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Radio Days

, Listening to music in the 50's & 60's

> Radio Days, Listening to music in the 50's & 60's
post May 5 2004, 05:57 PM
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Today there are numerous private radio stations including FM broadcast. Listeners have the freedom to choose to listen to whichever they prefer.

But till perhaps a decade ago, we had in India only All India Radio/Aakashvani. Moreover, in the early days of their broadcasting, film songs were not played over their waves, only classical and folk, and light songs recorded in their studios.

Prior to Independence, the first Prime Minister had written about his dislike for the sound of the harmonium, and jokingly wrote that his first act upon attaining Independence would be to ban the harmonium from All India Radio. Well, he didn't do that, but something quite similar happened. The appointed chief of AIR was an expert on Indian classical music, and he considered it "in poor taste" to broadcast film songs. Perhaps it was not till the early sixties that they finally relented, starting with an hour's worth of film songs "Fauji bhaiyyon ke liye" in the evening, then adding an hour between 2 and 3 in the afternoon (when we were away at school!).

So, how did we listen to popular music? Radio Ceylon, of course. Their Hindi programs with commercials were taped in Bombay and broadcast from Colombo.

The Hindi program commenced at 7 A.M.with 15 minutes of instrumental tunes from Hindi films. That's where we first heard the names of Van Shipley and Enoch Daniels. Followed by 15 minutes of "Ek hi film ke geet". That's where we heard for the first time songs that are now considered classics (Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Suraj, Guide). From 7.30 to 8 was "Puraani filmon ke geet", during which time we kids went away for breakfast! In a tribute to him, every day the last song on that program would feature K. L. Saigal. We would return eagerly for the highlight at 8 --- 45 minutes of "Aap hi ke geet" --- songs played in response to listeners' requests. Of course, a lot of broadcast time was wasted in the reading of names of "requested by", but their numbers was an indication of the popularity of the song. Then, as we went off to school, the very considerate Radio Ceylon would feature less-heard programs between from 8:45 and 9.30, such as "Ek aur anek" (one singer in duet/group song with other singers).

Their evening Hindi programs would start at 7 and continue till 10 (maybe 11, but by then we were fast asleep). The weekly highlight was Wednesday at 8'o'clock when virtually a whole nation of listeners would tune in to "Binaca Geet Mala", to listen to the most popular songs and to find out which song topped the chart (the announcement was heralded with the sound of trumpets/bugles!).

And next day, in school, we would discuss/argue about the merits of the songs.

I remember two songs that I once heard broadcast three times during the same day (Radio Ceylon in the morning and evening, Aakashvani in the afternoon ) --- a sure indication of their popularity:

Lata-ji's "Pankh hotey tho ood aati re" and the Rafi/Lata duet "Jo waada kiya).

If you stop trying to make sense of it all, you'll be less confused. Reality is an illusion.
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post Sep 26 2005, 11:22 PM
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This one from my collections


By Nalin Shah

To the new breed of listeners, Radio Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) might mean just another broadcasting station. But to the millions of listeners, over the years, it has been a symbol of youthful romance, a habit - and a way of life.

The evidence of the popularity of Radio Ceylon can be found in an incident which was a popular joke in the'50s. A certain villager went to a city to buy a radio set, so the story goes, and the dealer inquired whether he wanted Murphy or Philips. The simpleton innocently replied that he was interested in buying only 'Radio Ceylon'.

This incident is a testimony to the immense popularity of the foreign broadcasting station amongst Indian listeners who considered themselves linked through Radio Ceylon, to a big happy family. There are a countless number who love to recount the musical journey of Radio Ceylon with a sense of nostalgia.


The commercial service of Radio Ceylon came into being soon after Ceylon gained independence, inheriting from the British some fairly powerful transmitters. Two of the main short-wave transmitters were alloted to Radio Ceylon's two major 'All Asia' beams - the English Service and the Hindi Service (which also presented each afternoon, popular broadcasts in Tamil and other South Indian languages.) quality of the station's programming; it also swell the number of listeners and along with it, the advertising revenue, too.

Two experienced commercial radio executives were invited from Australia to run the English service efficiently, but the Hindi section - with which this article is mainly concerned - was initially lukewarm, managed by inexperienced announcers in programming and presentation. Then, gradually, began the inflow of Indian-made sponsored programmes that revolutionised Hindi commercial radio with snappy presentation, listeners' participation and popular appeal. Programmes like 'Ovaltine Phoolwari', 'Lux ke Sitaray', 'Poison's Chanchal Balak', ' Sanforized ke Mehman', 'Colgate Rang Tarang' and 'Binaca Geet Mala' (the only significant sponsored show still running) gained phenomenal success. But Radio Ceylon's own station programming in Hindi continued to remain weak until 1954.

