Voice from the sky: The fascinating story of the All India Radio in Vizag

All India Radio, Vizag
All India Radio Vizag

The All India Radio Vizag’s programmes are as compelling as their principles but still beckon its niche listeners. Alisha Roy speaks to Station Director K Satyanarayana Murthy who steers ‘Akash Vani.’

Casual in a chequered shirt and plain cotton trousers and far removed from the power dressing attire donned by most media bosses, K Satyanarayana Murthy reminds us that there is more to being a radio station head than glamour. It is a world driven by hard work, sacrifice and relentless ambition. One that he came to know too well as All India Radio Vizag’s Director of Programming, in a career which is essentially tested in front of thousands of people – ‘live.’ KS Murthy oversees all aspects of the AIR Vizag’s daily radio production. And, with a supportive team of artists, programme curators and sound engineers; he does so with unmatched flair.

Taking roots

Since the station was commissioned in 1963 till the advent of FM, AIR Vizag ruled the airwaves. The station was, for a considerable time, at the zenith of its success and popularity, not because there was no other competitive source of information and entertainment, but because it ran in a manner on par with several international radio services. Known as Akash Vani (voice from the sky) it reached the widest audience, including vulnerable communities like industrial workers, farmers, rural women and the youth. AIR Vizag powered them with information in an era before feminism gained momentum in India. Their women’s programme not only promoted gender equality but also became a testimony to AIR’s efforts in supporting women. “Our women’s programme bagged an award in the AIR best programmes category,” the Director shares.

Flair on air

Despite being a state-owned enterprise, the news broadcast on AIR Vizag is much more than what the government wants you to hear. There is an interesting mix of cultural, musical and religious programmes on offer. The language used on air, as far as Telugu broadcasting is concerned, is top-notch, with absolutely no room for slang or banter. “Our presenters are thoroughly coached in proper pronunciation before going on air; compared with what makes it to the airwaves today,” the Director reveals.This notion soon had to be revised, in order to keep up with the young FM radio which now seems to dominate the market. “We branched out to FM and launched AIR FM Rainbow to stay abreast with trends. Rainbow’s programmes are to be consumed on the go,” he says. “It is radio for the modern age with an eclectic playlist, featuring slots for local drama acts, film music, as well as semi-classical numbers. The RJs intersperse the tracks with light banter. SMS based programs and live callers are in place to suit the city’s new metropolis outlook,” he adds.

Modernity and heritage

Without doubt, the Rainbow FM station played a key role in AIR Vizag’s revival and gave it a new lease on life. In a competitive industry of private channels and the Internet, AIR Vizag is conscious of its edge. “We have elite listeners; and people of importance like A Prasanna Kumar, CS Rao, government officials and others closely monitor our programmes and give us feedback immediately,” he says. Stating that other mediums of entertainment have never been a threat; and the All India Radio has its niche market, he adds that private channels don’t affect their number of listeners. “In fact, the problem isn’t in the numbers, but in the fact that our listeners are passive and don’t give us feedback,” he says.

Keeping in touch with the roots, the All India Radio Vizag seems to be an important outlet for tribal artistic expression as well, in times when the mainstream media is not always paying attention. And, it provides listeners with a vivid window into the lives of people surviving on tribal lands. “All AIR stations across India are programme specific. The station in Vizag focuses on tribal and rural programmes because the city is surrounded by tribal areas. As custodians of folklore culture, we preserve rural beliefs,” KS Murthy explains. “My team chronicles Samskar Geet or pristine form of folklore tunes without any music in the background. We visit villages to record folk songs like lullabies, wedding songs and funeral songs. We archive and share these recordings with other AIR stations around the country,” he adds.

Team AIR

Being a part of the team All India Radio is a matter of prestige, and recruitment follows a stringent process. With the Director and his team going through job applications for news presentations, radio jockeys and musicians, he discloses that those selected need to meet the government media standards. Starting with a press notification, the hiring process involves a written exam on Indian heritage as well. They hire Radio Jockeys or “casual announcers” and train them in script writing and voice modulation. “We check the vivaciousness of the applicant’s voice and prefer to hire locals,” divulges KS Murthy.

Diversity of offering and adaptation to newer times while keeping standards and values intact is what makes the All India Radio a name to reckon with. As the city moves towards a hurried culture and in times when different media like the television and Internet vie for attention, it is radio shows from AIR that make their way into the lives of thousands of the city’s listeners everyday.

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