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RJs above 35 face test

New Delhi, Aug. 11: All India Radio’s “oldies” will now need to pass a voice-and-skill test to retain their jobs.

The Centre-run broadcaster has agreed to allow RJs above 35 in its FM programmes to play on if they pass the test and prove they don’t sound “too mature and boring”, relenting on an initial plan to fire them.

AIR had faced protests against the plan to sack “hundreds” of such employees, hired on contract, at its head office in Delhi and other cities, including around 100 in Calcutta. The broadcaster has now taken a “sympathetic view”, sources said, citing the protests as the main reason.

However, officials of Prasar Bharati — the government corporation which runs AIR and Doordarshan — said it had been decided “not to disturb anyone above 35 as a gesture of goodwill” and recognition of services of casual announcers, radio jockeys and anchors who had served AIR with devotion and loyalty”.

A Prasar review panel will subject such RJs to the test, entrusting the assessment to agencies whose neutrality and credentials are beyond doubt, senior officials said.

“Those currently on the panel of casual RJs may take the skill test as and when it is held. We have no plans whatsoever to sack anybody. We will conduct a voice test for all and ensure each casual radio jockey and announcer gets a chance to prove their versatility in front of the microphone,” AIR director-general F. Sheheryar said.

According to the sources, the sacking plan dated back to an October 2013 circular which said that in order to “infuse freshness in the presentation of programmes on FM Rainbow and FM Gold”, the age limit of the RJs should be 30.

Later, another circular, dated December 30, 2013, revised the limit to 35, setting August 8, 2014, as the deadline for those above the age to leave.

An AIR official explained why the age bar was deemed necessary.

“FM programmes are primarily aimed at youngsters. At times, we received complaints that our jockeys are very boring and too mature for the programmes they present,” the official said.

But the RJs brushed off the claims, questioning even the new order requiring them to take the tests.

FM Rainbow, for instance, mostly plays old English and Hindi numbers which gel with “mature presenters” as youngsters may not be familiar with such songs and artistes of the past, the RJs argued. “It is a ridiculous proposition. In foreign countries, the popular RJs are mostly those who have been presenting shows for decades,” an RJ said.