All India Radio Controversy

Timelines: All, India Categories: 1940s, Decade, Government, India, Institution All India Radio Controversy
Date: 1943


As well as being central to popular culture and ubiquitous in public spaces, Hindi film songs hold an important position in India’s censorship history. All India Radio (AIR) is India’s public radio broadcasting service, established in 1930 as Indian State Broadcasting Service and renamed as All India Radio in the year of its first news bulletin, 1936. At Indian independence in 1947, the AIR network included six radio stations in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Tiruchirapalli, and Lucknow, and three in areas that later became Pakistan: Peshawar, Lahore, and Dacca. The first three Ministers of Information and Broadcasting in the ruling Congress Party following Indian independence took a morally conservative approach to broadcasting, including the content on AIR. Minister Vallabhbhai Patel declared that individuals whose “private life was a public scandal” would not be allowed to work on AIR, to the detriment of Muslim women singers deemed to be courtesans (Jeffrey 2006). As late as the 1960s, Prime Minister Nehru complained that he was unable to understand the highly sanskritized language that reported on him. This elite style and language, as well as the perception that AIR worked as a mouthpiece of the government, was criticised by the 1966 Chanda Report on Indian broadcasting, characterising it as “timid in reporting” and as “a purveyor of stale news” (Chanda 1966, 96-97).

AIR was thus unpopular with Indian radio listeners. Robin Jeffrey writes that a 1950s listener survey found “nine out of ten houses in every street tuned to [Radio] Ceylon, and the receiver in the tenth house was . . . out of order” (2006, 213). Dr B.V. Keskar, the third Minister of Information and Broadcasting following independence, announced in 1952 that AIR would place restrictions on time allocated to Hindi film songs, while ceasing to name those songs on the grounds that this constituted advertising. Keskar later claimed that “‘except for raw and immature people like children and adolescents,’ householders in general detested film music’” (in Barnouw & Krishnaswamy 1980, 212). While AIR replaced film songs with classical music, Radio Ceylon comprehensively captured the radio audience through its shortwave radio service broadcast to India. In 1957, AIR finally began to offer a popular music channel, “Vividh Bharati”, that played film songs (Barnouw & Krishnaswamy 1980). Today AIR broadcasts its programming via 419 stations in 23 languages and 146 dialects. – Liam Grealy


Further reading:
– Awasthy, G.C. (1965) Broadcasting in India. Bombay: Allied.
– Barnouw, E., & Krishnaswamy, S. (1980). Indian film. New York: Oxford University Press.
– Bhattacharyja, N. and Monika, M. (2008). Bombay to Bollywood: Tracking cinematic and musical tours. In S. Gopal and S. Moorti (eds) Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi song and dance, (pp. 105-131). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
– Chakravarty, S. (1993). National identity in Indian popular cinema, 1947-1987. Austin: University of Texas Press.
– Jeffrey, R. (2006). The Mahatma didn’t like the movies and why it matters: Indian broadcasting policy, 1920s-1990s. Global Media and Communication, 2(2), 204-224.
– Lelyveld, D. (1994). Upon the subdominant: Administering music on All India Radio. Social Text. (39), 111-127.

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