Cost-cut­ting: It’s cur­tains for AIR’S National Chan­nel

The Sunday Guardian - - NATION - NAVTAN KU­MAR NEW DELHI

The National Chan­nel of All India Ra­dio (AIR), which ruled the hearts of mil­lions of ra­dio lis­ten­ers, es­pe­cially from the young gen­er­a­tion, across the coun­try in the late 80s and 90s, has been shut down. This was India’s first all-night ra­dio chan­nel in the pre-in­ter­net, pre-fm era.

Pub­lic broad­caster Prasar Bharati de­cided to close down the chan­nel re­cently as part of its “cost-cut­ting” mea­sures and to “ra­tio­nalise” the ser­vices. Its five re­gional train­ing acad­e­mies in five cities have also been closed.

Sources said the decision was taken after it was found that the lis­tener base of National Chan­nel was dwin­dling. “Time has changed. There are nu­mer­ous FM channels now which have much bet­ter voice qual­ity be­cause of bet­ter tech­nol­ogy. National Chan­nel’s trans­mit­ters were weak and there were fluc­tu­a­tions. Sub­se­quently, it ceased to be the favourite chan­nel of the lis­ten­ers,” they ex­plained.

The National Chan­nel, which broad­cast from 6 pm to 6 am, came up in 1987 and played an im­por­tant role in keep­ing peo­ple abreast with national is­sues and also pro­vid­ing them with qual­ity entertainment pro­grammes. Prob­a­bly, that was the only chan­nel in India at that time which used to air lat­est West­ern pop­u­lar mu­sic, which made it the heart-throb of young lis­ten­ers.

At one point of time, this chan­nel was the first to trans­mit the Pres­i­dent’s ad­dress to the na­tion on the eve of Repub­lic Day. But now it is be­ing trans­mit­ted through all the channels of AIR, in­clud­ing the FM channels. It was the only chan­nel which would broad­cast news bul­letins be­tween 6 pm to 6 am ev­ery day. But now this was hardly ex­clu­sive as there are nu­mer­ous channels which are air­ing news 24x7.

AIR old-timers fondly re­call their as­so­ci­a­tion with the pro­grammes of National Chan­nel. There were a va­ri­ety of entertainment pro­grammes, in­clud­ing Hindi and English songs, and also In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic. These pro­grammes got mas­sive trac­tion from the stu­dents who would study all through the night while tun­ing in to the National Chan­nel. For ex­am­ple, its West­ern pop­u­lar mu­sic pro­gramme based on lis­ten­ers’ re­quest “In The Mood” (ITM) was a big hit among the young lis­ten­ers in the late 80s and 90s.

“There was no ad­vance com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem at that time and we used to send re­quests or mes­sages, by post cards, to the an­chor/ra­dio jockey to play a par­tic­u­lar song for the ‘lis­ten­ing plea­sure’ of our near and dear ones. With no Face­book or What­sapp around, it was a good plat­form to con­nect with friends from all over the coun­try. We used to ea­gerly wait for this pro­gramme on Satur­days around mid­night, for en­tire week,” said Patnabased Prakash Chan­dra, an avid lis­tener of the ITM.

The National Chan­nel was orig­i­nally con­ceived as the first stage i.e. National Sys­tem with a broad­cast of an 18 hours per day. But for var­i­ous rea­sons, the chan­nel was limited to night time ser­vice tak­ing the national pro­grammes and covering 65% of area and 76% of pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try. This was the only chan­nel avail­able after most of the sta­tions closed down. The pro­gramme, tech­ni­cal, min­is­te­rial and other staff posted at National Chan­nel in To­da­pur and Nag­pur, apart from those work­ing at the Re­gional Acad­e­mies of Broad­cast­ing and Mul­ti­me­dia (RABMS) in five cities, may be posted as per the re­quire­ment of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, ac­cord­ing to the order issued by the Di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the AIR. The order said: “In order to ra­tio­nalise AIR ser­vices and keep­ing in view the cost-cut­ting mea­sures, it has been de­cided by Prasar Bharati and com­mu­ni­cated to DG AIR on 24 De­cem­ber 2018, to close down the National Chan­nel of AIR and RABMS lo­cated at Ahmed­abad, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Shillong and Thiru­vanan­tha­pu­ram with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.”

It also stated that the pro­gramme of archival value main­tained by the National Chan­nel should be sent to the Cen­tral Archives in Delhi for digi­ti­sa­tion and preser­va­tion. Sources said the National Chan­nel has a huge repos­i­tory of pro­grammes and the per­son­nel will now be re­de­ployed.

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