Tuesday, June 20, 2006

RADIO COLLECTOR IN BANGALORE

The same song from 600 radios at the same time
Special Correspondent
Prakash has collected many models of radios over three decades
THAT'S A RARE ONE: M. Prakash with his collection in Bangalore on Wednesday. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar
Bangalore: An unusual collection at an appropriate venue... the golden jubilee celebrations of All India Radio held at Jnanajyothi auditorium of Bangalore University includes a display of close to 150 radio sets. Many of them hardly look that.
These are just a part of what M. Prakash has collected over three decades. The Guinness Book of Records has certified his collection of 625 types of radios and so has the Limca Book of Records. If there was more space at the auditorium's lobby, he may have displayed more of them.
"I started the hobby during my colleges days in the 1970s and it grew over the next decade or so till cable TV came... radio seemed to be vanishing then and my collection got stalled. Then came FM and a revival in radio listening and more types of radio sets and my collection grew in pace,'' he says.
The oldest
One of the oldest radios in his collection is shaped like a globe; something you are shown at geography lessons in school. It has multiple switches, attractive illumination and four bands with facilities for tone control. Made in 1950 in Japan, the oldest on display on Wednesday was what looked like a miniature stereo record player of the kind popular when music albums came as long-play records, complete with turntable and two speakers.
The latest radio Praksh has looks like a computer, with monitor, keyboard and mouse. This radio has features such as display of world time, monthly and annual calendar, temperature and a calculator.
The radio circuit has been assembled inside a scaled down CPU and the radio comes from China.
The smallest he has is just the size of a cola bottle cap and needs earphones for listening to. The most expensive radio he has is a portable FM/AM radio with stereo sound, CD and TV with 30 channels. It was made in China and cost him nearly $ 150. There are also some antique radios; some shaped as piano, cars and gramophones, those early record players.
"Earlier I used to ask friends going overseas to get me unusual radios, now many are available here itself. I also keep close contacts with shops repairing old radios; some are almost thrown away as junk and I collect and carefully restore them,'' says Prakash. A man who can listen to the same song from over 600 radio sets at the same time, if he wants to.

RADIO COLLECTOR IN BANGALORE

THAT'S A RARE ONE: M. Prakash with his collection in Bangalore on Wednesday. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar
Bangalore: An unusual collection at an appropriate venue... the golden jubilee celebrations of All India Radio held at Jnanajyothi auditorium of Bangalore University includes a display of close to 150 radio sets. Many of them hardly look that.
These are just a part of what M. Prakash has collected over three decades. The Guinness Book of Records has certified his collection of 625 types of radios and so has the Limca Book of Records. If there was more space at the auditorium's lobby, he may have displayed more of them.
"I started the hobby during my colleges days in the 1970s and it grew over the next decade or so till cable TV came... radio seemed to be vanishing then and my collection got stalled. Then came FM and a revival in radio listening and more types of radio sets and my collection grew in pace,'' he says.
The oldest
One of the oldest radios in his collection is shaped like a globe; something you are shown at geography lessons in school. It has multiple switches, attractive illumination and four bands with facilities for tone control. Made in 1950 in Japan, the oldest on display on Wednesday was what looked like a miniature stereo record player of the kind popular when music albums came as long-play records, complete with turntable and two speakers.
The latest radio Praksh has looks like a computer, with monitor, keyboard and mouse. This radio has features such as display of world time, monthly and annual calendar, temperature and a calculator.
The radio circuit has been assembled inside a scaled down CPU and the radio comes from China.
The smallest he has is just the size of a cola bottle cap and needs earphones for listening to. The most expensive radio he has is a portable FM/AM radio with stereo sound, CD and TV with 30 channels. It was made in China and cost him nearly $ 150. There are also some antique radios; some shaped as piano, cars and gramophones, those early record players.
"Earlier I used to ask friends going overseas to get me unusual radios, now many are available here itself. I also keep close contacts with shops repairing old radios; some are almost thrown away as junk and I collect and carefully restore them,'' says Prakash. A man who can listen to the same song from over 600 radio sets at the same time, if he wants to

