 2-in-1 with stereo speakers in 1986. Even till 1987, the telecommunications dept. was collecting a nominal fee (Rs.15/- per annum) for every radio set bought and we had to pay it at any Post Office (the govt. stopped it later).

Coming back to the hobby of listening to Shortwave bands, I learnt that they had hundreds of broadcasting stations at any given time. Signals came from all corners of the globe. I came to know how climate and the earth’s ionosphere and even sun spots aided or disrupted shortwave broadcast over esp. over long distances. In the late 70s, I had begun spending lots of time searching for something new. Mostly I used to hear languages I never heard and with some experience, I came to identify some of the foreign languages as well. Many foreign stations broadcast English programmes also at set times every day. It sounded interesting to hear them. By then, BBC and Radio Australia had become familiar for their cricket transmissions. I was now ready to explore other stations on the air. I was to know that this new hobby was known as “DX-ing” (meant searching for stations from unknown distances).

One fine night, closely sandwiched between two others, a station was heard, though not clearly.
I was delighted when the announcement went as “Radio Korea”. Link to Radio Korea
They also announced the address for listeners to write back which I soon did mentioning some information about the time, frequency of broadcast and content. After some days, much to my glee, I got a reply from them, ‘verifying’ what I wrote. It was called as a “QSL” card. A couple of years later I could record my voice (comments on the station) and send the cassette to Radio Korea which they broadcast as part of a contest. It had won a prize. Listening to my own voice on the air was hair-raising at that time!

I had by then been appointed by them as one of five 'official monitors' in India. This signaled the beginning of a new era for me in this hobby, post 1980-81. We were sent coupons to cover postage that we incurred to send reports of their broadcasts and program contents on a regular basis. It was a great feeling!

After some years, I had collected some 200 cards from 55 different stations. I came to know later that it was a great fancy among listeners and that there were other giants who were experienced listeners that counted them in thousands! There was one TK Soundararajan in Thanjavur whom I met at his home once. We discussed Radio! I now came to know that there is even a
QSL card museum

In 1986, I came across Mr.Vasudev Parikh in Bombay who was also an ‘official monitor’ for Radio Korea. I met in his home following exchange of letters, only to learn that he had been born in 1920; that he was one giant in the hobby with a listening experience dating to the 1930s! Radio clubs are still in existence in various parts of the country and this man was also a respected member of one or two, because he had the rare privilege of monitoring a few other radio stations like BBC, Voice of Germany, Voice of America, etc. I too got a chance to monitor the BBC for a short while that helped me realize my dream!

The dream was a ‘digital radio’. I had seen it with Mr.Parikh and upon his suggestion, I was able to buy one in Madras with the help of another radio-enthusiast, Harsha. It is a Sony 7600D.
Tuning was easy now, no knob-turning – but all digital. I used to get program schedules from a few stations and I knew which frequency had to be fed directly into it.

Many friends are brought together by this wonderful hobby, Harsha is one. He is more of a HAM now. I have no idea of Mr.Parikh as we seem to have lost contact. When he was active, he seldom missed sending a greeting card on my birthday.

Radio stations used to send out to its listeners complimentary gifts like pennants, posters, stickers, cards
key-chains, t-shirts, pens, and whatnot to sustain audience interest. We felt great displaying them. It was a great pleasure to take part in various contests esp. in Radio Korea, which awarded many little gift prizes for the winners. Probably judging my enthusiasm, they retained me as its monitor for 16 years on the trot. It had become common for my local friends to inquire me how I was doing with the hobby, esp. at Radio Korea. Such was the interest.

Mid 90s saw another phase when the Idiot Box began to dominate through Cable Network and the radio audience gradually made their shift. It happened in many countries and a drastic reduction in audience was noticed. Technology too was progressing with the advent of World Wide Web and many stations saw no point in their radio broadcasting. So some of the big ones stopped broadcasting and went on line with the Internet. The whole scenario changed. But a few stations have remained in the old ways.

