Akashvani: Voice From the Sky

There are many significant dates associated with radio in India. July 23 is one of them. Broadcasting in India started in June 1923, when the Bombay Presidency Radio Club of India transmitted the first-ever broadcast.  But July 23 1927 is significant because it is the day on which the private Indian Broadcasting Company was authorized to operate two radio stations and started its Mumbai transmission. However, the company went into liquidation in three years and the government took over the facilities and the Indian State Broadcasting Service started operations on an experimental basis  in April 1930 (strangely under the Department of Industries and Labour). In June 1936, this became All India Radio. In the meantime, in September 1935, Akashvani Mysore, a private broadcasting station had been set up. (This is significant as the term ‘Akashvani’—literally meaning ‘Voice from the Sky’–was first used by Mr. MV Gopalaswamy who set up this station. All India Radio, India’s public radio broadcaster, adopted Akashvani as its on-air name in 1956.).

AIRToday, All India Radio is the largest radio network in the world, and one of the largest broadcasters i in terms of the number of languages broadcast (23 languages and 179 dialects!), and the range of audiences it serves. This is done through 420 stations located across the country, reaching nearly 92% of the country’s area and 99.19% of the population. AIR also operates close to 25 FM stations.

Though there is some amount of educational programming in India, the real power of radio to support formal education has probably never been fully tapped. In a country like Australia, for instance, radio has been used for direct teaching, whereby radio schools were used to connect children in secluded farmsteads in the outback together with a teacher sited many hundred miles away.

In the last few days, we have seen some data related to media access that is worrying. Reports based on latest National Sample Survey (NSS) data show that children in only 4% rural and 23% of urban households have access to computers. A survey in Karnataka has revealed that over 5.5 lakh school children in North Karnataka did not have access to TV.

In these COVID times—that is the foreseeable future—education has to depend heavily on such media. Yes, we must use the latest technology and leapfrog (as discussed in the previous blog). But it would be foolish indeed to ignore the good old medium of radio, which reaches 99+% of the population! It is time that AIR and educational authorities went into mission mode to ensure relevant, interesting educational radio programming, to support school children who will otherwise miss out on any educatoinal inputs. Education is not about exams, but about engaging the growing mind of the child, giving it food for thought, helping the imagination. We cannot leave lakhs of children without any educational inputs for months, maybe a whole year.

Radio surely has a part to play in this, especially in these times. May it truly be Bahujana Sukhaya Bahujana Hitaya( “For the happiness of many, for the welfare of many”),as the AIR motto goes!.