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Digital broadcast: radio's next wave?
ANAND PARTHASARATHY
Waiting in the wings is a compelling mix of digital sound, text and video broadcasting options
RADIO RENAISSANCE: Digital radios, portable TV and phone-TV are built to use digital audio broadcast and digital mobile broadcast standards.
"ALL THE running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that," said the Queen to Alice in Lewis Carroll's `Through the Looking Glass.'
It is a thought that seems almost prophetic today when one looks at the phenomenon in India that is being called `the rebirth of radio.'
The sudden spurt of interest that followed the unshackling of local Frequency Modulation (FM) radio from government control and the way these new stations are attracting a new, young and mobile audience, is being seen as a new leap of technology in a medium that will be 100 years old in 2006.
Yet, along with the back-patting and the satisfied smirks, last week, a new sobering message was trickling down from the Broadcast Engineering Society's international conference on terrestrial and satellite broadcasting, `BES Expo 2006', held in the nation's capital.
Deployed in 40 countries
This was a reminder that a hot new technology was waiting in the wings — indeed, it had already been deployed in 40 countries, with over 1000 services on the air. It is called digital audio broadcast (DAB) or digital radio, a term which today includes digital mobile broadcast (DMB), that is, TV and multimedia. (There is a rival digital broadcast standard known as HD Radio, mostly used in the U.S.)
DAB identifies the generic technology of digital broadcasting, including the main standard that it follows (Eureka 147). It is promoted by a global non-governmental organization called the World DAB forum, which has its operational headquarters in the U.K.
In fact, the core technologies to move radio broadcast as we know it today, whether Amplitude Modulation (long wave, medium wave and short wave) and FM, from the analogue to the digital world, can be traced back to leading British research centres like Imperial College, London and the cluster of technology companies which has mushroomed around Cambridge University.
Not surprisingly the U.K. is well ahead on the road map of digital radio with 12 per cent of households accounting for 3 million digital radio receivers, which can listen to over 400 digital broadcast stations within the country.
Equally unsurprisingly, Singapore became the first country in Asia, to launch a digital radio initiative and currently has 14 stations on the island. China is conducting trials and plans to deploy digital radio using the DAB standard, in time for Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Korea which already has a lively digital broadcasting operation, has moved one notch up the value chain, and harnesses DMB to provide mobile TV from terrestrial as well as satellite platforms on a variety of portable devices.
The Korean broadcasting Commission is currently in India to demonstrate terrestrial DMB. Indian Government agencies, as well as private players like Bharti , Star TV , Zee TV and Tatas, are said to be associating with these trials; while All India Radio has an ongoing digital radio experiment in Delhi.
Backward compatibility
What does all this mean for the customers? At workshops organised in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore earlier this week, WorldDAB brought together experts from U.K., Singapore, Taiwan and Sweden to evangelise digital broadcasting and showcase their own offerings.
Nick Bank of Radioscape, U.K., explained that it was now possible to build backward compatibility with analogue broadcast systems into chips that fuelled DAB.
Hence the digital broadcast receivers on sale today, some of them as cheap as $50, can also receive conventionally broadcast LW, MW, SW and FM content.
Crystal clear reception
Lindsay Cornell, Principal System Architect with BBC Research explained that DAB over longer distances with foot prints comparable to short wave could be achieved with an extension known as Digital Radio Mondiale. While DAB was currently restricted to the 30 megahertz band, the new DRM standard, would push this to 120 megahertz .
One of the beauties of DAB is that it allows some tweaking to the audio band so that data at 50 kilobits per second can also be simultaneously broadcast.
That is why in addition to its crystal clear reception quality, digital radio receivers are also able to provide text-based station identification, programme guides and weather information or news snippets.
Interestingly, some of the most exciting developments in digital broadcast are happening in India.
The Bangalore-based Epigon, has created circuit modules which will enable the country's only digital satellite radio provider, WorldSpace to launch a terrestrial operation as and when it is licensed to do so.
Epigon's CEO Radhakishan Rao, explained that the company had also perfected a mobile TV solution based on the DAB standard.
In fact, explains Glenn Vandevoorde of Future Waves, Taiwan, terrestrial digital TV broadcasts are already being received on mobile phones, in many Pacific Rim countries and they may well represent the future of broadcasting, where a single digital standard will rule across radio and TV.
"India must embrace a digital future," says WorldDAB's Asia advisor, Jeff Astle, "Asia is already a hot bed of digital broadcast technologies."
Nobody expects today's FM and other analogue radio technologies to vanish overnight.
Even optimists give it another decade; but with so many countries already declaring a cut-off date for analogue TV, it is inevitable that radio too will soon have to count the days for a digital deadline.
The time to start, for India, could be here — and now.

