Radio listenership picking up in Kashmir

Last Updated 20 February 2016, 18:35 IST

Last month, listeners heard an unusual programme on their radio sets in Jammu and Kashmir, when radio jockey Nasir remained on air for a marathon 111 hours, round-the-clock, in this trouble-torn region, where over two and half decades of violence has marred normal life. Fans and well wishers, including Kashmir’s who’s who, made a beeline and interacted with him and congratulated the young RJ on his feat.

During the variety of non-stop programmes, the listeners got an opportunity to interact with the RJ. Stalwarts from different fields expressed their views on various themes. From government top brass to politicians, entrepreneurs to sportsmen, and artists, the five days saw budding talent and listeners staying glued to their radio sets.

Initially, as per the nationwide campaign launched by the private player at its 25-odd radio stations, the RJ was supposed to be on air for 92.7 hours non-stop. But given the public support from jubilant listeners back home, Nasir made it to the list of three RJs who achieved the feat of completing 111 hours on air.

It was the overwhelming response in Kashmir which made the private station change the marathon duration from its iconic 92.7 to 111 hours. But was this curiosity limited to the feat of the local RJ in 20s or has listenership gone up.

Though Nasir had thought he could manage some hours of good sleep during the night hours, response from the listeners made his job more challenging. “I would get phone calls every time, be it midnight or dawn. Trust me I had to manage with catnaps,” he recalled. “On the last day, I experienced hiccups even while on air,” he added.

One of the most influential voices in broadcasting in the Valley and Director Radio Kashmir Humayun Qaisar believes that on an average over 20 lakh people across Kashmir listen to radio and that the trend is picking up.

He says around two million listeners remain glued to radio at any point of time. Qaisar, who has personally directed the sports and western music sections of Radio Kashmir for around three decades, says technological innovations have been also responsible for the revival of radio. Till the mid-90s when militancy was at its peak, radio was the first choice of listeners. But that time more than any plays or music, listening to news used to be the priority.

While many say the evening and morning news from All India Radio was “a must”, BBC and its then Srinagar correspondent Yusuf Jameel were  household names.

“There would never be a day I would miss to listen to BBC, as Jameel was considered to be the most reliable news voice,” Bashir Ahmad, a retired official, told Deccan Herald. Now Bashir again prefers radio over TV. “TV keeps you occupied whereas while listening to radio you can do your work,” he points out.

This is what most of the homemakers in Kashmir like. For them listening to RJ Haya Vakil, one of the most popular voices in broadcasting for around a decade of her blooming career, is their first choice.

In her afternoon programme, City Lounge, Haya highlights burning issues alongside social life; all gelled in music. “I don’t miss to listen to Haya’s programmes which are really informative for me and my family… It has brought our family closer and stronger,” said Majida Mattoo, a homemaker. The City Lounge offers a variety like classes on cookery and health. “At times we prepare the meals quite live the way it's aired and in case of any query, you have the option to make an instant phone in,” Majida added.

During the September 2014 floods, when Kashmir had no means of electronic communication for weeks together, it was Radio Kashmir which emerged as the first ray of hope. With the main radio station submerged in 20-odd feet of water, the services were started a few km away, from a small transmission centre atop of Shankaracharya Hills. There was no proper studio: Just a microphone but no chairs, on the hilltop, overlooking the devastated City. Radio Kashmir started 24-hour live programmes to keep listeners updated while the main service remained to air public grievances as and when they reached the makeshift studio.

For Station Director Radio Kashmir, restoring services from the “abandoned transmission centre” of Doordarshan Kendra was literally an uphill task. Qaisar and his team of two, walked a few km, occasionally  crossing flood waters in makeshift boats till they finally made it to Shankaracharya Hills.

The team of three camped their till the road connectivity improved. But life wasn’t easy that too in the absence of the ration stocks. “We had to sleep on the floor of control room where radiation levels were terribly high. While two would work, another would prepare food or tea from whatever was available,” Qaisar told Deccan Herald.

He said running the transmission in the absence of any source of music was equally challenging. “One would hold the microphone in one hand and mobile, which would receive phone calls or messages in the other,” he recounted. “The microphone had no on-and-off switch. We had to unplug the wires.”

Radio had emerged as an important medium that the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in the absence of motorable access, went uphill on foot to make his voice reach the flood victims.

(Published 20 February 2016, 17:42 IST)

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