Famous radio jocks, top podcasters, experienced programmers, skilled musicians, community radio operators from across the country, poetry connoisseurs, journalists, academicians, college students and a varied cross-section of people made up the 1000-odd enthusiasts who gathered on a sunny and warm February day for a festival unlike any other.

In an age where there is an unprecedented emphasis on visuals and subtitles are considered an appropriate replacement for audio, a day devoted to the celebration of sound and radio is truly rare to come by. When this day incorporates a mix of voices from across the country and even overseas, Padma Shri dance maestros, a 20-piece Indian orchestra – Vadya Vrinda, some of the biggest RJs of the country and a rap duo from Uttar Pradesh’s Modinagar, it becomes a truly unique experience.

The 3rd edition of The Radio Festival (TRF) offered this and much more on February 13, 2020 at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi. Held on World Radio Day by a not-for-profit organization Seeking Modern Applications for Real Transformation (SMART) in partnership with UNESCO, the platform provided an insight into the world of audio. Founded by Archana Kapoor, The Radio Festival is a team effort that also includes Pinky Chandran, Rukmini Vemraju. Esther Kar and Jayalakshmi Chittoor.

This edition of TRF made it loud and clear that radio is alive and kicking and has the potential to take on the challenges of the future. The form and format may evolve but the radio is not going away anywhere.

Presiding over the inaugural session, CEO, Prasar Bharati, Shashi Vempati, narrated how AIR has come a long way in its journey and has gone digital to keep up with the times. “You can be anywhere in the world and listen to the voices from your hometown through over 200 livestreams.”

Director of UNESCO, Eric Falt underlined the importance of radio in preserving the diversity of India. “With such an expansive reach, the onus lies on the radio today to ensure equal representation from every pocket of the society.” The spirit of diversity was also highlighted by Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Atul Kumar Tiwari in his address.

“Radio is a local medium that informs, educates and engages with its listeners in real time. It is time to revisit, reimagine, redefine and reposition radio to keep it relevant in a rapidly evolving digital realm,” Founder, TRF, Archana Kapoor said.

Communicating the Sustainable Development Goals was a significant highlight at the Radio Festival. Developed by SMART with support from UNESCO and UNICEF, a toolkit for community radio and the SDGs was formally released at the inaugural session. The toolkit simplifies the SDGs and ensures community participation by making them equal stakeholders.

With over 16 sessions the festival comprised a versatile range of discussions and conversations. These revolved around radio and gender, radio and storytelling, is it possible to break taboos through radio, radio in 2030, how are the neighboring countries looking at radio, radio and music, dialogue with ghunghroos, radio as a spectacle- how important is it to move out of the studios? Are RJs only heard or is there a need to be seen too?

The festival attracted participation from the best in the business: 28 panelists and moderators, from across the audio industry. Over 10 private channels, 100 community radios and AIR participated in the festival.

Representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka shed light on the South-Asian radio scenario. As the moderator of the session Anders Held said, “Radio is important, stories are different.”

The audience was transported to a world where magic is woven through words during the session of poetry. From Faiz and Ghalib to lullabies sung by mothers to their children, the session decoded the relationship of words to melodies and the space occupied by poetry in a person’s life. “Poetry can change the world, it can stir revolutions, it is like filling the sea in a pot,” author Rakhshanda Jalil surmised.

The contemporary audio world has an important new format: podcasts. The festival provided a platform to leading podcasters of the country to decode the nuances of this new industry or what formula works and what does not.

Leaders of the radio industry discussed the future of the medium. “I think you need to be relevant. If you are creating good content, people will hear you. Radio has survived 90 years. The fight is not against your competitors in the business, but against technology, and the only way to battle that is by being relevant,” said Nisha Narayanan, COO and Director of Red FM.

“Radio is an intimate medium. We need to tell more positive stories, and the stories which can create an impact on people’s lives,” Richa Anirudh voiced the words everyone was in agreement with. “The story has to be simple and listeners should be able to relate with it’, added RJ Peeyush from Radio Nasha.

The panels were witty, entertaining, engaging and stimulating. Khurafati Nitin, won the hearts of the audience by his one liners. One of the take-aways was “When you address people as ‘aap’ on radio, you lose listeners. Your listener is an individual and must feel you are addressing him/her.” The line that stayed with all was- Host ek dost hota hai!

Finally, another year, another festival and another milestone achieved! Work for the next edition has already begun!

Nitika Kakkar
Project Director, SMART