Friday, January 20, 2006




MOP FM


Saturday, January 14, 2006

SLBC TURNS 80 YEARS

MEDIA

For that old magic

V.S. SAMBANDAN
in Colombo

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, a shadow of its former self, is due for an overhaul.






SRIYANTHA WALPOLA

Recording in progress at SLBC, which turned 80 last December.

RADIO CEYLON, once the favourite of listeners across the Indian subcontinent, turned 80 on December 16, 2005. Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), as it is now called, is but a shadow of its former self.

A few days into 2006, an old Tamil film song wafts through the skies courtesy of SLBC's Tamil service. The friendly announcer interacts with the listener before playing yet another song. The magic of the golden oldies continues well into the night. The choice of songs is unique, but still something is amiss. Having plummeted from its once glorious status as king of the airwaves, it is now scrambling for attention alongside an increasing number of new private broadcasters and television channels. Severe competition from other forms of media, the inability to keep up with the changing pace of the times and the slow but consistent doses of political pressure have pushed it to its present corner.

During the past decades that are now slowly blurring from memory, Radio Ceylon was indeed the owner's pride and neighbour's envy. The combination of technology and human resource made it the most sought-after radio station in the region. Unlike the present-day lag between new technology in the West and its flow into the developing and less-developed world, radio broadcasting arrived in Sri Lanka barely three years after it captured Europe.

This technological advantage would have meant nothing if not for the glorious voices of the past - Jimmy Bharucha (English), S.P. Mayilvaganam and `Radio Mama' Saravanamuttu (Tamil), Sunil Dutt and Ameen Sayani (Hindi) - to name just a few. The outreach of Radio Ceylon, the mesmerising effect of its broadcasters and the tasteful selection of classy entertainment elevated its broadcasts from the mundane to the magical. Its impact was so telling that many present-day programmes can trace their origin to Radio Ceylon. The best tribute to Radio Ceylon is the recognition that many a successful programme owes its seeds to the pioneer broadcaster.

The story of Radio Ceylon - its rise and fall - is in its own way an integral part of the history of broadcasting in the Indian subcontinent. In 1925, according to broadcast historians, transmitters recovered from a German submarine served as the basis for the advent of SLBC. Engineers from the Central Telegraph Department in Colombo assembled together an apparatus from the captured submarine and started experimental broadcasts. Radio Colombo, as it was called then, was aired a mere three years after the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had commenced operations in Europe.

Radio Ceylon's big push came decades later and was linked directly to the Second World War. The decision to shift Radio SEAC (South-East Asia Command) to Ceylon was to set the stage for a handful of revolutions in broadcasting. These included a great leap in geographical coverage; practically the entire length and breadth of the South Asian region was served by one station.

In the quiet Colombo suburb of Ekala the atmosphere is more vintage than it is revolutionary. Classic Marconi transmitters and original BBC microphones stand as a grand testimony to the glory that the broadcasting corporation once was. In a nearby sprawling premises, new transmitters broadcast world programmes from international radio stations. It is re-transmission and relay deals with media giants such as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) and Deutsche Welle (DW) of Germany that give SLBC's revenues respectability.

Between the 1950s and the 1970s, no Indian listener's day was complete without tuning into Radio Ceylon. Aficionados recall the good old days with delight. "I grew up listening to Radio Ceylon. It was my introduction to Ceylon," an effusive Nirupama Rao, India's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, recalls. The envoy's view sums up what Radio Ceylon meant to generations of Indians. "Sri Lanka was fortunate that Radio SEAC (South-East Asia Command) was established to entertain and inform the troops," former Director-General Eric Fernando said. "Geographically Sri Lanka was the ideal location because the [transmission] reach could be all over the region shaping out like a gigantic V. At the end of the War, we inherited it."

