The History and Journey of Radio Broadcasting

There was a time, prior to the First World War, when mediums of mass communication did not exist. The world was light years away from being interconnected the way it is now, and information dissemination between two geographically different areas was unimaginable. It was only the invention of wireless telegraphy, which entailed point to point telecommunication, that gradually led to the invention of radio broadcasting, a milestone in the development of mass communication.

During the First World War, military requirement led to increasing popularity of this medium, which was concretized by the 1920s when the first radio stations were set up in Chicago, New York and Pittsburgh to circulate news related to elections, sports and opera performances. A number of radio stations cropped up all over the United States which were commercially owned by private companies. However, in Europe, radio broadcasting was considered too significant to be left to private companies whose sole motive was profit generation. Public Service Broadcasting was considered more relevant by the British Government, which set up the well-known British Broadcasting Corporation in 1920. Along the lines of colonialism, Britain and France set up broadcasting centres in Asia and Africa to further their interests in these countries and effectively control their local populace. Following the footsteps of Europe, the US Government established the Voice of America.

In India, broadcasting was introduced through radio clubs in Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Lahore. According to The Times of India, one of the first radio broadcasts in India was transmitted from the roof of its building in August 1920. The government-controlled radio set up was known as the Indian State Broadcasting Service (ISBS), which was later converted to the All India Radio (AIR).

When India was under British rule, AIR was controlled by the colonial masters, and was thus no more than a propaganda tool. Indian newspapers were heavily censored, which gave way to the only plausible alternative– an underground Congress radio, which was run using a disabled transmitter from Bombay. Unfortunately, the people behind this scheme were identified and imprisoned which led to its end.

However, after Independence, AIR was brought under the purview of the Indian Government, which was when it began its journey of developing according to the needs and requirements of the Indian population. Starting from a meagre position, with only six stations located all over India, AIR began expanding at a rapid pace. Within a couple of years, 25 stations had been set up, and the sale of radio sets gained momentum. The introduction of the commercial channel, ‘Vividh Bharati’ in October 1957, was a major cause of increasing the popularity of radio as a mass medium in India. In 1969, another programme known as ‘Yuvvani’ or the Voice of the Youth was introduced, which gave the young population of the country a platform to express themselves and their talents.

A major development took place in 1976, when AIR was finally de-linked from Doordarshan, and brought under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and radio was free to take off on its own rather than being referred to as television’s ‘poor cousin’. AIR underwent rapid development over the course of 3 decades, and by 2008, it comprised of a countrywide network consisting of 219 centres. It is now one of the largest radio news organisations of the world, and broadcasts over 300 news bulletins and a variety of programmes through its services, catering to over 97% of the population of India, including both urban as well as rural areas.

Due to its reach and capability of permeating even the rural strata of the society, radio as a medium of mass communication, stands apart from other platforms. It exhibits certain features, like that of being inexpensive and portable that sets it apart from other forums such as television and the internet. This is why, radio is also known as the ‘poor man’s medium’. In fact, in India, most of its listenership can be attributed to truck and cab drivers, who depend on this medium for news, entertainment or use it as a pastime. Another major feature of the radio is that it can be used during times of calamities or disasters, as it doesn’t require an electric connection, and can run solely on batteries. Due to its influence on the rural population, it also helps in spreading social awareness regarding health issues, social evils as well as family planning.

With the advent of the internet and other platforms termed as ‘New media’, however, the radio has become almost obsolete among many sections of the population. However, its simplicity and the ease with which it can be accessed and used has ensured that it is still embedded in the daily lives of a number of people, and it will be long before the radio, with its chat shows, news, entertainment and light-hearted programmes, loses its salience.

picture credits: livemint.com

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