Despite the pervasiveness of television, Internet and mobile phones, all of which pander to the visual sense, the culture of listening isn't lost. All India Radio (AIR), lovingly called Akashvani, with its iconic programs like Bhule Bisre Geet and Hawa Mahal, has retained a loyal, albeit diminished, listenership.
The engagement with audio broadcasting has evolved with new formats like podcasting and app-based music. But we continue to listen, as intently, and as habitually, as ever. SouthWord. spoke to eight listeners on how they got started, why they listen, and what their favourite shows are.
Nikita, 30, marketing consultant, Mumbai
I listen to both radio and podcasts. I started listening to the radio in college when Go 92.5 FM, an English radio station, became popular in Mumbai. This must have been in 2002. Jaggu and Tarana were my favourite RJs. The amazing thing about 92.5 was that all their RJs were brilliant.
I'm an audile. So I better remember and enjoy more when I listen rather than when I see or read something. Also, one tends to pay more attention to the content when one is listening to it. You tend to drift or use more than one screen when you're watching something. Audio is more engaging than video for sure.
My favourite podcasts are This American Life and one that a friend introduced me to, called Guys we f****d, which is hilarious.
Shankar, 65, musician, Bangalore
I listen to radio and podcasts. I began listening to podcasts two years ago out of professional interest. Radio has been a part of my life from the day I was born. I was born at home and I would like to believe the waves of radio resonated to my first cries. The radio was on in the mornings and it was mostly Vividh Bharati. Film music was an early, formative influence in the development of my own musicality. The other radio broadcasts were mainly news broadcasts. I remember the signature announcements - This is All India Radio, the news read by Melville de Mello or by Lothika Ratnam. I also remember the cricket commentaries and the heart raced to hear the excitement-laden tone of the commentators, especially the boundaries and the fall of wicket announcements. At nights again, it was music on Vividh Bharati followed by the national broadcast of music. I also remember the radio show Hawa Mahal and Kannada radio drama.
More recently, I have been listening to radio shows at random, sampling a variety, from the staid tones of the BBC to the more irreverent strains of radiocasts from California, including many university radiocasts.
Listening engages one sense and frees the mind to focus on the content. Listening allows the mind to imagine and interpolate, create stories, embed oneself in contexts, it enriches through all these engagements. Radio has been a part of my sensory world and helped form an aural signature of the different parts of the world. I almost feel a part of the airwaves when I hear radio.
I like to listen to podcasts on BBC and NPR. Even today I enjoy the early morning Bhule Bisare Geet from 7am to 7.30am, and Sangeet Sarita that follows it. The Amritavarshini channel of classical music is an occasional tune-in for me. I continue to enjoy when possible the Sakhi Saheli program in the afternoon. It’s beautifully composed, friendly, and meaningfully designed.
Prem Kumar, 32, security guard, Bangalore
I like listening to the radio, and have been doing so for the last two years. I don’t have a transistor but I listen on the phone with my earphones plugged in. I take the bus everyday and that is when I most enjoy listening to FM since I can’t read or do much else. My favourite shows are the ones on which they play music. Another show I like is Love Guru, which comes on 91.1 FM (laughs).
Sumeru, 18, student, Bangalore
I only listen to podcasts. I started about two years ago. My father introduced me to podcasts one day as he dropped me off to college. The first show I listened to was Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam. I immediately fell in love with podcasts, and was surprised at how much content and variety they offered. I was also deeply disappointed by the lack of the same on the local FM channels, which was the real reason I wasn't much of 'the listening type' until then. Podcasts opened up a whole new world that I never even knew existed.
Listening is more personal. Also, a listening experience is always more curated, more tasteful and always seems to have a soul that two-minute videos on the same subject simply lack. Moreover, videos are very distracting. With the involvement of both the eyes and the ears, the thinking is being done for us. This is functionally different for a listener. One has to use his/her imagination to a certain extent - our mind creates the visuals that aren't in front of us. So listening is unique every single time. Even the same show listened to twice can offer new insights. This can never be the case with a video.
Some of my favourite podcasts are Hidden Brain, Invisibilia, Planet Money and Ted Radio Hour.
Sudha, 58, homemaker, Bangalore
I like listening to the radio very much. I have been listening to the radio for more than 35 years. I was introduced to it by my elder sister who used to listen to radio programs on All India Radio. She doesn’t listen anymore but I continue to do so.
I watch very little television, and prefer listening to the radio instead. I used to read a lot, but now I have given up that and only listen to the radio. I get much happiness from listening to the All India Radio programs from 2pm to 4pm. I don’t skip listening even a single day, and if at all I’m unable to tune in, I feel really sad about missing them. I get lots of tips and knowledge from these shows. I like listening to old songs too, I really do.
I have been listening to Sakhi Saheli for over 35 years and have even asked my daughters to listen to the show. They will gain knowledge from it. It will bring them peace of mind and also give them kitchen tips.
Ajay, 22, post-graduate student, Bangalore
I spend most of my time listening to podcasts or watching video podcasts such as Joe Rogan Experience on YouTube. I also spend some time listening to the podcasts that BBC Radio 4 hosts.
I started listening to podcasts in 2015. My first podcast was the Joe Rogan Experience, as mentioned before. I came upon it when I was looking for information on martial arts-related topics. Though that was how I started, I started consuming podcasts for all kind of information and knowledge.
The really good podcasts are the one that have an organic and personal touch to them. Often the hosts seque into different, seemingly unrelated topics. For a person who doesn't necessarily want to listen to one person reading out talking points, it's entertaining. For me, podcasts are not a substitute to reading or watching videos. They are an additional source and unedited, raw content seems to have a better appeal.
My favourite podcasts are Joe Rogan Experience, Waking up with Sam Harris, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, Intelligence Squared Podcast, Weasle Radio.
Krishna, 32, entrepreneur, Mumbai
I began listening to podcasts in 2014. I used to do a daily, 30-minute run, and was looking for something to keep myself occupied when doing so. I got bored of listening to songs on my playlist, and hence decided to try podcasts.
I took to podcasts as it was the only medium through which I could consume content while multi-tasking (running, travelling, doing household chores). Over the years though, I have become a big fan of the medium for other reasons. I find the genre much more intimate than video. The lack of a second stimulus (visual) forces you to focus all your attention on the speaker's voice.
Some of my favourite podcasts are Intelligence Squared, The Bugle, How I Built This with Guy Raz, Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, a16z Podcast, Planet Money and Freakonomics Radio.
Venkat, 36, archivist, Bangalore
The radio has always been a part of my life. I enjoy listening to both - radio and podcasts. I've been listening to the radio since 2003, when I was in graduate school in the US. I used to live by myself and would mostly listen to news or talk shows on NPR. I'd leave the radio on even when I was not at home.
Next to reading, I find audio to be the most immersive form. I don't own a television, and haven't had one since nearly 1998-99.
My favourites shows are Radiolab, This American Life and Serial. I particularly recall two episodes of The American Life, one on dopplegangers and one on car sales target, that were extremely compelling, and had my wife and I hooked. It was akin to the ‘driveway moment’ - when you want to keep listening to the radio/podcast in your car even if you’ve arrived at your destination. I don’t listen to podcasts as often as I used to, but I do listen to The Intersection and The Pipette.