It was with the powerful backing of Radio SEAC - a war-time radio servicing British troops - that Radio Ceylon was catapulted to glory. Without human input, however, technology means nothing. Radio Ceylon's climb to fame, veterans recall, was with the introduction of commercial broadcasts.

The basics of broadcasting involve the listener, who is also a consumer. Captive audiences brought traders opportunities to reach out to their clientele. Moreover, the other major broadcaster in the region, All India Radio (AIR), was yet to plunge into commercial broadcasts. For the Indian listener, Radio Ceylon was an escape from monotonous, though informative, AIR broadcasts. It was not only the Indian listener who gained from Radio Ceylon. The success of the Indian film industry owes considerably to the pioneering efforts of Radio Ceylon and its staff.

Director of Tamil Services T. Urutharapathy is proud of SLBC's past. "We set the ground rules for commercial broadcasting," he emphasises. Remembering the times of S.P. Mayilvaganam, he reveals an old secret. "Mayilvaganam used to leave by flight for Chennai at 8 a.m, collect new songs, lunch in Chennai, arrive in Colombo at 4 p.m. and air the new numbers on the 6 p.m. radio show," he said. So this is how Radio Ceylon kept its listeners enraptured before the days of instant communication.

NOW this is history. A walk along the corridors of the SLBC building in Colombo - once a mental hospital - takes one along the bylanes of broadcasting history. Old studios retain the charm and romance of an era fast fading from memory. Challenges from television, cassette-recorders and private radio stations have periodically sliced away chunks of its audience and revenue. The abolition of licences for radio sets in the late 1990s had also punctured its revenues. SLBC officials are emphatic that "radio is still popular", and point to the increasing "car-radio segment". The way out, Fernando said, was for SLBC to re-position itself to its rightful place as the premier public service broadcaster, coupled with innovative programmes to regain a young audience.



SRIYANTHA WALPOLA


Massive investment is now on the cards. Chairman Sunil Sarath Perera wants to digitise the collection of "over one lakh Sinhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi songs" and share them with the National Archives. Fernando is emphatic that "no radio station anywhere in the world can pride itself of such a collection of original material, including 78-rpm records of the 1920s and the 1930s". These should be digitally re-formatted and form the basis for an array of attractive programmes, he said. Plans are also under way to offer more programmes on the Internet. At present the Sinhala and Tamil national services and City FM are available at www.slbc.lk.

SLBC is also planning to inject improved English content into its programmes. It has collaborated with the BBC to share its programmes for six hours every day. Now a new English channel is being planned. "A national radio must have a national English channel," Perera emphasised.

However, for SLBC to regain its lost slot as the premier broadcaster, the most critical element is fresh thinking, coupled with leveraging its inherent strengths of the past.

THE problems surrounding SLBC's Tamil programmes, which had a huge audience in Tamil Nadu, can be traced to a mix of technological and human factors. Urutharapathy is confident that services in India can be resumed with an investment of about (Sri Lankan) Rs.4 million to upgrade a medium wave transmitter at Iratperiyakulam in the northern Vavuniya district.

Yet in this case again, technology is not all. In the 1950s and the 1960s the question of discrimination on the basis of language was not present in Sri Lanka. Unease, originating in the mid-1960s, came to a head in the late 1970s after the change in the name of Ceylon to Sri Lanka, the new Constitution, the change in government, and the changed Tamil politics.

Sri Lankan Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby, also an artist attached to Radio Ceylon in the past, identifies a range of factors that have resulted in the steep decline in Tamil services. These include the political changes in the Sri Lankan state, the diminishing fresh flow of talent into SLBC and the predominance of film-based programming. "The dividing line would be the fear that Tamil service could be used to promote Tamil political views," Sivathamby told Frontline. Since the 1970s, he points out, SLBC started losing its hold on the Tamil people because of the news it was giving. This incursion into news dissemination has dimmed the organisation's credibility, he said. Eroding credibility of news dissemination, Sivathamby points out, is not just a problem in Tamil services or the radio, but it cuts across the media. "The Sinhala and Tamil people are not being told the truth, by all forms of media. This is very true of radio as well," he said. Urutharapathy, however, is emphatic that SLBC maintains balanced newscasts.