In mid-1954, a slim, short, intense young man called Vijay Kishore Dubey was invited from India to reorganise Radio Ceylon's station-generated Hindi programming and disc scheduling - and his magic touch soon began to show results. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Radio Ceylon, under the paternal care of Dubey, regulated the lives of the listeners whose clan grew with each passing day. The broadcast started at 7 in the morning with orchestra music. At 7.15, it featured songs from a single film. At 7.30, for half an hour, millions of listeners sat glued to their radio sets listening to old film songs to relive the cherished memories of the bygone days. Dubey rendered an invaluable service to Hindi film music by introducing a Saigal song as a and mandatory requirement to end the old hit programme with. The listeners 'request Programme at 8 am catered to the current tastes. It was followed by songs of an individual singer and a programme of ghazal or geet. The morning transmission ended on a sober note with the relay of light classical music. Except on Sundays, sponsored programmes were not allowed to interrupt the smooth flow of the morning sessions.

Dubey introduced signature tunes for various programmes. For instance he played Dastan's 'Snake Charmer' dance music to introduce the listeners' request programme. Dubey, as an announcer, was also responsible for the imaginative format of a programme titled 'Yeh bhi suniye'. The programme featured the lesser known numbers on the other side of hit songs on the 78 rpm records.

The popularity of the streamlined programmes helped housewives to plan their morning chores. The broadcast almost replaced the locks. It was a common sight to find mothers shouting at their school-going children asking them to rush because Saigal was on the air which meant it was time to leave for school!
Dubey's professionalism not only improved the quality of the station's programming; it also swell the number of listeners and along with it, the advertising revenue, too.


Ironically, the Government of India, too, was instrumental in popularising the programmes of Radio Ceylon. Dr B.V Keskar, who was India's Minister for Information and Broadcasting was often jokingly referred to as the "Father of Radio Ceylon". Keskar, in his misplaced enthusiasm for popularising classical music, totally banned film music from the stations of All India Radio. He found film music hybrid and corrupting and banished it from the hallowed precincts of AIR.

Keskar did not realise that film music, mainly based on classical and folk music, was an integral part of Indian life. Its impactful appeal, backed by socially relevant films, was the reason for its immense popularity and radio remained the cheapest and easily accessible source of entertainment for the teeming millions in this country. Radio Ceylon, apart from making the most of Keskar's fanaticism, very wisely gave a free hand to its announcers in devising various imaginative programmes, at the same time allowing their personality and fame to grow in the hearts of listeners.. This genuine popularity partly made up for low salaries.

Announcers from India like V K Dubey, Gopal Sharma, Vimal Kashyap, Shiv Kumar 'Saroj', Manohar Mahajan, Chetan Kheda, Kumar Kant, Dharam Dhillon, Dalvir Singh Parmar and the rest were under no illusion about their financial prospects. The salaries they r~ceived (equivalent to Indian Rs 400 per month in the mid'50s and Rs 8OO plus overtime 15 years later) was a poor con┬žeation for having travelled so far. Their satisfaction lay in being known by their names and recognised by their voices by millions of listeners around the world and welcomed with excitement and warmth wherever they went.

Radio Ceylon will always be gratefully remembered for having kept the Indian film music culture alive while AIR made every conceivable effort to kill it. And the major share of the credit for making imaginative use of film music goes to the various announcers of Radio Ceylon who not only felt the listener's pulse 'but also cultivated their taste by introducing variety into heir programmes.

When his two-year stint was about to end in 1956, V K Dubey selected and trained Gopal Sharma as an announcer so that his successful efforts to revamp the Hindi service of.Radio Ceylon would not be wasted.. He cautioned Sharma about the importance of every spoken word that was heard by millions of avid listeners. It was their judgement which was going to establish his reputation - good or bad.

