For nearly nine decades, millions of people across India woke up to a bouquet of news bulletins, music shows and iconic jingles carrying the All India Radio (AIR) name, its phenomenal reach into the hinterland helping it grow into one of the world’s largest radio networks.
That journey ended on Wednesday, after the Union government ordered that the public broadcaster be exclusively referred to as Akashvani in all broadcasts and programmes — consigning to history the British-era name that had become synonymous with radio in India.
“This was long pending and in line with the law which came into being in 1997. Our listeners have more of a connect with Akashvani and so we are ridding ourselves of colonial baggage that may have persisted,” said Gaurav Dwivedi, the chief executive officer of Prasar Bharati, the parent organisation of Akashvani.
The order, seen by HT and issued by the directorate general of Akashvani on May 3, said that all satellite messages will now be issued in compliance with the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990, which defined Akashvani as the offices, stations, and other establishments that were a part of or under All India Radio.
“The aforesaid statutory provision, which has replaced the name of AIR with Akashvani, may be brought to the attention of all so that names and titles get in tune with the provisions of the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990, passed by Parliament,” the order said.
Though AIR has been officially known as Akashvani — a name proposed by Rabindranath Tagore meaning “voice from the sky” — since 1956, both names were used in radio shows and broadcasts.
Even on Wednesday, the English morning news bulletin — broadcast at 8.15am — carried the All India Radio name in its introduction. But by the afternoon news bulletin, broadcast at 4.05pm, the announcer had switched to Akashvani.
The journey of radio in India started in June 1923 when the Radio Club of Bombay made the first broadcast. AIR began its journey on June 8, 1936 when the then colonial government renamed the Indian Broadcasting Company. The Akashvani name was added in 1956.Following this the Vividh Bharati Service was launched in 1957 with popular film music as its main component.
“Akashvani has been used as an opening for broadcasts in several other languages for years,” said former Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati.
“AIR predates independent India and has been the conveyor of several momentous occasions in history. One of the first broadcasts by C Rajagopalachari talks of the power of transformation that the radio wields. Even today, the Akashvani Bhawan has a message by CV Raman that captures how the radio works as a mathematical equation,” he added.
Akashvani today broadcasts in 23 languages and 146 dialects, reaching almost the entire population. The external services division broadcasts in 11 Indian and 16 foreign languages, reaching 100 countries, while the news division puts out 647 bulletins daily for a total duration of nearly 56 hours in about 90 languages and dialects.
Bittu Sandhu, who was a casual newsreader for the state radio broadcaster in Hindi and Punjabi for 20 years, said she would open with the Akashvani name. “My first broadcast was in 1984, after Operation Bluestar and during the anti-Sikh riots. Two people would accompany us to the radio station, just to make sure we were safe,” she said.
Beyond news, the broadcaster also ran several dramatised story programmes, aired music by popular musicians, and messages of public interest, such as those about agriculture. It has 18 FM stereo channels, called AIR FM Rainbow, targeting the urban audience.The order only mentions the transmissions, but the name will be adopted everywhere, an official familiar with the matter said.
“Akashvani will be adopted everywhere,” the official said. “There will be a lot of media content where the nomenclature will overlap. We will be transitioning in the next couple of days.”
According to another official familiar with the matter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s radio broadcast, Mann Ki Baat, is the most popular show at present. Since it first aired nine years ago, the programme has generated ₹23 crore, the official said.
“FM Gold, FM Rainbow, and news and current affairs programmes were previously the main sources of revenue,” the official said. “It (Mann Ki Baat) is heard by millions across the country and remains a popular influencer, keeping radio alive.”