Radio in Chennai
Radio first ceased to be lame some time in the twelfth grade when I was living a monastic life in the run-up to the boards and the JEE. I was burning the midnight oil every night at the time. I’d long forgotten the existence of television. At the stroke of midnight though, I would shift into the dining room, pour out a cup of hot chai prepared by mom, get out a few Marie biscuits and turn on thus HUGE radio set we have. I’d spend exactly ten minutes listening to the radio and then get back to work. Radio Mirchi was my absolute favourite, mainly because they were the only radio station that did not assume that people only wanted to listen to songs from Before Christ when they tuned in at midnight. They were also one of the few stations that actually had an RJ for their midnight show, who did not speak the language of the second half of Aayirathil Oruvan.
In fact, one of the things I loved about Radio Mirchi was how their RJ, I don’t remember who it was, though I think it was Siva, had this thing- he’d play a Rahman song as a new day arrived. I think it was around this time that i became a real Rahman fan. The song he most often played was this Vellai Pookkal sung by Rahman himself, for Kannatthil mutthamittaal. I thought it was an absolutely beautiful way to usher the new day in.
Then there was the Diary show on Hello FM at dinner time, which is still run by one RJ Ganesh, I think, and I think it’s a great show. People’d send in pages of their diary to be read out on air.
There’s this old-world romanticism to a big radio set. One that doesn’t tune properly anymore, the capacitors probably having outlived their expected lifetimes. Sometimes when I got close to it, it’d get noisy and crackly, some times my mom moving as far away as in the kitchen, a good 10 m away would disturb the radio. I thought it gave it personality! I’d then have to stretch out its HUGE antenna, to its full 1.5m length, and sit at just the right spot, and tell mom to stay still so my moody, spoilt radio set was happy.
That’s not the only thing about the radio that gets me. It’s this feeling of being in a conversation. I think RJs, more so than VJs, tend to try to connect with the audience through conversation, having nothing else to sustain their attention with. Radio has no item girls. No stupid dance shows. No soaps. Only voices. People. Talking. I loved the fact that it was all live. Although the same could be said of music channels on tv, it didn’t have the same allure. For one thing, the traffic updates, the weather updates, the chitchat about the cricket match currently on, which happen on the radio don’t happen on the telly. And it’s all so localised, it’s only for your city. For you. It brings you closer to the medium.
And the songs. I fell in love with more songs in January to April 2007 than in any other 4-month period in my life. There was Pachaikili Muthucharam, which I still rate among Harris’ best, there was Veyil, there was that Idhu Enna Maayam from Oram Po. And there was Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. People thought Munbe Va was awesome. I thought New York Nagaram was out of the world. Maybe because it was my first exposure to Tamil Film music on a regular basis, but I even liked songs that I probably wouldn’t like if they released now. But I still like all those songs that released back then, maybe because they remind me of those times.
I still listen to the radio once in a while, on my phone. It comes with an auto-tune that takes some of the fun out of it. But I now get all my music from my hard disk and the LAN. And I am now getting an MP3 player. In fact, I prefer movies to music during free time because it also keeps my eyeballs busy. Radio is fitted into the small proportion of time when I’m working but can afford a little background chatter in my head, but I can’t get to the computer for my favourite playlist.
No more the yearning wait for that song I fell in love with on first listen, to play again. No more wishing that the fake bubbly RJ who’d agreed with you that that song was incredible yesterday would play it again today. No more smiling at her describing the weather. Or jumping for joy when THE song played, and it was so perfect for your mood.
Just click, click, click, play. At the risk of sounding cliched, there was something more human about simpler times.