With Dubey's caution still ringing in his ears, Sharma felt nervous. He saw the vision of millions of listeners in front of their radio sets getting ready to pounce on him. As a result he blundered in his maiden announcement. While playing Mukesh's song from the film 'Andaz' the perspiring Sharma announced that listeners would shortly hear a song sung by Andaz 'from the film 'Mukesh'

The first moment of nervousness passed, but his slip of the tongue did not go unnoticed by Dubey or the listeners. Hundreds of letters poured involvement of listeners in the programmes of Radio Ceylon.
Sharma, then just 25, continued as an their mind, while in 'Vakya Geetanjali' a sentence was given and the listeners were asked to suggest songs starting with each word in the sentence. To seek help while attempting to complete the listener in Gaya even announced for 11 long -years and as time passed, he started receiving more bouquets than brickbats.

'Kai aur Aaj 'was one of Gopal Sharma's early programmes to catch the listeners' fancy. He tried the novel idea of presenting two songs (old and new) of each playback singer wherein listeners were asked to trace the change, if any, in the voice of the singer over the years. Following Dubey's footsteps he used a signature tune for the programme. For 'Kal' (past) he used R C Boral's orchestral piece from the film 'Dhoop Chhaon' (1935) and Shanker-Jaikishan's musical piece from'Patrani'(1 957) for 'Aaj' (present).
The success of 'Kai aur Aaj' encouraged Sharma to -devise many new formats such as'Sargam' (based on classical music),'Gramya Sangeet' (based on folk music), 'Ek aur Anek' (individual singer's duets with various other singers). In 'Shirshak (title) Sangeet' songs beginning with a particular word were played. For instance:
'Raat ne kya kya khwab dikhaye'
'Raat gal aur din aata hai'
'Raat andheri door savera'

In'Pasand Apni Apni' listeners suggested the songs 'and related what prompted their choice of the same.

The universal acclamation of various programmes and their continuation for more than 25 years prove the efficacy of the imaginative formats devised by the announcers at Radio Ceylon.

Kumar Kant, who joined Sharma as an announcer at the end of 1956, started a programme of evergreen vintage melodies based on the listeners' choice. The programme was scheduled at 10.30 pm on Sundays. It was aptly called 'Hamesha Jawan Geeton Ka programme 'with an equally apt signature tune - a stanza from Lata's' Afsana' song'...Abhi to main jawan hoon'.


The authorities at Radio Ceylon also encouraged announcers like Gopal Sharma when they started the tradition of celebrating Indian festivals like Holi, Diwali and Independence Day by playing suitable songs on the occasion. It also greatfully remembered the great singers and composers by playing musical tributes to them on their death anniversaries.

Shiv Kumar 'Saroj' (also a poet) who joined the station in 1959 started the practice of celebrating the birthdays of its listeners (who cared to communicate the same) by announcing their names once a fortnight and playing the song' Tum jiyo hazaron saal'.

It was not a mere accident that Radio Ceylon commanded the listenership of more than 60 million. A sizeable number of these listeners felt bound by a common family bond which was created by their common interest in the programmes of Radio Ceylon. Shiv Kumar 'Saroj' expanded the family by devising imaginative programme formats entitled' Jab Aap Ga Uthe' and 'Vakya Geetanjali' which encouraged listeners to actively participate. In Jab Aap Ga Uthe', listeners recounted the incidents in their lives which suddenly brought a particular song to their mind, while in 'Vakya Geetanjali'
a sentence was given and the listeners were asked to suggest songs starting with each word in the sentence.

But 'Saroj' cleverly introduced one difficult word in the sentence which made the whole exercise a very exciting one. Listeners Clubs were formed in various parts of the country and members communicated with each other to seek help while attempting to complete the sentence. One listener in Gaya even prepared a dictionary on the first line of songs beginning with a particular word in alphabetical order. It is this programme that prompted Har Mandir Singh 'Ham-raj' of Kanpur to undertake the marathon work of 'Hindi Film Geet Kosh', in 4 volumes, comprising the first line of every song recorded during the four decades commencing from the start of the talkie. It took him more than 1 - 5 years to complete the task. The diehard Radio Ceylon habit eventually earned him a celebrity status and the gratitude of millions of music lovers.

Shiv Kumar 'Saroj' roped in children, too, by encouraging them to exhibit their musical talent in a programme called 'Bal Sakha'. He based his popular 'Anokhe Bol' programme on songs which began with meaningless words such as
'Ramaiya vasta vaiya'
'Bagad bum bum bum'
'Dadir dara re dara'
'Eenna meena dikka'and
'Lara loo Lara loo'

After nine years of service Shiv Kumar 'Saroj' returned to India in 1968, a year before Manohar Mahajan, then a young man of 22, entered the hallowed precincts of Radio Ceylon.