A friend’s family was visiting us in the 1990s. The young boy asked in great awe what that gadget was – I had switched on my Bush Radio to show them the ‘antique’ was still working! We had to explain what a radio was!

Soon after we entered the 21st century, people thought that the radio would be pushed to unheeded corners. But no, FM Radio seems to have revived the radio though not in the same variety in shortwaves. In my opinion it is more of a nuisance because it is available on mobile phones and cars and everywhere in such an "impressive" manner that people have stopped "listening to the beautiful world of silence". Satellite radio is also available for those who have the real inclination for quality of sound and listening pleasure in their homes.

A person in Bangalore, Mr. Prakash has a hobby of ‘collecting’ radios. He has a fleet of 800 of them! See photo.

The greatest advantage with the radio compared to its fierce competitor, the Idiot Box, is that while it is on, people can do other things while just lending an ear and you can carry it around too, wherever you want. Thanks to Marconi. Radio is here to stay on. One day our Bush radio may become obsolete, but the Radio will never be.

Take a look at this guide.
This is a beginner's guide to SW listening.
And another.

Maddy''s Ramblings blog has this to say, picturesquely described. (Listen to AIR's signature tune in the little widget in the blog) It brings me old memories too.

(Radios pictured at the beginning:
Bush EBS 51, National Panasonic, Philips 2-in-1, Sony 7600D and Sangean.)


YOSEE said...

It was wonderful reading through this history of radio and radio-addiction of past generations. I remember how my brothers would sit ears stuck to transistors ,listening to breathless cricket commentary and showing appropriate "abhinaya"s on their faces ! I dint know Meenakshi Bhavan had this radio connection. To me, it is the Dosa paradise of yore ! It looks so run-down now......and i do miss the evening excitement of Radio Ceylon programmes that enlivened my school days.

Dinakar KR said...

Thanks YOSEE. That shop outside Meenakshi Bhavan - wooden 'box type' - was famous for 'Nanjangud Rasabale' (Nanjangud Banana, a very special variety, now endangered). The owner also had once won a lotter Bumper Prize and had become famous in the city!

Krishna Vattam said...

Dear Dinakar.
A great piece of writing.It took me down the memory lane.It was in late 1980s when the All india radio wanted to have its name changed to Akashvani.There was loud protest in Tamilnadu and beating of these war drums I had written a leading article for Deccan Herald , with which I was associated as its chief correspondent for forty years.It had evoked a lot of interest.I had interviewed Mr Jagadish a radio engineer living in Saraswathipuram .he was having his shop near prabhat Talkies.Of course later I wrote two or three pieces on Mysore Akashvani.We in our house invariably used to listen to Telugu film songs and "Akkayya " was conducting the programme.With the growth of the militancy in Ceylon, now changed as Sri Lankas these programmes also died.
Mr jagadish passed away some years ago.I am bringing my interviews with lumaries in a book form and my interview with Mr jagadish also finds a place.His son(whose name I have forgotten lives somewhere in Mysore.),Do you know his address.I want to collect the photo of mr Jagadeesh.
Again my congts on your brillant post.Krishna Vattam,e mail

padmini said...

Very nice post Mr Dinakar.I still miss good old reginal news like Pradesh samachara,sanskrit news and above all the signature tune after moved over here.
Iam sure it has entertained so many women like me in the kitchen.If there is a rating,my vote goes to good old kannad songs after morning news.
Here Iam an avid listner of NPR from 9to9.

Dinakar KR said...

Dear Sri Vattam,
Many thanks. Of course, who does not know you were not with Deccan Herald? You are an inspiration to many!

Jagadish Chandra Bose also had discovered the radio, but Marconi got the name, if I'm not wrong.

We must make attempts to locate your Jagadeesh's son in Mysore. If I remember it right, it could be your article that also mentioned the exact location of the house in Vani Vilas Mohalla where Prof.Gopalswami did his first Radio broadcast.

