“Yeh Akashvani hai.” Right from its signature tune to its news bulletins, talk shows, phone-ins, radio plays, farm shows, sports commentary, and late night Indian classical music, Akashvani evokes a universal emotion. It was in 1956 that All India Radio (AIR), established in 1936, became Akashvani.
Rabindranath Tagore had reportedly written a poem titled “Akashvani” for the launch of Calcutta’s short wave service; Akashvani in Sanskrit means “voice from the sky”. Akashvani was also the name of a small radio station that began broadcasting from the home of a retired professor, M.V. Gopalaswami, in Mysore on September 10, 1935.
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Broadcasting in India predates AIR by nearly a decade, in the shape of the Indian State Broadcasting Service, which was taken over by the government on June 8, 1936, and renamed All India Radio. AIR had only six stations in 1947 (Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Tiruchirapalli, and Lucknow), covering 11 per cent of the population and 2.5 per cent of the country’s area.
When AIR became Akashvani, thanks to transistor technology, radios had become commonplace by then. In 1957, the Vividh Bharati Service was launched, featuring film music programmes besides classical concerts. Today, Akashvani is one of the world’s largest networks. Its programmes from the External Services Division are broadcast in 11 Indian and 16 foreign languages, reaching more than 100 countries.
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Its 470 broadcasting centres cater to 99.19 per cent of the population and cover nearly 92 per cent of the country. The radio service is now used for storm warnings and crop cultivation techniques, dispelling rumours in conflict zones, assisting immunisation drives, and simply to provide entertainment. Its News Services Division broadcasts 647 bulletins daily for 56 hours in 90 languages/dialects in its Home, Regional, External, and DTH Services.
If any technological advancement transformed India truly into a “global village”, it was Akashvani.