Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian
In a world dominated by television anchors and online trolls, the radio jockey is very nearly a media cipher, not just unsung but largely unknown as well. But this is the proverbially deceptive façade, where nothing great seems to be happening apart from the film songs that get played and the quite frivolous banter that marks the exchange between the radio announcer and the caller. And you would not want to spare much on the phenomenon.
Until you go to speak with Ginnie Mahajan, the radio jockey with Radio City, in her studio at her Okhla office. The studio with the consoles, and now the computer screens, with the de rigueur headphones, makes it an antiquated work station. It is not merely that she is quite passionate and excited about her work, though even that is unusual because she has been 10 years into radio and she speaks about it as though she has just discovered her America, her Columbus moment as it were.
A wide new world full of people experiences anecdotes and heart-warming gestures. A world that pulsates every day and comes alive in the air waves in a way it does not on television screens or in newspaper pages.
And as an ardent advocate of the second oldest media medium – the first being the newspaper – she explains with much conviction the difference between the different platforms. She says that the newspaper is a passive medium because the reader can only write a letter to the editor and it may not even see the light of day. Television, Mahajan says, talks at you and not to you. It is only the radio which provides the live connect between the listener and the host.
“Radio is the only medium which is a two-way communication. This is the only point where people are allowed to say what they feel like. Whether it is about civic issues, whether it is about social problems, the fact that they like to have an opinion on what the prime minister is saying literally to that extent, about cricket, about anything. If you have an opinion this is the only place where you can voice it and make people hear it. In India everybody wants to have an opinion. Therefore radio really scores.”
And the radio show follows the rhythms of a day in the city. She hosts a break-fast show Monday through Friday and with a demographer’s certitude tells you straightaway that the age-profile of the listeners is between 25-44. In the afternoons, the shows caters to women at home, and again in the evening it is the office-goers on their way back home who re-appear in the invisible space of megahertz. In the night, it is the time for shows like Loveguru, where secrets, feelings, desires and dreams are shared along with problems. Mahajan says that people share things on this programme which they would not admit to themselves. “There is also a personalised angle to radio. For example, Television is driven by TV personalities. Say, Rajdeep Sardesai, Arnab Goswami, Barkha Dutt, Nidhi Razdan. If the anchor coughs, or if the anchor is not seen for two days, you don’t think much about it. There is no personalised interaction. On radio, we can cough, or we can say we are hungry because radio allows you that kind of informality. I cannot imagine a television anchor say ‘now I want to eat some aloo ka paratha’. I have heard a lot of radio jockeys say that on birthdays they get sent cakes; if we cough people ring up and say ‘You do not sound right. Are you all right? Can we send something?’ I have had million concoctions of tea to treat the cough. If I say I have a problem with my mobile, I get calls from various mobile companies.” “Personalisation of radio is insane. Somebody on radio said I want doughnuts and a doughnut company sent them. I said I want to eat aloo ka paratha. There were different tiffins with aloo ka paratha. One day I said I have a craving for dark chocolate from a place outside India. A homemaker sent freshly-made chocolate. Recently, it is fresh in my memory, I played an old song and talked of memories. A woman, who had lost her husband recently, rang up and howled and cried, and she said that I listen to you and I feel you will understand. I cannot cry at home because I need to be strong in front of them.”
And there is the anonymous angle in this personal connect tangle, however oxymoronic it may sound. Mahajan talks about the callers to the late night show, Loveguru, one of the oldest running programmes, and she says that people talk about emotions which they would not express to themselves. People have talked about coming out of the closet, people have talked about relationships, people have talked about issues they have with their partners which they cannot discuss with their problems. They talk about their problems because they understand they are the problem in a relationship. It is liberating. You are speaking to a person who does not know you, who cannot see you, and whose ability to judge you is limited. And not being judgmental.” Gini says that there is another side to this anonymity, and it is the flip side. Over the last few years, and more specifically the last three years, she says people ring up “raging, saying nasty things, whether it is about religion, or a political leader. Because it is an anonymous medium, they actually have strong emotions and they are not afraid to say it. If you are upset with Arnab or Faye D’Souza, you rarely get to speak to them. You write on the Twitter, which is impersonal. Radio jockeys get lambasted. He has chances of speaking to me because the phone lines are open. So we get a lot of trolling. We get a lot negative feedback. It is very disturbing.”
Balanced and Fair
Is a liberal radio jockey vulnerable in these times? Mahajan thinks that on radio “jockeys are not defined as liberals or conservatives. It is still keeping open to a large extent. But even if your opinion differs, for example, should women be allowed into temples, now people who have strong opinions about this, people will call up and abuse you. And that is what happens whether you put it on air or not, you are still going through that entire process. Talking about Section 377, about homosexuality, the kind of things you hear, the amount of times I heard, ‘Go to Pakistan’. If you take a stance, ‘Tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai?’ has been replaced by ‘Pakistan chale jaa’. “Radio is constantly reinventing itself. Radio has reinvented so many times. I have to say mobile phones have given a new lease of life to radio. FM listenership is because mobiles have come, wherever they are commuting, I have seen people putting on headphones, listening to their own music or to radio, a lot of time they are listening to radio. It has seen resurgence. It is not going to die.” “It is the most emphatic medium. It changes every day. It is a very dynamic medium. When you are watching a news channel, when you are watching a television soap, you know what to expect. Radio does not have that predictability. If you are listening to a morning show, you will hear a variety at one singular place, at one point in time. You listen to music, you listen to traffic, you listen to opinion, you listen to a joke, you listen to a lot things coming together, all these are very fresh, it does not become monotonous.”
“Radio is one of the toughest mediums. You never stop thinking. Even if you go to buy vegetables, and the vegetable vendor has said something, you are thinking in your head I have to use this. If there is a person driving and he is making a gesture, you say I need to use this, if you see a baby on the street, you think you can connect this. So there is no stopping. There is no point where you are resting. Because it is a slice of life, and the damned slice of life happens 24x7.” “There is a mind block that if you want to enter radio, you need a melodious voice. That is not important. What you need for radio is a very open mind, a very questioning mind, somebody who is interested in knowing people generally, somebody who likes talking, and you need to know what you are saying. Radio is not about learnt scripts and repeatition. You should have the ability really to have a conversation. It is not about ex tempore. Radio is not limited to questions and answers. If you ring me up and want me to talk about something I have not talked about, you should have the ability to carry on the conversation. Radio is not just about talking. It is about listening.”
“Radio is literally driven by cab-drivers. Every time I sit in a cab, I ask which radio station you are listening to. Because they are the ones who are taking people from one point to another. Cab-drivers form an important part of conversation for the radio. Their opinions are fantastic. In the middle of a conversation, a cab-driver told me how he really liked the Kejriwal government a little before and how he is a little upset with them now. What he thinks about Modi and his government. They give very key points. A cab-driver rang up and said that he was taking a girl from one point to another. She was crying and he asked her what happened. She told that the person whom she came to meet has ditched her. The cab-driver said, ‘I am very upset that Delhi has such people.’ “One of the nicest things I have heard about radio is that you need to be relevant to the guy driving the cab and the guy sitting at the back. If you can make them smile at the same thing, you can get both to react to something, because they come from absolutely different social strata. Then you know a topic is relevant.” “I have had grandmothers calling, grandfathers calling. The amount of older people who called, they gave out the saddest stories. ‘Radio creates a sense of huge community.” Ginnie Mahajan remains an articulate voice and she has spoken her heart and mind. We are not going to add anything more about her. As a radio jockey her voice is what has been put forth here. A slice of new India if you like. As she says, “A slice of life, 24x7.”