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