| 21 Apr 2024
All India Radio believes in altruism unlike the private channels who espouse hedonism: Sheheryar

NEW DELHI: Fayyaz Sheheryar is the youngest ever Director General of All India Radio. Although he had been holding additional charge of the channel for almost two years, it was only earlier this year that he was formalized in this post by Prasar Bharati after getting the green signal from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Sheheryar is also the only person from Jammu and Kashmir to have ever headed All India Radio. An officer of Indian Broadcasting (Programme) Service, Sheheryar has served in diverse ethno-linguistic zones through Akashvani and Doordarshan since 1981 in various capacities.

He had succeeded R Venkateswarlu who had taken charge of the post for a brief period of three months on retirement of Leela Dhar Mandloi who had retired towards 2013-end.

Sheheryar has served on very senior posts in Doordarshan and AIR in various parts of the country, and is credited with the launch of the Urdu channel.

Apart from Jammu, Sheheryar has also served as Station Director of Jalandhar (AIR). He was then moved to Radio Kashmir Srinagar as its Director in 1999. He also served for some time in Doordarshan, Jammu, as its Director DDK, Jalandhar.

In an exclusive interview, Sheheryar answered various questions relating to future plans and particularly how AIR is gearing itself to cope with growing competition.

All India Radio is said to be among the largest radio networks in the world. But is often said that AIR has not yet succeeded in covering the entire population or geographical area of the country…

AIR today terrestrially covers 99.2 per cent of the population, and 92.67 per cent of the geographical area. It is important to note that the balance land is barren with no population. In fact, around 26.3 per cent of the country’s geographical area is either barren or covered by unpenetrated forest land. In any case, the entire nation is covered by Doordarshan’s Freedish which beams 24 AIR channels.

What is the position of AIR as far as FM transmission is concerned?

AIR FM at present reaches 45 per cent of the population and will reach 65 per cent by the end of the Twelfth Plan schemes. This will also cover all shadow areas.

What are AIR’s plans for FM Radio?

AIR is working towards total FMisation. But let me clarify that FM is only aimed at supplementing and complementing medium wave transmissions. Vividh Bharati has already been brought on FM, but the MW channel also continues. Similarly, Rajdhani and Indraprastha channels are also expected to be brought on FM even as they will continue in medium wave. Ultimately, channels in all 23 languages and 176 dialects that AIR broadcasts in may become available on FM.  

DRM is a digital technology for which sets are not available, when does AIR expect to go DRM?

DRM is both analogue and digital. In fact, in Jammu, AIR has set up a High Power DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) which works on conventional radio sets as the signal is converted.

AIR at present has 36 DM transmitters in various parts of the country. One advantage of DRM is that as many as six channels can be outsourced from each transmitter.

AIR recently launched Akashvani Maitree and later went on to bring out a mobile app Balochi service. What is the aim of selecting these two languages?

External Services of AIR have been operational since 1939 when the then British government introduced them in short wave in the wake of the Second World War. As far as we are concerned, the aim is only to strengthen relations with our immediate neighbours.

Akashvani Maitree is aimed at covering the entire territory of Bangladesh and we have an exchange agreement with Bangla Betaar. Let me also clarify that the Baloch service is not new. It was launched in 1974 and is an hour-long service from 8.30 pm to 9.30 pm every night. We have only introduced a Motile App and started a website for live streaming. He said that the Balochi service of the External Services Division had been in existence since May 1974 was one of the 27 languages covered by the Division. It is broadcast between 8.30 pm and 9.30 pm every night and also includes a news bulletin apart from programmes reflecting both Indian and Balochi culture and the commonalities. It also had music, talks of general interest which were mainly translated from the General Overseas Service Broadcasts.

ESD broadcasts around 600 hours of radio programmes per week in 15 foreign and twelve Indian languages through the Division and reaches around 150 countries. Fourteen of these 27 languages are targeted at India’s immediate neighbouring countries, of which seven - including Baluch, Saraiki, Urdu, Pushto, and Punjabi – are targeted at Pakistan in view of the importance and emphasis of the region from a geo-political perspective and for reaching out to India’s nieghbours for better people-to-people contact and cultural exchange. In addition, there was a service in Nepalese and another in Sinhalese.  

The External Affairs Ministry had agreed to help to popularize these channels and also launch more services.

Twelve of the language services including Baloch were not available through web-streaming. There has been a demand from many listeners for better reception and this is the reason for the web-streaming of some of the channels in addition to the Short Wave broadcasts. It is expected that all 27 language channels would be available through mobile apps and web streaming by March 2017.

But there had been some talk in the government at one time to disband short wave broadcasts?

Yes, but we had opposed this and it is agreed by all that short wave will stay.

Unlike the Broadcast Audience Research Council which works more for television, there is no mechanism for AIR.

AIR itself has its own radio audience measurement system. We have such wings in 46 centers, which not merely measure the people who listen to AIR but also advice on programmes and channels based on the views of the listeners. We are trying to expand this and details are available on the AIR website. Unlike the private radio channels, the approach is one of altruism and not hedonism.

The Government expects Prasar Bharati to become self-sustaining. What is AIR doing to achieve that?

Well, there are some limitations in the public service broadcasting system. But there are various ways we try to build some revenue. We sell air time, invite sponsorships for various programmes, and broadcast government and private spots. AIR also hires out its studios and towers etc.

AIR also imparts training to broadcasters at Delhi and eight other centres under the National Academy of Broadcast and Multimedia (NABM).

But as it is difficult to monitor radio FM satellite signals, the Government has not permitted private channels to broadcast their own news except to take AIR news bulletins under Phase III.

AIR had launched a major plan to digitize its signals and its archives. What is the position today?

Well, the AIR archives have been digitized to the extent of sixty per cent. As far as the programming goes, AIR has been only recording in digital for the past thirteen years and it generates digital signal which is then converted to analogue for FM and conventional radio sets.

What are the future plans for popularizing programming and strengthening internal functioning?

AIR has embarked on a major plan to start a Content Delivery Network (CDN) which will be ready within the next two to three months. It will help keep track of number of listeners, and also prevent ‘stream theft’.

There will be greater live streaming of channels on the internet complementing Short wave on, and Mobile Apps will be launched for more channels. It will also be possible to give audio on demand and the internet will store programmes of up to seven days for this purpose. The App will be monetized, and there will be an alert which gives information about listeners, and messages and advice about programmes on the Apps.

India’s terrestrial transmission today was even larger than China.

AIR had revived the Gradation Policy for renowned musicians, and this was in four categories: B, B High, A and A Top.