Set up on the lines of the BBC, the privately owned Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) started India’s first broadcasting studio and office in Apollo Bunder Road, Bombay. Soon they opened their Calcutta station at Temple Chamber, opposite the high court, but then moved to No 1 Garstin Place and started to broadcast from August 26, 1927.
Musical and dialogue programmes, termed as European and Indian, were broadcast every evening for three to four hours. The signature tune of AIR, composed by Mr. John Foulds, and created by the combination of Violin, Viola, Cello and Tanpura, is very soft, soothing and freshening like the morning air. The tune is of 8 seconds duration, repeated with intervals of 10 seconds in between.
The Calcutta station’s first director was CC Wallick of the BBC, while Nripendra Nath Majumdar was the producer of the Indian programmes. Musician Rai Chand Boral was one of Majumdar’s assistants. Birendra Krishna Bhadra was also associated with AIR for several decades, as the producer of the drama section. He also presented Birupaksher Aasar broadcast every Sunday at 1.00 Pm, which created a sensation among the commoners. But the crowning glory of his career in All India Radio,Calcutta was his performance in Mahishasura Mardini, where he chanted the Slokas of Sri Sri Chandi. The programme was first introduced in 1937.
Bani Kumar wrote the script, Pankaj Kumar Mullick composed the music and Birendra Krishna Bhadra recited the Stotras with devotional melody, which creates a nostalgic atmosphere even today. It has become a catalyst to bring back the old memories, it creates goose bumps as it brings the flavor of the Durga Puja. In the initial years, like all the other programmes, this show was also broadcast live. However, a live show of the programme was recorded in the 1960s, and since then the same recording is played every year in place of the live programme. It is a special early morning programme broadcast on ‘Mahalaya’ at 4.00 am. In the 1970s an alternate version of Mahishasura Mardini was recorded with Govinda Gopal Mukherjee, Uttam Kumar, who reluctantly agreed, and great Lata Mangeskar as the principal singer. However, the attempt was a grand failure and by popular demand the original version was reinstated.
Listen Mahalaya Special Programme from AIR
Pankaj Kumar Mallik started his career and sang his first song from the Calcutta station in 1927. The blind singer Krishna Chandra De started to teach music in a special session from 1930, and after him, Sangeet Shikshar Aasor was aptly conducted by Pankaj Kumar Mullick for quite a long time. Indira Debi used to host the Shishu Mahal for the kids, while Sudhir Sarkar conducted Palli Mangaler Aasor for the rural audience. Galpodadur Aasor was conducted for the young adults, while Bela Dey used to host Mahila Mahal for the housewives. Anurodher Aasor, with a bouquet of carefully selected Bengali songs, was a fascinating programme for the lovers of light music on Saturdays and Sundays. In those days there was a craze for the radio plays. Jagannath Basu, who was associated with the Calcutta station of AIR for many years, once remarked that, for years, professional theatre shows at Hatibagan area used to be held on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. But the popularity of the radio play on Friday evenings compelled them to shift their Friday shows to Thursdays.
Great musicians like Ustad Mohammad Sagiruddin Khan, Ustad Keramatullah Khan, Jnan Prakash Ghosh and V.G. Jog were all connected with AIR. To the delight of the lovers of classical music, it arranged Akhil Bharatiya Karyakram on Saturday nights and Radio Sangeet Sammelan.
Bulbul Sarkar, grand daughter of Pandit Shivnath Sasthi, joined All India Radio as an announcer in1949. Within a short time, she became very popular among the children as auntie Bulbul in ‘Calling all Children’. Later she used to produce Western Music in All India Radio, Calcutta. In fact, she planned and produced many popular programmes like ‘Lunch Time Variety’, ‘Musical Bandbox’, and ‘Classical Music at Your Request’, which were appreciated by many.
Daily news bulletins were also broadcasted thrice daily in English, Hindi and Bengali.
Apart from all these regular programmes, many important events were broadcasted live, like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech on the eve of independence day, running commentary of Mahatma Gandhi’s crematorial ceremony etc.
Since 1929, a magazine named Betar Jagat, used to be published regularly , with lists of radio programmes, along with short stories, other articles and photographs of the radio artists. It continued till 1985.
It is said that the unimpressive, small building at 1, Garstin Place, which gradually turned into the cultural hub of the City, was a haunted place. Calcutta station of All India Radio left the place and shifted to its immense Eden Garden building on September 15, 1958. However, in the process, a legend has been lost forever, when the old structure, which was the witness of the earliest, as well as the most glorious days of the Calcutta station of AIR, was demolished unceremoniously in January 1997.