Another major drawback in SLBC's current Tamil service, according to Sivathamby, is the "virtual absence of educational programmes". Pointing out that Sinhala educational broadcasts continue and have been of immense help to teachers and school leavers, he urged that Tamil educational broadcasts be re-introduced. "It [broadcasting] is very uneven, and very unfair on Tamil medium students."

The Tamil services of SLBC continue to have a major advantage - its collection of originals. Sivathamby is proud of the radio station's collection: "The music division's collection is even better than that in Chennai." A collection of the best recordings of Thyagaraja Baghavathar is one. "The best humorous skit" by N.S. Krishnan, which was recorded for Radio Ceylon, is another. "We have the recordings of almost all famous men," he said.

However, with little time for quality, programme content has slid. Recalling the excellent coverage in the past of literary and cultural programmes, Sivathamby said: "Now it has slipped, slipped very badly, making it virtually irrelevant to the people" and the "evening content is very poor".



SRIYANTHA WALPOLA

S. Saravanamuttu, popularly known as `Radio Mama', who created a generation of radio lovers through his children's programmes.

There is, though, another, larger, issue in respect of Tamil programming - a factor that is common with Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil programming. Unlike English or Sinhala services, Sivathamby points out, Tamil popular culture is entirely dependent on film-based programming. "In English and Sinhala programmes, popular does not mean film-based," he said. For instance, the rise of The Beatles and the plethora of Western music bands catering to popular culture. "Tamil popular culture means film... we cannot have a balance as film is the core of Tamil popular culture." Film songs, he emphasises, are "situation, character and story-based". Sadly, he says, the rise of cinema has been at the cost of other popular forms of culture and to be accepted or noted, these unique cultures would have to piggyback on films. "This is ruining our popular culture," he laments.

This he says, is not so in the case of Sinhala programmes, which are "enjoyable and you can listen to them with your sister, daughter-in-law and granddaughter".

Sivathamby is of the view that despite commercialisation, a free fall could be avoided by exercising some restraint and introducing light music. In AIR's commercial services, Akash Vani for example, "there is a certain amount of restraint." Similarly in India, "earlier there was M.B. Srinivasan", but of late "we have not made any sincere attempt at serious light music," he said.

Pointing out that FM broadcasts, by their very nature, are "not suitable for serious broadcasts," Sivathamby says that there is scope for a healthy revival of SLBC. The question really is whether it will be possible to improve cultural and literary programmes without being trapped into politics. "It is very difficult, but doable." It is, at the end of the day, a question of politics. "The politics of the country has gone very deep. It may not be possible to redeem it unless there is a very deep sense of nationhood with consciousness and respect for the other culture," he says.

The task, however, is yet to be attempted. Above all, Sivathamby says: "The Sri Lankan government has a duty towards the Tamil people in terms of Tamil broadcasts."