Mahajan, smart and suave, had a deep bass voice which is an asset to any broadcaster. He stayed with the Station for seven years and carved a niche for himself in Radio Ceylon's hall of fame. He rendered yeoman service to film music by introducing 'Bhoole Bisre Geet' (forgotten songs). He dug out antiquated, dusty records that contained songs which were hardly played and were truly forgotten and about which no worthwhile information was found on the label. He played the records and requested the listeners to provide the relevant information if they knew. The response was overwhelming. Music history was being corrected, and dead memories were being revived. Repeated listeners' requests for some of these rare numbers made those songs eligible to be included in 'Hamesha Jawan (ever green) Geeton Ka Programme.

Mahajan gave a twist to the popular 'Kal aur Aaj' programme and presented the songs of 'Kal' (yesteryears) and their plagiarised 'Aaj' over the years. In spite of the popular response the programme had to be scrapped because of vehement protests from some music directors who were embarrassed by the revelation.
Radio Ceylon and Mahajan have the distinction of having relayed for seven days the only Hindi broadcast (even AIR did not think of it) of the first landing on the moon by man. The simultaneous translation in Hindi of the English commentary from the USA prompted the BBC and the Voice of America to shower praises on Manohar Mahajan. He earned immense popularity amongst listeners despite the fact that when he joined, the decline of Radio Ceylon ad already started for reasons entirely independent of the quality of its broadcast.
While most of the announcers of Radio Ceylon's Hindi Service were recruited from India, two most significant ones were locally recruited: Jamal Din and Vijaylakshmi Dasaram.
Jamal Din, a Sinhalese, had been attracted in his youth by his ancestral roots in Lucknow where he spent many years studing classical music, Urdu, Hindi and polishing up his Sanskrit. His gentle and dignified style of announcing and disc selection, his knowledge of music and multi-lingual abilities made a deep impression on listeners as well as on the authorities. Jamal Din is today, the director of Commercial Services of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.


Vijaylakshmi Desaram, a Lucknow girl married to a Sinhalese had probably the longest stint as announcer - 16 years. She seemed to work with great dedication, and endeared herself to listeners with her honey-soaked voice. I have personal knowledge of her love for rare songs: a few years back when she visited my house she talked in despair about the loss of a particular number from the film 'Daasi' (1944) due to a disc inadvertently broken by a library assistant. When I presented her my copy of that record she was overjoyed for having enriched her Radio Station by one more record. With Vijaylaxmi's fanatic sense of belonging, it was not surprising that Radio Ceylon became an object of envy for many other broadcasting stations elsewhere.

With all their competence and dedication the announcers at times could not hide their likes and dislikes for a particular singer or a music director. Sometimes listeners, too, displayed their prejudices and accused the announcers of partiality.

Gopal Sharma, for instance, was accused of partiality towards Shanker-Jaikishan; and more often than not Shiv Kumar 'Saroj' showed his preference for Naushad-without being obviously partial. Understandably, their personal choice also had the backing of a popular demand and the authorities had to concede their rights of preference.

Though the station officials maintained a strict vigil over the functioning of the announcers it is very likely that, at times, some malpractices in the matter of obliging a producer or a music director might have been committed. It is also equally possible that some of those film people who could not influence an announcer also engineered complaints against him for the sake of personal revenge. Often listeners alleged a bias merely because his own requests were not complied with.

The fact was that every complaint was looked into and 'farmaish' by a number of listeners was ignored if it was felt that the names were manipulated, and sometimes a 'request' by a single individual was favourably considered if it was felt that he was an ardent listener.
No amount of criticism could diminish the popularity of Radio Ceylon. It not only catered to the public taste but also cultivated the same - it offered not only what people liked but also what they should have liked.Year after year the time-tested scheduled programmes continued with clock-like precision. Depending on the nature of the programmes, listeners continued to adjust their moods and plan their engagements, except once.

Yes, it happened - only once in 1965 -when an announcer 'failed' them. The sequence of events is still fresh in the mind of Gopal Sharma, even after 22 years, and he still recounts it with a shudder.

Shiv Kumar'Saroj'had gone to India and in the absence of any replacement the burden of broadcasting rested on Sharma. Strict discipline being the mandatory requirements at the Station, Sharma accepted the added responsibility without a murmur of protest. But the seven hours of broadcasting (morning and evening sessions) and the programme preparations, research and correspondence during the intervening period left Sharma hardly any time to relax. His repeated appeal to the authorities for a replacement was ignored. The ordeal lasted for a few weeks during which period, even at a cost of his mental and physical health, Sharma continued to man the post alone.

