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News |  14 Jul 2014 17:18 |  By RnMTeam

''So who do you want to dadicate this song to?''

(The author dabbles in radio, TV, documentaries, event-anchoring, travel writing & such random things; she may be reached on vasantihari@gmail.com).

It was close to midnight. I was, as usual, working on matters of national importance on Facebook, when my chat window popped up with a 'Hi Vasanthiiii! You are the sssame Vasanthi no? The Gooooooodmorninnggg Bangalore wali?"

Neeraj Shankar was messaging me from somewhere in Germany where he currently works. Turned out that in 2006, he had come to Bangalore from Delhi to join an IT major. New city, new people, few of whom he knew. Plus, he was going through some health upsets, a messy divorce and life had not been rosy one bit. That's when the radio did something magical, apparently. The messages were flying into my Facebook page fast, even at that sleepy hour. "Sorry to intrude into your inbox like this! You don't know me, but I know.. you have no idea what your show did to me. What it meant to wake up to a voice that would cheer me up morning after morning when I had to push myself to work. Because of you I lived again. You could almost call it Healing by hearing.."

While any normal person would get a fully-recharged instant ego massage (and I am all too human) on getting a sweeping compliment from a guy who listened to your show years ago, I would grudgingly pass on some of that sheen to radio. Radio is like that. It can heal you and can tickle till it hurts. It can drive you nostalgic with songs loaded with memories; it can make your drive bearable and stop you from killing the guy who just overtook you from left. It can amuse you non-stop and boy, can it annoy you with 'hit' songs that are on air till they come out of your ears and hit you dead!

Radio is all that. And to think that I almost did not do radio. I have said this in earlier fora, so let me just stick to saying, this medium was a beautiful accident that happened to me, the best ever in fact that could happen. I had done print media before with a stint as sub-editor on the daily's news desk; and I did and still do television, stage events and documentaries, but I shall say this - nothing compares to radio. Radio is, to put it in a Bangaloreism, "fyooor magiccu".

For one, it forms the most intimate, most personal, and thereby most powerful relationship with the one listening to it, no matter where. You often feel that voice is talking to you alone (though there are skilful RJs who manage to ruin all that magic with their cackle and cacophony). There is no distraction either of body language, dress, colour or complexion. There was this time I would be doing the most profound (or so I presumed) news-reporting for my TV channel, and once the 'Live' was done and the familiar red mic kept away, the phone would beep to show a friend's text "That orange top, again? Awful. And those ear drops.. gawd, like you couldn't have worn that blue kurti today, woman?"

Radio cares two hoots for what you are wearing or how you are looking. Especially in the time band that I used to host my breakfast show (morning 7 to 11), there would be none at work and you could walk in wearing just about anything you wanted. Well, there was the security guard at the station, so RJs would stick to decent dressing in case you let your imagination loose.

But you know what I am driving at. Radio is just about the voice. I would even go so far to say it is not that important to have a great voice, as it is to see what you do with that voice. You can have a voice to give Amitabh a deep shivering complex, but no stuff in it and it would fall flat. And a voice that may be no great shakes, but can crack you up all the time and keep you glued day after day. Bangalore got its share of simply unforgettable voices- radio's demi-gods - one fine morning in July 2001 when Radio City (then 91, now 91.1) FM became India's first private FM station. Suresh Venkat of Hot Air, Jonzie, Priya Ganapathy aka Lingo Leela, Seetal Iyer the Retro Queen and Chaitanya Hegde, the never-seen-only-heard crush of many a "Benglur hudugi", who could have easily been Kannada's taap hero if only he had said yes in that unmatched Chowchowbath voice of his. Sunaina, Darius the Dourius, all unquestioned stars of a Yo generation that was just about making B'lore the snazzy IT city it grew to be. Voices that filled our lives with sakkath (immense) thrill, and made even sensible people go jelly when they were put on air to play their song.

Ten years ago, when I got to fill in these big shoes by sheer fluke, after having a short but rich stint on AIR's FM Rainbow, I was paranoid. What would I say to a city that it did not already know? Was I making sense to such a smart city. But my boss – and the guy who saw the breakfast show host in me that I had not – Suresh Venkat, did not even entertain my fears. And so I started the show in the only way I knew, sprinkling it with the six languages I anyway had in my armour, and generously using Kannada which until then had been sparingly used on the 'cool' station; even starting a Saturday morning Kannada retro show called Bengalooru Talkies. And what I discovered astounded me – that the same city to whom I would interview celebrities on, jabber on non-stop with, in English/Hindi playing high energy Bollywood music… would behave like a different person, almost like a family member on a Saturday morning, when I switched to Annavru haadu (Dr Rajkumar's songs) et al and spoke 'maneyaaladha maathu' in Kannada! The cultural connect it gave me with the city is something to cherish; it nourishes me to this day. Of course, it was a chance to work with and learn from the most creative people in town, show producers, sound engineers, music managers, ad sales team, programming heads – too many to count here, but who have gone to be big names in the media space today.

These days when I have nothing else to do but squat on my terrace with a cup of strong ginger tea in hand, I actually ask myself, Did all this happen to me? A radio excellence award nationally that declared 'Best English RJ' in that year ('07), a trip to London that the radio station sent me to study 'the best practices of the UK's radio industry', a trip to Salzburg to represent the country's radio, nominated by a certain 'listener' called N R Narayana Murthy, and emails and Facebook messages to this day from strangers six years after I said goooodbye to my daily show.

So yes, cutting the senti stuff and coming to the parting message: Private radio in ndia has grown spectacularly and should, even more, in smaller and remoter towns. But it needs to focus on strong content and get rid of all the fluff. And can it get news please? Come on, FM Radio is a responsible teenager now!

PS: For those of you who are not from Bangalore or never heard the show I have been so immodestly showing-off about, this was a show (called GMB in short) from 2004-08, much before Vidya Balan went on to say Goood morning to Mumbai in the 2006 movie that made RJs famous: 'Lage Raho Munnabhai'. Like the heroine there, the show got me to love the city I was hosting the show for. It did not get me 'Munnabhai' though. Well, I already had one at home, who was sending off our little son to nursery school every morning while I was 'Live' on Air for hours, busy saying Gooood Morninggg to Bangalore.

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