Saturday, January 07, 2006

SLBC 80 YEAR

NOSTALGIA
When Ceylon ruled the airwaves
V.S. SAMBANDAN
Once the pride of the region, Radio Ceylon is today a fading memory. Can the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation regain its lost glory?
Magnetic voice: A file picture of Jimmy Bharucha broadcasting.
IT is Christmas time and Jim Reeves is on air, taking Sri Lanka back to its days of romance and charm. "You are listening to Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and we've got more Christmas music going out for you. Hope you are tuned in to us," trills the friendly announcer. Another glorious old number "When A Child Is Born" floats across the skies. Requests pour in from all over the country and the programme continues to enthral those tuned in.
When Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (as Radio Ceylon is now called) celebrated its 80th birthday on December 16, it was, sadly, a pale shadow of its past. Once the pride of the region's airwaves, it is today relegated to fading memories and confined to chapters of an era of broadcasting élan.
High quality
For Indian radio enthusiasts of decades gone by, it was Radio Ceylon that set the standards. Those were days before commercial broadcasts commenced in India and taking a break from the monotonous, though informative, broadcasts of All India Radio (AIR) meant twirling those vintage radios to trap Radio Ceylon's programmes. Once tuned in, the listener was treated not just to music of the highest quality. The magnetic voices of broadcasters, Jimmy Barucha (English), Ameen Sayani (Hindi) and Mayilvaganam (Tamil), to mention just three, ensnared the listeners, taking Radio Ceylon to the top slot in the region's radio network.
The history of broadcasting, published in Wikipedia, notes that gramophone music was broadcast from a tiny room in Colombo's Central Telegraph Office with the aid of a transmitted built by Telegraph Department engineers from the radio equipment from a captured German submarine.
The beginnings
This metamorphosed into South Asia's first radio broadcasting station, which was inaugurated on December 16, 1925. The real catalyst was to come later, with the shifting of Radio SEAC (South East Asia Command) to Ceylon in 1949. Radio SEAC, was established during World War II for the British servicemen. Radio Ceylon, as it was called from 1949 became a public broadcasting corporation in 1967. Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation became Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in 1972 when the island-nation changed its name.
"Sri Lanka was fortunate that Radio SEAC was established to entertain and inform the troops," recalls Eric Fernando, former Director General, SLBC. "Geographically Sri Lanka was the ideal location because the (transmission) reach could be all over the region, and at the end of the War, we inherited it."
Radio Ceylon, through its music programmes, carved a niche for itself among the region's broadcasters. Its base of Indian listeners was huge between the 1950s and the 1970s. "We were popular in India because we had a steady supply of English music," Fernando, who started his career as a broadcaster at SLBC in the mid 1970s said.
For Indians of the radio generation, Radio Ceylon was the first introduction to paradise-island and to the world of music. "I first heard The Beatles over Radio Ceylon. We grew up listening to songs over Radio Ceylon. It was part of my growing up," remembers Nirupama Rao, the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.
In addition to its well-structured English music programmes, Sayani's "Binaca Geetmala", revolutionised radio presentation. Having elevated broadcasting to a fine art in the region, Sayani remains etched in the minds of many. Mayilvaganam's silken voice, with his singsong Jaffna Tamil diction, captivated the ears of Indian listeners. Between them Barucha, Sayani and Mayilvaganam opened up the listeners' sensitivities to the finer elements that transcended mundane facts.
However, there has been a dip in the number of Indian listeners over the years. With Vividh Bharathi — AIR's commercial services section — Radio Ceylon's hold was diluted. The cassette revolution, which made music more affordable, the advent of TV, private radio stations and FM broadcasts were other developments. Slowly, but certainly, Radio Ceylon was pushed to the pages of history.
Along the corridors of the SLBC's headquarters, this history remains frozen. Elegant old studios retain their stately charm, complete with original BBC microphones. Groups of musicians and radio-drama artistes continue to use the studios to churn out programmes. However, somewhere, something is missing.
Simply put, SLBC lagged behind the times.
SLBC should leverage its past and harness itself to the current developments in radio broadcasting. SLBC's most unique attribute is its archives — home to more than 1,00,000 original records, comprising Sinhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi music. Sunil Shantha Perera, the new Chairman of SLBC plans to digitise the collection and share them with the National Archives. In addition, the originals with the National Archives are to be shared with SLBC. This digitally reformatted music, Fernando points out, could form the basis for a unique programme that will capture the past and lure audiences back.
Future plans
Plans are also on to offer more programmes on the Internet. Presently the Sinhala and Tamil National services and City FM are available on the Internet (www.slbc.lk) . An improved English content is also on the cards. The SLBC has collaborated with the BBC to share its programmes for six hours every day. Now a new English channel is being planned. "A national radio must have a national English channel," emphasises Perera.
The abolition of licenses for radio sets in the late 1990s had also punctured its revenues. However, deals with the internationally reputed radio stations such as NHK of Japan and DW of Germany have helped bolster its finances.
SLBC officials are emphatic that "radio is still popular", and point to the increasing "car-radio segment". However, for SLBC to regain its lost slot as the premier broadcaster, the most critical element is fresh thinking, coupled with leveraging its inherent strengths of the past. For, its success will depend on increasing the number of listeners who willingly tune in to that catchy line: "you are listening to Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation".
Also see: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_broadcasting#Sri_Lanka)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

