The first Radio Sangeet Sammelan on All India Radio was held in 1957. Over 20 years before that a professor of psychology was trying to get his then nine-year-old son to sing something into the microphone to inaugurate the professor’s private radio station in Mysore.
The boy forgot his lines and started crying. That particular sammelan may not have taken off but Professor M V Gopalaswamy nurtured his passion for radio transmission and achieved something immortal – he set up India’s first private radio station, in Mysore.
He is recognised as the first person to have used the work ‘Akashvani’ for a radio transmission. Akashvani was adopted as the official name of All India Radio in 1957, exactly 50 years ago.
The professor was caught by the romance of airwaves when he came across an unused 50 watt transmitter.
Prof Gopalaswamy set to work on it and in September 1935, his room in ‘Vithala Vihar’ in Mysore’s Vontikoppal area became a radio station. He called the station ‘Akashvani’. He invited singers to come to his house and in return for music rendered the artistes were sent off with tambula and respect.
Gopalaswamy, then serving under the Maharaja of Mysore, also invited his brother-in-law to give a talk on radio.The young man used this opportunity to vent his discontent against the Maharaja.
So levid was the professor that he threw the relative out of the house! And it took six-months of conciliatary efforts on the part of the family to get the speaker back into the house.
Gopalaswamy soon imported a 250-watt transmitter.The station continued with support from the public and the Mysore Municipality till it was taken over by the Mysore State in 1941.
The enterprising Dr Gopalaswamy had also established the department of Psychology at the University of Mysore in 1924 after obtaining his Ph D in London under psychologist Dr Charles Spearman. The department is recognised as being the second oldest department of psychology in the country.
“During the early years of radio transmission in Mysore the station had fixed loudspeakers outside the building. People sitting in the park nearby would run across to the station and request that a particular music be played.
The very next minute, the air would be filled with the requested piece of music,” recounts retired AIR Station Director Dr Jyotsna Kamat.
“According to family lore, my uncle used to sit across the station and listen to the music being played. His favourite song was the Tamil hit ‘Meen Pudippoma’. He used to keep requesting the station to play this song!” says media person Bharathi Ghanshyam, grand daughter of Gopalaswamy.
It is debatable whether this is what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he called All India Radio ‘A medium of unparalleled immediacy, intimacy and power’!
Known for its emphasis on reliability, credibility and clear aim to educate and entertain, AIR remained a popular mass medium until television wooed away its audience. But with the advent of FM channels, radio has regained its popularity.
Says radio jockey-cum-model Pavithra Ghanshyam, “the corridors of Akashvani in Mysore intimidated and awed me. Radio is a fantastic medium.
On my shows I get calls from city slickers as well as from people calling themselves Balehannu Puttuswamy! Somewhere in my mind, the fact that my great grandfather Gopalaswamy was a pioneer in the field of radio has always drawn me to the media.
Radio is not what it was in his time, as there is a constant need to reinvent,” says the young RJ. AIR has grown. Today it has a network of 223 broadcasting centres with 143 medium frequency (MW), 54 high frequency (SW) and 161 FM transmitters.
Even as the reach, range and style of mass media changes every day, channels and one word continues to instill a sense of continuity and patriotism — ‘Ye hai Akashvani...’ The beauty is that the word for ‘voice from the air’ is the same in almost all Indian languages.