Pioneer on the rural front

The celebration of the milestone — completing 80 years — began at the Tiruchi All India Radio station last year with folk dance and music. The birthday was May 16, 1939. Sarukkai Gopalan was the first Director. It was an exclusively Tamil station, unlike Madras, which was multilingual. Writer Chitti (P.G. Sundarrajan), who joined the station, soon after its inauguration, writes of Gopalan: "He trained himself in wireless by sheer genius. It was said that what Gopalan did not know about the radio, even Marconi did not!" Tiruchi AIR seems to have attracted many writers besides Chitti. One of them was R.A. Padmanabhan, who later joined Ananda Vikatan.

During World War II, visitors had to get written permission from the Director to enter AIR. Once in 1940, writer Na. Pichamurthy went to the radio station to meet Chitti. When director Gopalan learnt who the visitor was, he came down to meet Pichamurthy, and at the end of a long conversation, Gopalan got Pichamurthy to sign a contract for broadcasting a series of talks on 'Mysticism in Tamil literature.' Chitti writes: "That was characteristic of Gopalan, who always went half way to meet talent!"

Right from the beginning, rural programmes were an important part of Tiruchi's broadcasts. In the 1940s, rural programmes began and ended with a Tamil song in a classical raga, with discussions and skits in between. Victor Paranjothi, first director of Madras station, wrote in Vanoli, AIR's programme journal, that the script writers for Tiruchi rural programmes knew how to keep the audience informed and entertained.

But it was not until 1966 that a farm and home section was established in Tiruchi, headed by D. Ganapathy. T.P. Thandavarayan (Cheyyaru Adalarasan) joined as farm radio reporter. Both he and Ganapathy had degrees in Agricultural science.

When the paddy variety IR- 8 became a rage with farmers, Sivaraman, editor of Dinamani, wrote complaining that AIR Tiruchi was making hyperbolic claims about this variety. The station decided to prove they were not. So, they asked Sivaraman to come for a harvest in Arani. The Arani farmer harvested 62 sacks, each containing 75 kg, from an acre. This was better than the previous record from Thanjavur, where the yield was 45 sacks of 57 kg. Even as Sivaraman was congratulating AIR staff for their accurate reporting, news came that the farmer's wife had given birth to a son. "I am going to name him IR-8," said the farmer. "IR-8 must be in his fifties now," laughs Thandavarayan.
Great impact-
Agricultural scientist, David Mason visited India on behalf of the Food and Agricultural organisation of the United Nations, to gauge the impact of farm broadcasting in India. AIR staff took Mason to Tiruvaiyaru, because farmers there could speak English, and could answer his questions, without need for translations. Thiruppazhanam Sitarama Iyer, convenor of the Radio Rural Forum in Tiruvaiyaru, answered Mason's questions. Mason asked, "What crop do you grow?" And Sitarama Iyer replied: "Radio paddy." Thandavarayan explained to Mason that AIR Tiruchi gave extensive publicity to a paddy variety that Aduturai Rice Research Institute had come up with. Since farmers came to know of the paddy Aduturai 27 through the radio, they called it radio paddy. That was enough to convince Mason that farm broadcasting in India was successful.

One of the bonuses of being in the rural section, was that Thandavarayan stumbled upon talent quite unexpectedly, as when he discovered folk singer Thavittu Penn. He drew up a contract for her and five other singers to do a folk programme for Tiruchi AIR. "We even arranged for the women to visit Srirangam temple, once the recording was done. And with the money they were paid, they all bought saris for themselves."

When Vanmathy Kannan joined the rural broadcast division in 1980, Tiruchi's rural broadcasts had earned fame for their uniqueness. "Muruganandam, Ganapathy, Thandavarayan, Thugili Subramaniam and script writer Mayavi had nurtured the section," says Kannan, who launched many innovative programmes. 'Poochi Darbar' was one of them, where the characters were pests and insects, having animated discussions! In 'Vikramdithan Kathai,' the Vedalam asked questions about crops and animal husbandry. The Agriculture Minister for Tamil Nadu — Ku.Pa. Krishnan — was a fan of Kannan's 'Tea kadai durbar.' "When the agriculture section of AIR Tiruchi celebrated its silver jubilee, farmers organised a two-day exhibition. There were 200 stalls, and more than 30,000 farmers visited the exhibition," says Kannan.
Post-tsunami, Kannan and AIR's jeep driver Murugesan managed to reach Nagapattinam, hacking their way through fallen trees. All communication had been cut off, but they located ham enthusiast Manoharan there and whatever instructions the district Collector wanted to convey to his officers, were sent by Manoharan to Palaniappan, in the agricultural department. Palaniappan passed on the information to AIR Tiruchi, which then broadcast the Collector's instructions.

The rural section is still going strong, under the stewardship of P. Chinnasamy. "Wherever I go, I am identified as Marathadi Mannaru, a character I play in a rural programme, along with my colleagues Vasudevan and Gopalakrishnan," says Chinnasamy. "Velaan Seidi Surul is a popular agriculture related news programme, in which 10 districts are covered." Right from the beginning, Tiruchi's rural broadcasts have had great variety — skits quizzes, discourses, musicals, debates and poetry sessions.
Victor Paranjothi was the first editor of Vanoli, with Theetharappan as assistant editor. Later, Sarukkai Gopalan took charge with Chitti as his assistant, and editing moved to Tiruchi.

Suki Subramaniam, Maran, Arumugam and Raghavan, who wrote excellent plays, were the pride of Tiruchi's drama section. It had an excellent line up of actors — T.V. Krishnamurthi, Chandrakantha, M.S. Ramani, V. Veerammal, T.S. Bhagavathy (who sang in the film 'Parasakthi'), Sumathi, T.M. Kamala, M. Viswanathan, Thennur Krishnamurthy and J.V. Raghavan. Husband and wife — T. V. Krishnamurthi and Chandrakantha — joined the year the station was established.
Love letter arrives
AIR's 'voices' had such an impact on listeners, that Chandrakantha received a letter from a man in Sri Lanka, proposing marriage! Station director Ayub took a picture of Chandrakantha with her husband and children and posted it to the listener, putting an end to his romantic dreams! Artistes had to know how to improvise and cover up for slips. Once, during live broadcast of a drama, the birth of a child had to be indicated by playing a recording of an infant's cries. But instead, the braying of a donkey was played! T.V. Krishnamurthy, with presence of mind said, "The braying of a donkey is an auspicious omen. This child will live long!" The drama section had unique programmes like the dramatisation in 1941 of the Ramayana, based on Arunachala Kavi's kritis. The 1940s also saw dramatisation of the stories of popular authors like Guhapriyai.

Talk shows and discussions of Tiruchi station were a big draw. A discussion in 1944 about drama, had the participants discussing not only Tamil drama, but Greek tragedy too! The education section's history programmes featured a wide gamut of topics — from science to the Spanish Inquisition.

Source :- society/history-and-culture/pioneer-on-the-rural front/article27078981.ece

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