SLBC TURNS 80 YEARS


COLOMBO: Long before bullets and suicide bombers gave Sri Lanka dismal global headlines, even as its tourism scene and airline brought it a special aura, Radio Ceylon pioneered a revolution in broadcasting. Emerging as a trans-national broadcaster and introducing chatty engagement with listeners, it conquered South Asia's airwaves.
For aficionados from the `radio generation' spanning the 1950s and 1970s, no day was complete without tuning in to Radio Ceylon, now called the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).
As it turned 80 on December 16, the SLBC had long lost its position as the ruler of the region's airwaves. It now competes with a scattering of private broadcasters and has paid the price for not keeping up with the times.
SLBC's precursor, Colombo Radio, started off a few years after broadcasting made its debut in Europe. Radio Ceylon, as it was called between 1949 and 1972, was catalysed by the shifting of the Radio SEAC (South East Asia Command) to the island in 1949.
"We were the radio generation. Radio Ceylon was our introduction to Ceylon," recalls Nirupama Rao, the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. The SLBC's continued popularity in India was in full force a few months ago. When its Hindi service was discontinued, the Indian High Commission in Colombo was inundated with letters from India, and the programme was subsequently restored.
Enthusiasts remember Tamil broadcaster Mayilvaganam for infusing life into the airwaves. A walk along the corridors of the SLBC building in Colombo — once a mental hospital — takes one along the bylanes of broadcasting history. Old studios retain the charm and romance of an era fast fading from memory.
Massive investment is now on the cards. Sunil Sarath Perera, Chairman, SLBC, wants to digitise the collection of "over one lakh Sinhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi songs" and share them with the National Archives.
Eric Fernando, who started his SLBC career as a broadcaster in the mid-1970s and was its Director-General between 1998 and 2001, is emphatic that "no radio station anywhere in the world can pride itself of such a collection of original material, including 78-rpm records of the 1920s and 1930s." These should be re-formatted digitally and form the basis for a range of attractive programmes, he said.
Foray into commercial broadcasts earned Radio Ceylon a name for itself. But challenges from television, cassette-recorders and private radio stations, sliced away chunks of its audience and revenue.

SLBC TURNS 80 YEARS

COLOMBO: Long before bullets and suicide bombers gave Sri Lanka dismal global headlines, even as its tourism scene and airline brought it a special aura, Radio Ceylon pioneered a revolution in broadcasting. Emerging as a trans-national broadcaster and introducing chatty engagement with listeners, it conquered South Asia's airwaves.
For aficionados from the `radio generation' spanning the 1950s and 1970s, no day was complete without tuning in to Radio Ceylon, now called the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).
As it turned 80 on December 16, the SLBC had long lost its position as the ruler of the region's airwaves. It now competes with a scattering of private broadcasters and has paid the price for not keeping up with the times.
SLBC's precursor, Colombo Radio, started off a few years after broadcasting made its debut in Europe. Radio Ceylon, as it was called between 1949 and 1972, was catalysed by the shifting of the Radio SEAC (South East Asia Command) to the island in 1949.
"We were the radio generation. Radio Ceylon was our introduction to Ceylon," recalls Nirupama Rao, the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. The SLBC's continued popularity in India was in full force a few months ago. When its Hindi service was discontinued, the Indian High Commission in Colombo was inundated with letters from India, and the programme was subsequently restored.
Enthusiasts remember Tamil broadcaster Mayilvaganam for infusing life into the airwaves. A walk along the corridors of the SLBC building in Colombo — once a mental hospital — takes one along the bylanes of broadcasting history. Old studios retain the charm and romance of an era fast fading from memory.
Massive investment is now on the cards. Sunil Sarath Perera, Chairman, SLBC, wants to digitise the collection of "over one lakh Sinhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi songs" and share them with the National Archives.
Eric Fernando, who started his SLBC career as a broadcaster in the mid-1970s and was its Director-General between 1998 and 2001, is emphatic that "no radio station anywhere in the world can pride itself of such a collection of original material, including 78-rpm records of the 1920s and 1930s." These should be re-formatted digitally and form the basis for a range of attractive programmes, he said.
Foray into commercial broadcasts earned Radio Ceylon a name for itself. But challenges from television, cassette-recorders and private radio stations, sliced away chunks of its audience and revenue.