A day came when Sharma wit h 104 degrees temperature greeted the listeners at seven in the morning with his customary 'Shubh Prabhat' (Good Morning). But the music and the morning did nothing to soothe his tired nerves. At the stroke of 8.30 his spirit broke down. He gave vent to his pent-up feelings. He blurted out his grievances against the authorities on the air and expressed his ability to continue the programme. He closed the transmission and collapsed on the studio floor. After only an hour and a half of broadcast in the morning, the transmission had been switched off.

Sharma had gone home and to bed. The listeners were aghast and the authorities scandalised. Even the death of a President or a Prime Minister did not cause the transmission to be closed down before the scheduled time. But Gopal Sharma did it, because he was sick in body and sick at heart and, subsequently, remained on medical leave for three months.

Judged by any standards the closing of transmission was an unpardonable offence. But Sharma had done it under an unbearable mental strain. The Radio Ceylon Employees' Union wrote a strongly worded letter to the management holding it responsible for the unpleasant incident. Since what Sharma had said on the air was not recorded the management wisely ignored the incident. Sharma continued for two more years before returning 'home' for good.

Minister B V Keskar's Himalayan blunder had raised Radio Ceylon to the pinnacle of glory. Not many cared to hear the AIR's funeral broadcast by choice. Vain ego, empty idealism and misplaced enthusiasm on the part of the authorities had alienated music lovers. The birth of Vividh Bharathi, on October 2,1 ' 957 was the result of the realisation by the government of its folly and the subsequent commercialisaion was an admission of it.


The Vividh Bharti programmes were relayed from various stations on the medium wave and had excellent reception even on small transistor radios which were gradually flooding the market.

Initially, Vividh Bharti was managed by competent people like Narendra Sharma, Keshav Pande and Satyendra Sharat; yet, it could not totally wean the large number of listeners away from Radio Ceylon until after the commencement of its commercial services in 1967 and the increase in the duration of the broadcast.

Radio Ceylon, on the otherhand, lacked in technical facilities. The British-owned transmitter had outlived its usefulness. The relay from the more powerful transmitters situated elsewhere interferred and marred its short-wave broadcast. The Government of India also imposed curbs on the availability of foreign exchange to advertisers.

The easy availability of the small and economical medium wave radios compelled Indian listeners to tune into Vividh Bharati stations for whatever entertainment they could hope to get. Ironically, Vividh Bharati learned nothing from the success of Radio Ceylon. It imitated only the form and not the substance. It displayed a total lack of aesthetic sense in the selection of songs and the timings of the programmes. In their eagerness to cater to all tastes, the selectors at Vividh Bharati thought nothing of assaulting listeners' sensibilities by mercilessly piercing the tranquil early morning atmosphere and the late night silence by playing loud and hybrid music along with sober and melodious tunes. Vividh Bharati's idea of melodious old music was confined mainly to the songs of the post-partition era and curiously enough they were labelled as 'Bhoole Bisre Geet' (forgd1ten songs). On the other hand Radio Ceylon included the songs of even the pre-partition period in its programme of old music and justifiably called it 'Hamesha Jawan (evergreen) Geeton Ka Programme'.

Unlike at Radio Ceylon, the announcers at Vividh Bharti remained anonymous. They had no motivation to exhibit their initiative or imagination. The success of Vividh Bharti was purely incidental whereas the erosion of Radio Ceylon's popularity (mainly in India) was totally independent of the quality of its programmes.

Radio Ceylon still boasts of possessing the largest library of 78 RPM records. They are preserved in an air-conditioned room, lovingly handled and safely played on a heavy turf i-table with an Australian-made diamond stylus. It will retains the old popular formats. The flowers in the garden of vintage melodies still continue to fill the air with its intoxicating fragrances. Saigal still retains his position at the end of the programme of old music and 'Dastan's 'Snake Charmer' dance music continues to herald the listeners request programme. Nothing seems,to have changed out there. Some of the die-hard Radio Ceylon listeners still fiddle with their radio sets in the hope of catching the station.

For millions in this country, Radio Ceylon was not just a broadcasting station. It had a form and a personality. It was a companion who added a meaning to their lives, filled their vacant hours and has now left them with a host of memories of the melodious times which is hard to forget.

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Announcer Gopal Sharma

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Manohar Mahajan, Amin Sayani and C Ramchandra

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Brij Narain and B.V Keskar, responsible for banning hindi film music on All India Radio

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