This is All India Radio…The News…Read by…’ – a phrase that has been, for many, many years now, a prelude to news bulletins of comprehensive content, a mark of objectivity and accuracy; a sample of succinct rendition of news; And a unique case, the first and only kind in the world, where a state-owned medium has compromised neither on professional standards of excellence nor on the exacting parameters of what is truth even as it stayed within the official framework.
And that radio news has now crossed an important milestone. Apart from being one of the oldest electronic media news bulletins in the world, All India Radio's regional news bulletins have traversed a long path and crossed the 75th year of broadcasting. Telugu news from All India Radio celebrates its Platinum Jubilee year starting from the first of this month, marking the beginning of year-long celebrations.
Until 1935, only two news bulletins were broadcast by radio in a day - one in English from Bombay radio station and one in an Indian language from Calcutta station. The news was collected by Reuters until the news operations have become centralised from Delhi in 1937. The present News Services Division of All India Radio was then known as Central News Organisation and used to broadcast five bulletins in English, four in Hindustani, and three each in Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Pushto during the World War II (1939-1945). By the time India got Independence, All India Radio was broadcasting an impressive 74 news bulletins in a day, 43 under home service and 31 as part of external services.
Around the same time, Madras Station from Chennapatnam, capital of the Composite State, started broadcasting Telugu programmes in which news was an important component. Interestingly, radio broadcasts started from Hyderabad as early as 1933 as a private station until the Nizam took it over and renamed it Deccan Radio in 1935 with news broadcasts included. Subsequently, when Hyderabad became a part of the Union of India, Deccan Radio was taken over by All India Radio, which started full-scale broadcasts from April 1950.
By 1940s, the Telugu News Unit at All India Radio, Delhi, was a full-fledged Unit, with eminent people such as Sri Sri and Kongara Jaggaiah reading news in Telugu. The Regional News Unit at Hyderabad gained prominence with the formation of the Andhra Pradesh state in 1956.
There was a time when radio was the only medium available for latest news. The trend of breaking news, turned rather amorphous by the plethora of television channels, was set by radio with the morning and evening state bulletins having stupendous levels of listenership.
“I remember the day Emergency was declared in the country. The then prime minister Indira Gandhi made the announcement in Hindi and we had to get it ready for the morning news. D Venkatramaiah and I sat through the night translating the speech and broadcast it in the morning. For people in the State, especially in the rural areas, that was the first inkling of things to come,” recalls Satyavathi Madapati, then Assistant News Editor and News Reader with the RNU at Hyderabad. “We received hundreds of phone calls, most of them asking us what Emergency meant and what was going to happen.”
She also recalls the 1969 Telangana agitation and the way AIR had to report it without either being provocative or underplaying the issue. “It was really an intense movement. So much so that we used to be afraid to even take out the office car. Telangana agitators would sit on the railway tracks and block trains and send people to radio station to have it reported. We used to calm them down and take the news in right proportion,” Satyavathi narrates.
While the English news and Hindi bulletins of All India Radio are the touchstone for news broadcasting for all times, with legends like Melville de Mellow, Manohar Kaul, Lotika Ratnam, Surjit Sen, Preminda Prem Chand, Saroj Narayana Swami, Sphoorti Sinha, Barun Haldar and others, the precise editing, perfect choice of words and the flawless pronunciation made radio news bulletins educative for eager listeners.
‘Delhi Vaartalu’ and ‘Pranteeya Vaartalu’ were iconic broadcasts and the news presenters, celebrities of astounding proportions. Sri Sri, Jaggaiah apart, people like eminent journalist Dr Potturi Venkateswara Rao, Panyala Ranganatha Rao, first woman news reader J Mangamma, Addanki Mannar, Mamillapalli Rajyalakshmi, Duggirala Purnayya, Varanasi Subramanyam, Gollamudi Nalini Mohan, Kandukuri Suryanarayana, Edida Gopal Rao, D Venkatramaiah, Tirumalasetty Sriramulu, Madapati Satyavati, Koppula Subbarao, Prayaga Ramakrishna, Jyotsna Devi and many others were household names and had huge fan following. Mimicry artistes relished parodying the voices and style of the famous news readers.
Editors and correspondents had a great contribution to make too, making radio journalism a classic stream. Narravula Subba Rao, Turaga Krishna Mohan Rao, Govada Satya Rao, MSR Krishna Rao, BV Subramanyam, Bhandaru Srinivasa Rao and others are among the notables.
“It is the influx of television channels that pushed radio to the background. However, we still have a good listenership. We are now strategising by adapting to the changing news needs. We have hourly FM headlines that are immensely popular,” says Baquer Mirza, Deputy Director (News) and Unit Head of the Regional News Unit, All India Radio, Hyderabad. “We are taking the Platinum Jubilee as an occasion to find ways to popularise radio news once again. And given that our listenership is growing by the day and new technologies making our reach much wider and deeper, we are sure we can recapture lost ground,” he says. Mirza himself has a long association with radio news and recalls fondly the multitude of great voices that read Telugu and Urdu news.
Ganga Prasad, an IT professional, is an avid AIR fan. “In my village, they played the radio from the Panchayat office all through the day and I used to wake up listening to Bhakti Ranjani and start for college as soon as the National Telugu News was over. My day felt incomplete if I missed a single bulletin. I still listen religiously to AIR news,” the young professional says.
All India Radio broadcast its news in the days when a transistor radio was a big gizmo. It broadcast in the days when technology was nascent, access and reach were constrained and path-breaking efforts were needed at every turn. But it also broadcast in the days when not mere news ethics but also professional standards were not compromised upon, selection was rigorous, expectations tough and training thorough. The medium has adapted to the changing times well and has upgraded itself to be a cutting edge channel with state-of-the art, digital technology.
Radio is an intimate medium. It cannot be loud or garish or intrusive. It becomes a part and parcel of one’s dailyness and travels with the common commuter and the connoisseur alike. Radio news is crisp, clear and anchored to the fundamentals of broadcasting. Which is why AIR news’ 75-year-old journey still goes on, creating innumerable legends, landmarks and lessons along the way.