Radio Play : Popular entertainment and social awareness media

Dilip Mayengbam
Introduction : With the establishment of radio stations in Europe and America, radio plays began to entertain the listening public. Australia and India also followed soon. It is inexpensive in production but it gives the similar impact as given by the stage plays. Due to this reason radio listeners always are very fond of listening to radio play. It activates the psychological thought process, the listener visualizes the characters in the play, he also assumes or expects certain turn of events according to the sequence of the plot and fully enjoys as a part of the production team. If the music or a dialogue is not fitting to the situation he would react: this is not proper. So every listener becomes a judge of the play in his/her own right and enjoys the details of the play.
It is a play acting before the mike, adding music and sound effects to create the atmosphere during editing. It began with adaptation of stage plays but later on radiogenic scripts are written specially for radio. So a new group of actors have come up to act only for radio. They are put on panel as graded artists for every station producing radio plays regularly. It is considered as an offshoot of stage plays. After getting a suitable script casting is done by the producer, who is actually the director of the play, rehearsals are done two or three times and then recording is made. During recording retakes are done wherever necessary. Then scene wise suitable music is composed, sound effects are collected or created in the studio. Then editing is done. Then it is ready for broadcast. Under the name radio play docudrama, dramatized works of short story or novel, adaptation of plays meant for theatre are all included.
In some universities radio productions are included as a regular course. It was a leading international popular entertainment in 1940s. Still it is popular in India and Manipur in particular. So, many radio playwrights are emerging every decade. Since there is less number of productions for stage plays, radio plays are the only regular productions as of now in Manipur.
Early period: English language radio drama started in the United States way back in 1921. A radio play–A Rural Line on Education specifically written for radio was broadcast from Pittsburgh’s KDKA in 1921. KYW aired a series of operas from Chicago starting in November, 1921. In the United Kingdom, as an experiment a play was broadcast on 17 October, 1922 from a research station at Writtle near Chelmsford, Essex. BBC broadcast one of the earliest dramas specially written for radio-A Comedy of Danger by Richard Hughes on January 15, 1924. It was about a group of people trapped in a coal mine. Mention may be made of an early French radio play-Maremoto by Gabriel Germinet and Pierre Cusy, depicting the scene of a sinking ship. It was translated and broadcast in Germany and England in 1925. It was actually scheduled to broadcast on October 1924 by Radio-Paris but the French Govt. banned it till 1937 because of the fear that the SOS messages in the drama may be mistaken for genuine signals.
In India radio broadcast began in June, 1923 by Bombay Presidency Radio Club. Then Indian Broadcasting Company Ltd was authorized to operate two radio stations one at Bombay and another at Calcutta. The Bombay station began on July 23, 1927 and Calcutta station started on August 26, 1927. Calcutta was a centre of Bengali intellectuals, literature and plays. So on the night of September 3, 1927 a drama having the features of a radio play was broadcast. In the same year the Calcutta Amateur Theatrical Society had broadcast two English language plays: The Girl Who Wasn’t by Ben Norton and The Fall of George by Mathew Bolton. This was meant for the British listeners. It was followed by many Sanskrit plays. The first radio play in Bengali was Daye Pore Dargroho by Jyotirindra Thakur. It was produced by Chtraa Sansad. Another play Basataleela was presented by Natyamandir Sangstha led by Sisir kumar Bhaduri was broadcast on December 5, 1927. However the first proper radio play format was Naranarayan presented by Sisir Kumar Bhaduri’s group and written by Khirod Prasad Bidyabinod broadcast on 16th December, 1927. Then the Govt. took over the broadcasting works under Indian State broadcasting service on April 1, 1930.
Mr. Lionel Fielden, who was looking after the work proposed that Indian broadcasting service does not sound nice so let it be changed to All India Radio and it was adopted on June 8, 1936. Because of the reach and simultaneous listening, radio play became an important entertainment programme and its writer, producers and actors became instantly popular. So, it attracted good writers, actors and reputed groups too. In 1939 a radio station was established in Dhaka to cater to the Bengali intellectuals there.  Natyaguru  Nurul Momen was a famous writer, columnist, playwright and artist there. He wrote the first modern radio play for Dhaka station and broadcast in 1942. At the time of independence only 6 radio stations-Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Lucknow and Tiruchirapalli remained in India, Dhaka, Peshawar and Lahore remained in Pakistan.
Now, there are more than 200 radio stations under All India Radio organization and may be more than 100 private FM radio stations in the big cities. After independence All India Radio is officially known as AKASHVANI since 1957 it is a Sanskrit term meaning a celestial announcement from the sky. This term was first used by MV Gopalaswami in 1936 for radio when he started a radio station at his residence in Mysore. Then it was adopted for All India Radio.
All India Radio, Gauhati used to broadcast Manipuri programmes daily since 21 May, 1957 till August 1963 for a duration of 30 minutes. Since then Manipuri radio play began to broadcast.
Theatre groups and Roop Raag took part in those presentations. Roop Raag presented musical plays of Rabindranath Tagore. Then a full fledged radio station came into existence in Imphal on the 15th August, 1963 and radio play was also introduced soon. From early 1970s it became a regular feature broadcasting every Sunday at 12 noon for a duration of one hour. Another radio serial play started broadcasting on every Saturday at 7.45 pm for 20 minutes. Then on 2nd Thursdays also plays are scheduled at 9.30 pm for 30 minutes and National Programme of plays on 4th Thursdays at the same timing for a duration of one hour. Script is being supplied in advance by the Central Drama Unit, Delhi which started in 1960s, in any of the main languages of the capital stations and its regional language translation is broadcast on the same day at the same timing in all the capital stations of India.
Present situation: All over the world radio plays were very popular upto 1950s, then with the advent of television radio play listening declined in 1960s in the United States and Australia. Whereas in Britain and Europe not much decline was seen. BBC still produces hundreds of plays for its Radio-3, Radio-4, and Radio-4 Extra channels. In America and Australia also radio listening regained again knowing that one can listen while working or doing a manual work, while driving a car also you can listen to radio and now mobile phone is helping radio listening. With the coming of live streaming and Youtube and certain radio apps you can listen any programme anytime. It is made more flexible and feasible. So, our programmes are listened by any Manipuri knowing person all over the world. BBC attempted plays of Shakespeare and other Greek classical plays in 1930s. Then plays of Chekov, Ibsen were also tried but listeners wanted specifically written for the medium. BBC produced TS Eliot’s verse play Murder in the Cathedral in 1936. It also adapted George Bernard Shaw’s plays which were easier to do so. In 1940s BBC produced more than 400 plays a year. In the mid 40s BBC started producing long serials. The Arches is the longest running British radio soap opera with 19,200 episodes so far starting from 1950.
Coming to India, All India Radio, Kolkata, Mumbai, Thiruananthapuram, Chennai, Delhi, Imphal, Dibrugarh, Cuttack, Calicut, Bengalore, Hyderabad, Patna, Bhopal, Rajkot, Srinagar, Lucknow, Vijaywada, Indore, Varanasi, Shimla, etc. are the leading stations in the country in producing and broadcasting new radio plays at present.
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