I must also add here that I was so thrilled on one side and shivering on the other when I was called for an interview in All India Radio, Mysore. Thrilled because I had a great chance to visit the studio and see how it worked and shivering because my own limitations as a speaker would be fully exposed and it did!

We at Kannada programmes listened to AS Murthy's show in which "Eeranna" was very popular.

Radio Moscow had a Kannada program for half an hour every day in the 1980s. There was one Ramakrishna (hope name is right) who was earlier with AIR who was working at Moscow. In fact, he replied to one of my letters to that radio station in Kannada and my joy knew bounds! In the 1990s, I came to know that he was living in Krishnamurthypuram next to my relative's house. I wanted to meet him with this background, but I was late. He had left for his heavanly abode.

Voice of Germany devoted ten minutes each fortnight for its news in Sanskrit!

Thank you Sir, we will search for that person.

Anonymous said...

Ball-by-ball commentaries of Cricket Test Matches of bygone days. When any team toured India, radios did extra hours. Also for Davis Cup Tennis and Ranji Trophy cricket matches.

How are regular season Ranji matches covered today? Is there no one doing ball-by-ball on the radio, like England and Oz do with their equivalent?

I would kill to get Ranji action over English internet radio!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

My late grand father G Neelakanta Rao was a well known artist in All India Radio during the 80s. He used to take part in the program "pakshinota". Unfortunately we do not have any of his audio recordings. He had took part in a teleserial "Janajeevana" as well. He recently passed away.

Does anybody have any audio recordings of Pakshinota program during the 80s? If yes I would love to get a copy of it please.

Please send me an email to


Prashant Koli said...

You have marvellously captured journey of a typical 50something BCDXer.

It was the same live cricket commentary that prompted many of us to rotate the tuning dial,looked with an awe at how English was spoken in different style on different stations,heard songs with hindi or Indian language tune/score but in language alien to our ears.

And began great hunt for 'what's there' on the radio.


Prashant KOli

Unknown said...

Sir,nice write up.Are you stil Dxing? -D.VIJAYA KRISHNA BHAT,PUTTUR,DAKSHINA

Kumar Sharma said...

Dear Mr. Dinakar - Lovely Blog-excellent write-up-read through in toto & enjoyed the same. I did not know what a BLOG is till now. Of course, there are so many links therein which I shall see the Korean Radio etc.
We had a Murphy with M, SW1, SW2 & a G band (for Gramophone - perhaps). As for the commentators there was a Brian Johnston in BBC whose name you missed. There even was V. M. Chakrapani who I think went to Australia - ABC. Later, in India, Ananth Setalvad & Bobby Talyar Khan, Maharaja of Baroda were good commentators (one of these latter - always with some drinks apparently to enhance the expertise in his comments).
Yeah lovely old Kannada songs too in those days, were broadcast or we could hear over the loud speakers during public functions. Now you get some songs in Savi Nenapu late in the night on FM 100.6MHz....past 9-30pm - 10pm etc....when I listen with sleep overtaking me.
I recall listening on the Valve radio, the tracking and eventual fall of the SKYLAB in 1970 or so. This re-entered tehe earth's Atmosphere and no body knew 'where on earth' it would land...luckily it splash-landed, I think in the Pacific Ocean. Radio had its uses and still has. But then Technology has improved....there are the TV sets on which many laze and grow fat...or even these computers and now the 'worst' Smart Phones, which keep the smart young ones fully occupied. I pity the younger generation which misses a lot of out door activities.
Well-said, when you mention in your reply - as to who does not know Mr. Krishna Vattam!
As for the other Fanatic Radio Collector in Bangalore - that's great! I want to buy a good, handy, light-weight, digital-tuning Transistor-Receiver set. Must not be too expensive! Is USA a good place to get this or can I get a Japanese (or S. Korean) or is France / Germany better for such a thing -- if our B'lore friend enlightens me, I would be grateful!
Wish you all the Best Dear Dinakar - hope to see more of you!