To a generation and more, Ameen Sayani is radio, and radio is Ameen Sayani.

His mentor was his elder brother Hamid, whom old-timers will remember as the original velvety voice behind All India Radio's Bournvita Quiz Contest, which Sayani inherited after his brother's untimely death of a heart attack in the 1970s. "Hamid was wonderfully multifaceted — he was a magician, a stage actor, director and of course an excellent broadcaster."

Inspired by his brother, Ameen went to AIR to audition for the post of an announcer in Hindi. He had picked up the language while helping his mother — who was a part of the freedom movement, on first name terms with Jawaharlal Nehru, and had been asked by Gandhi to bring out a journal in simple Hindustani. Radio was going through some tumultuous changes then. Information and broadcasting minister B.V. Keskar, a patron of the classical arts, had banned Hindi film music. The outcome was that Sri Lanka's Radio Ceylon, which broadcast Hindi songs with its very powerful transmitters, started amassing listeners from India.

Hamid was a programme director for Radio Ceylon, and Ameen, then a student of Mumbai's St Xavier's College, used to hang around his office. Then, one day, the announcer for Ovaltine Phulwari, an amateur hour of Hindi music, didn't turn up, and Ameen was summoned. "The producer said, 'You're doing damn all, ogling all the girls. Why don't you read out this Hindi script?' I was a great dramabaaz — so I read it with gusto, shaking my head and body. 'It's not a wrestling match,' the producer said. 'Make it a little more sober'." He did, and was hired. He was paid every week too, with a tin of Ovaltine — "one small, teeny-weeny tin!"

Binaca Geetmala — later Cibaca and later still Colgate-Cibaca — started as an experiment. The sponsors wanted a Hindi music programme on air, and Sayani was asked to script and record it. The first show was aired on December 3, 1952. Six or seven days later, the mail started pouring in. "For the very first programme received 9,000 letters. By the end of the year it'd reached 65,000." Sayani did a whole lot of other radio shows too — interviews and mock trials, publicity for films, plays and so on. "I must have done 60,000 programmes all over the world," he says. "Geetmala itself lasted 45 years. It had 20 crore listeners in the late 1950s and 1960s."

He has a rich treasure of old recordings — which include 1,500-2,000 interviews with celebrities. Lately, he has been producing a CD series called Geetmala Ki Chhaon Mein— which gives the countdown ratings of the years, but includes songs that never made it to the hit list, along with Sayani's new commentary.

Contributed by :- Shri. Mitul Kansal,

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