History of India: A radio enthusiast’s timeline

Rediscover India through All India Radio and other archived broadcasts

Listening, in its truest sense, is an act of discovery. For a long time, All India Radio (AIR), was a sole catalyst in fostering India’s listening culture. From the powerful appeals of new leaders to the dulcet melodies of the Mangeshkars, our airwaves resonated with the collective pride and follies of an emerging nation.

To mark World Radio Day, on 13 February, SouthWord. presents India’s history as heard on the airwaves, in an attempt to celebrate the contributions of radio and reclaim the culture of listening that is part of our identities.

We begin with the decade of the 1940s, when India became Independent and went through various important landmarks in our political, social and cultural history as a nation.

1940-1949

August 15, 1947 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru delivers the historic ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech to a free India on the eve of Independence.

November 12, 1947 Mahatma Gandhi delivers a speech to the refugees fleeing Pakistan and camping in Kurukshetra. November 12 is observed as Public Service Broadcasting Day to commemorate Gandhi’s sole visit to the AIR studios (in Delhi).

January 30, 1948 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru announces Mahatma Gandhi’s death. He said memorably and unforgettably that “the light has gone out of our lives”.

August 15, 1948 Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s 1948 address to the nation marks the first year since India’s independence.

1950-1959

January 26, 1950 Rajendra Prasad addresses the nation as its first President when India becomes a full-fledged Republic on 26 January 1950.

December 15, 1950 Vallabhbhai Patel dies of a heart attack. An earlier speech to the nation by the man who was instrumental in India’s territorial integration.

December 31, 1955 Dr BR Ambedkar on the BBC about the 1932 Poona Pact, the agreement between MK Gandhi and himself on the reservation of electoral seats for the depressed classes in the legislature of British India; and his adversarial assessment of Gandhi.

1956 AIR officially adopts its on-air name Akashvani (Voice from the sky), a word coined by MV Gopalaswamy of Mysore. This is the popular AIR signature tune.

January 13, 1957 Hirakud dam, then the longest dam in the world, is inaugurated by Nehru on this day.

July 1958 Wrestler Lila Ram Sangwan becomes the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. Milkha Singh won a gold medal in athletics at the same games.

March 30, 1959 On this day, the 14th Dalai Lama who fled Tibet, crosses the McMahon line, and reaches Tezpur, Assam, on 18 April.

1960-1969

December 19, 1961 India annexes the former Portuguese Indian territory of Goa.

October 1962 Nehru's speech a few days into the Sino-Indian war that began on October 20, 1962.

January 27, 1963 Lata Mangeshkar sings the famous patriotic song, Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo for the first time, written by Kavi Pradeep and composed by C Ramchandra.

May 27, 1964 Jawaharla Nehru dies at age 74. It’s the end of the ‘Nehru era’ in India.

October 1964 China tests a nuclear device. Soon after, Dr Homi Bhabha gives a talk on AIR suggesting that India should develop a nuclear deterrent of its own. Bhabha’s speech at the first conference on the peaceful use of atomic energy.

August 15, 1966 Legendary radio broadcaster Melville de Mellow’s commentary on the occasion of India’s 19th Independence Day. Indira Gandhi delivered her first Independence Day speech as the prime minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

August 31, 1966 President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan speaks on AIR about the importance of education for progress in a democratic society.

1970-1979

December 18, 1971 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi addresses Parliament after the Indian victory in the 1971 war with Pakistan, in the context of the creation of Bangladesh.

March 18, 1974 The JP Movement was a movement against the authoritarianism and corruption of the Indira Gandhi regime. He talks about the ideals of the movement here.

May 18, 1974 Indira Gandhi speaks to the press about India's first successful nuclear bomb test, called Smiling Buddha or Pokhran I.

1974 Ek Anek Aur Ekta (also known as Ek Chidiya, Anek Chidiyan after the title song), an international award-winning animated video on finding unity in diversity is aired on TV and radio, and still remains popular.

June 26, 1975 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declares a state of Internal Emergency across the country.

August 24, 1975 Indira Gandhi defends the Emergency and talks about the possibility of suspending it on National Broadcasting Company’s (NBC) famous program, Meet the Press.

March 24, 1977 India's first non-Congress Prime Minister Morarji Desai is elected after Emergency is suspended.

1980-1989

April 6, 1980 Former Jana Sangh members band together to form the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with AB Vajpayee as its first president.

November 19, 1982 The 9th Asian Games were held from November 19 to December 4, in Delhi, India. Swagatam Shubh Swagatam, written by Pt. Narendra Sharma and composed by Pt. Ravishankar, was first sung at the opening ceremony.

June 25, 1983 India wins the cricket World Cup for the first time.

June 1, 1984 Operation Bluestar, the military operation to enter the Golden Temple in Amritsar, ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on this day. Hear what Gandhi had to say about the operation in the aftermath.

October 31, 1984 After Indira Gandhi’s death, her son Rajiv, addresses the nation appealing for peace, and announces that he will head the next government.

December 2, 1984 This date marks the day of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. This is from Witness, a BBC World Service show, that spoke to witnesses of the tragedy, 20 years after the tragic night.

August 15, 1988 The popular national integration song, Ek Sur or Mile Sur Mera Tumhara releases this day on radio and TV.

1990-1999

September 21, 1991 On this day, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated. Here is a Witness report from the BBC World Service radio.

1991 Economic liberalisation in India is initiated by Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, with the goal of opening up the economy to foreign investment and dismantling the old licence-quota-permit raj.

May 16, 1996 After the 1996 general election, AB Vajpayee is invited by President Shankar Dayal Sharma to form the government. After 13 days in office, he fails to prove his majority on the floor of the Parliament and resigns. Here he speaks in the Lok Sabha before handing in his resignation.

May 11, 1998 Pokhran II (Operation Shakti) was a series of five nuclear bomb test explosions initiated on this day, making India the sixth country to join the nuclear superpower club.

May 1999 An armed conflict between India and Pakistan broke out in Kargil and elsewhere along the International Line of Control (LoC) in May, after Pakistani operatives infiltrated Indian posts. The war continued till July 1999.

2000 onwards

May 18, 2004 Sonia Gandhi, widely expected to have been named as India's new prime minister, stunned her supporters by "humbly declining" to take up the post.

August 8, 2008 Abhinav Bindra wins the gold in the 10 m Air Rifle event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, becoming the first Indian to win an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games.

March 11, 2016 The Aadhaar Act, 2016, is passed on this day by the Lok Sabha. Here is a panel discussion on the subject on AIR.

November 5, 2013 Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan, is successfully launched by ISRO, making India the first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit. Listen to this AIR news report of Mangalyaan entering orbit.

November 8, 2016 On this day, the Government of India announces the demonetisation of all ₹500 and ₹1,000 banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi series. Listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s on his monthly radio address to the nation Mann Ki Baat.

July 1, 2017 The Goods and Services Tax (GST) came into effect on this day, through the implementation of One Hundred and First Amendment of the Constitution of India by the Government of India. Here is an All India Radio report.

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