When I switched on my transistor on the first Monday of this month, to listen to Ganer Bhelay on FM1, I was in for a rude shock. Instead of the presenter’s deep baritone introducing us to the nuances of the raga of the season as interpreted by the great masters of Hindustani classical music, here was Smarty-Pants talking nineteen to the dozen in a language that sounded remotely like Bengali, almost like English, and not quite unlike Hindi either. His chatter was generously sprinkled with words which could not have been picked up from anywhere else but a paan shop or MTV.
In case a Bengali presenter’s Hindi or English is not very hot — and that is mostly the case — two other presenters, who speak the two languages tolerably well are recruited for the show. So the cosy threesome switches languages with the regularity and bloodymindedness of a couch potato switching channels. This indulgence in khichri lingo is taking place in Akashbani Bhavan, where the walls are plastered with slogans that stress the use of the “national language”. The Wow-Now music that followed was light years away from the Gauhar Jaan or Faiyaz Khan that thousands of listeners like myself waited for patiently every Monday. To trace the pedigree of this Western music — a mishmash of sounds designed to numb your ability to think — one should look no further than the synthesizer.
I was to discover later that Night Flight on Tuesday nights, when the good old Ratna Sen presented jazz, and Candlelight Classics had been axed too. Saddled as she was with an antiquated and bureaucratic system, this veteran announcer used to make a valiant effort to pep up the music scene. But for how long, when, as a matter of policy, AIR is recruiting people who have youth on their side (with or without knowledge of music) so that “Generationext” dances to their tune'
This is the kind of mush, it is believed, that will make the AIR cash-till ring happily ever after. The quality of music has become incidental. Indipop and chart-busting numbers are picked up at random and aired. The signature tune of the Rainbow channel, as FM1 has been renamed in its new youth-oriented avatar, sounds as if sung by a neutered Bee Gee. Noel Coward had once expressed surprise at the potency of cheap music. One wonders how he would have reacted to this new opiate of the masses being marketed by AIR. This is AIR’s strategy to catch up with the spicier private channels. Since the target audience is the 20-something age group, music plays like mad during the crucial hours with only the announcements thrown in — as if to be youthful is to be braindead.
Smother the talk
Kesarbai Kerkar, the legendary singer, was uncannily prescient. If one has lent one’s ear to the musical medley of today, it seems she had good reason for disallowing her recordings to be broadcast on the radio. She had a horror of being turned into a plebeian diva, her disembodied warble emanating from the paan-shop radio. Few today can afford to be so snooty. But it is true that at least in AIR FM, there is no place for classical music (the Indian variety plays after midnight) or jazz, or the kind of programmes that have developed the musical tastes of generations of listeners. This is a pity, for its sound is so clear.
The authorities in Delhi wanted to smother all talk-shows for the lack of sponsors. However, Calcutta being the original home of the chattering classes, who love to hear their voices on the air, AIR could not sideline the talk show altogether in the city. It is the only metro where talk-shows are popular. Calcutta A does present raga sangeet, but it generally makes a virtue of being boring. Calcutta B still presents properly categorized Western music. But it is marred by poor reception, while remaining the safest bet, even if the music is often drowned by static. AIR’s motto could have been bahujanhitaye bahujansukhaye — for the benefit and pleasure of the people. But it has changed to Shubhvani, labhvani, Akashvani — AIR is meant for spinning money.