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Aug 01, 2017 at 10:53

As we take a closer look at the world of radio, we learn of the various ways it grew in its stature, and, with it, the people behind it. Our expert Saurabh Bhramar shares his experience of the rise of radio and his journey of starting behind the mic.

Twenty years is a long time, but not long enough to make me forget the adventurous journey I have had, over the years, working as a radio professional. Trust me, radio was the last thing on my mind, as well as on the long list of careers I had in mind. Of the various possibilities that I wanted to explore, Radio was nowhere in the picture. It never occurred to my fickle head that radio could be a full time, serious, career. Though, I must admit, those times were different. The radio set sat somewhere, in a dingy corner, of almost every house in India, gathering dust of anonymity, all the while entertaining and educating millions, with no returns. Radio was like an obedient child, seeking attention from the parents, asking them for some love and recognition. However, the parents were spending their time, glued to the idiot box.

As it generally happened in those days, the government was the first one to experiment with and milk the revenues out of anything that happened in the country, and the media was no exception. The early 90’s saw the advent of AIR FM, that soon became a rage in metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai. All of a sudden, the scenario changed and along with the legendary, Amin Sayani,  many other presenters became popular with their new and unique styles of presentation. AIR FM sold slots to Times FM and Midday, who then started generating more revenue than AIR FM did itself. Presenters or RJ’s as they are now called, soon emerged as local celebs. Roshan Abbas, Gaurav Kapoor and many others made a huge name for themselves, out of that windfall of fame.

From exports to trying my hand at scriptwriting (which is a huge plus for me now), I realized that I had a good voice and  that I was a decent singer. This atomic consciousness of mine made me look for avenues that would help me become a playback singer. After a lot of soul searching, I realized, one needs connections and an Al Pacino (Godfather), to hum a tune or two, as a playback singer. Spoilt and lazy as I was, I thought it useless to leave my deserving comforts that my father had provided for me, a star in the making. After all, what was the point of adding to the already overcrowded tinsel town, Mumbai, and becoming a struggler (with due respect, being a Struggler is also a full time profession in Mumbai).

While the star in me was looking for an easier way around, I saw an ad in the newspaper for an upcoming Asian radio station in Nairobi. I still thought of myself as no lesser than a star, and thus when I saw the ad, the singer in me said, “Instead of competing as a playback singer, let me sacrifice my dream and leave the job to the singers of Bollywood”.

All thanks to a certain good fortune (not mine, but that of the radio industry), without any significant experience or knowledge of radio, I was called for an interview at a 5 star hotel in Delhi. My interview was no less than a disaster turned into a miracle. There were 3 people who were interviewing me, all with their heavy British accents, and as I had the gift of inviting disasters (that’s a rare talent and I still have it!), they started asking me about radio. Some really weird jargons were thrown at me like daypart, segue and other such complicated words.  And then it happened, the golden accident, the angelic intervention, when one of the guys asked me, in that heavy British accent, “What would you do for breakfast?”.

That was the most difficult question of my life, and  I was desperately looking for an answer because other than the word BREAKFAST, I couldn’t collect the head or tail of what the gentleman had said. What I could decipher at that moment was, that probably he wanted to know what I did before I had my breakfast. The answer was genuine to the core, with brutal honesty, I said, “I brush my teeth”. It seemed I was the first man on earth to have brushed my teeth before breakfast. The next question embarrassed me to my core, “Really, would you do that on air?” asked one of them. At that moment it hit me, I released that my deduction was far from correct. The man simply wanted to know what I would do for a morning show. But there I was, with absolute consciousness of the utter dumb foolery that I had just committed.

Obviously, I couldn’t have admitted that my English skills were almost nonexistent, instead I said this.

“Yes, I would brush my teeth and will even gargle on air.”

At that moment, my life changed. One of the gentlemen thought that I was God’s gift to mankind. The most creative person that India could offer to the world at that time, and so I was chosen for the job of an RJ.

My stint was short and sweet, in a couple of years, I was back in India, quite well informed and trained to do a live show. Radio privatization had gotten a green signal from the cabinet and there were a whole lot of jobs that were in the offing. The right time and the right places have always been crucial to my survival. I joined Radio Mirchi and had the privilege of working with some of the most creative radio professionals in India.

I always believe in being vocal, being real and purposeful when I am on air. It’s not a trait or an ideology that I have developed over time, it’s something which is intrinsic to my core. I have seen many professionals faking it on air, saying something else while they believe in something else. Our voice is a reflection of our soul, and however commercialized radio might become, it would always remain a medium of expression of one’s conscience. Radio works in a strange way, the thousand of pictures that it paints, connects millions to the person sitting in the studios. Our voices communicate our feelings, and help us touch the lives of many.

I have seen those days when cuss words and profanities were a strict ‘no no’ on any of the premium radio stations, however, such words are now beeped to shock the listeners. Radio is still a mass medium, and the usage of inappropriate words without context can still do a lot of damage to the basic idea behind it.

In my experience, I can say that digital media will change the entire media industry in the next 5 to 10 years. Radio will experience a significant change in the times to come and if digital media gives an alternative to the consumers, slowly and gradually, advertisers would be dissuaded from betting their money on traditional radio. But I can promise one thing, as long as humans don’t shed their ears like deciduous trees shed leaves, Radio will keep those ears busy.