Friday, December 09, 2005

POORNAM VISWANATHAN




MEMORIES
'
When Nehru himself cried while speaking, what about an ordinary news reader like me?'
Poornam Viswanathan cleared his throat, controlled his emotions and announced India's freedom to the outside world in a radio broadcast. At five thirty on the morning of August 15, 1947, young Viswanathan became the first Indian to make that external broadcast from All India Radio to East Asia.

That moment has stood still in his memory since. Fifty years after that historic event, 76-year-old Viswanathan spoke about those memories and the turbulence of pre-Independent days with Shobha Warrier.

When did you know that you were to broadcast the news of India's independence?
I was a news reader for All India Radio from 1945 onwards. You can call it a strange coincidence, rather a divine coincidence. When the duty list was announced, my name was scheduled for the night of August 14. The broadcast began at 5.30 in the morning for the East Asian listeners and I was to read the first bulletin. It was my great fortune, I must say. How did I feel then? I felt elated
.
Was there a lump in your throat then?
As a news reader I am not supposed to feel any any lump at all. I controlled my feelings till I finished the news bulletin. Later I cried with joy.
Really?

Yes, I cried for two reasons. One, India was free; secondly, I was selected to read the news bulletin announcing India's independence.
Do you remember the first line?

"India is a free country," was the first sentence. This was followed by repeating Nehru's Tryst with destiny speech.
Did you read Nehru's speech in English or in Tamil?
In Tamil.

What it difficult to translate Nehru's words?

No, no, not at all. For one thing, Nehru spoke in simple words. Gandhiji spoke in yet more simpler words. We had been translating Gandhiji's prayer speeches regularly. I translated Nehru's speech with great joy and read it with even greater joy.
We have heard that Nehru had tears in his eyes when he made the speech. Those who assembled there also wept. Did you feel the same way when you read the speech in Tamil?
It is true that all those assembled wept with joy. When Nehru himself cried while speaking, what about an ordinary news reader like me? But if I cried while I reading the news, the lines would have smeared. So, I controlled my emotions. I still cherish the moment, a moment that I will never experience again.
Did the bulletin begin with "India is a free country," or the regular, "This is All India Radio..?
Though it was such an important occasion and formal announcements were not required, the listeners needed to know where the broadcast was coming from. So, the "All India Radio" announcement was necessary.

Was that also in Hindi or Tamil?

In 1947, we only said, "All India Radio." Akashwani came only later. So I read, "All India Radio, seythikal vasippathu Poornam Viswanathan...
Where were you at midnight?
We were at home listening to Nehruji's speech over the radio. I knew I had to leave home at three in the morning for the five thirty bulletin. Normally, we used to go to Birla House, collect Gandhiji's previous day's speech at the prayer meeting and proceed to the radio station. There it would be translated into various Indian languages and read. But on the day of Independence, Gandhiji was not present in Delhi. He was in Naokhali. So, we went straight to the All India Radio station.
I stayed in Lodhi colony then. During the day, I used to go to the Broadcasting house via Birla Road. I could have chosen some other route but I went that way just for the pleasure seeing Gandhiji. Even during winter Gandhiji used to lie on a cot on the lawns of the Birla House. Whenever I passed the area, I could see him.

Did you ever go near him?

Yes, I did. I attended at least ten prayer meetings of Gandhiji.
What was the experience of those prayer meetings?
Gandhiji talked on very important subjects. He referred to many national issues, the duties and obligations of all Indian citizens, how we should behave, etc. One speech would not resemble any other. We could sense his sincerity in all the speeches.

You were very young then. How much did Gandhiji and his speeches influence your development?

When I first saw Gandhiji, I was pleasantly surprised to see that his skin was like the skin of a child. Soft and beautiful. There were no wrinkles on his skin or hands even though he was very old.

Did you ever touch his hands?

Oh, no. I only touched his feet. In those days, almost every educated young man wanted to join the freedom movement. If I had gone my way, I would have become freedom fighter. Since I was a student, my elders did not let me join the movement. But my mind was always there.
When I look back, the only regret I have is that I did not join the movement in a big way. All of us had only one thought in our mind, our country and its freedom. The kind of devotion we had for our country could not be explained.