RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: Dozens of fine people decided to take leave of our company in 2009: Gangubai Hanagal and D.K. Pattammal, Gayatri Devi and Leela Naidu, Tyeb Mehta and Manjit Bawa, T.S.Satyan and C. Aswath.
All these accomplished individuals had led full and wonderful lives. But if there is one death that will touch me even more, one death I will mourn even more, it is the death foretold: the premature passing away of WorldSpace, the satellite radio station.
When my JVC receiver will crackle no more two days from now, an inanimate but inseparable partner over the last nine years will suddenly vanish from my life.
I will become a WorldSpace widow.
It is a loss difficult to explain; even more difficult for those unaware of the phenomenon to understand what it means. But that is the nature of death; the sky darkens for a close few; the rest will wonder what the fuss is all about.
To the former, I offer my commiserations.
To the latter, I offer my heartfelt sympathies.
Radio was an integral part of our lives while growing up in Vontikoppal in Mysore in the 1970s and ‘80s. With television mercifully a long way away, it was our window to the world, like it was for thousands of families.
Pradesha Samachara on All India Radio at a little past seven. Old Hindi songs on Radio Ceylon (later Sri Lanka Broadcastig Corporation) with a mandatory K.L. Saigal number as the clock inched towards eight. Aap hi ke geet from 8 to 9.
Kelugara Korike in the evenings, with sports news at 8, followed by Yuva Vani. Soundtrack on Vividh Bharati on Sunday afternoons.
Much of this was standard fare in most homes and it provided us all at school and college, a set of common points to discuss and debate. For those of us assigned to read the news at the morning “assembly”, it provided the cutting edge.
But my father, a radio-head, opened our eyes (and ears) even more.
A long wire-mesh antenna that ran from the front of the house to the rear, spread the net far and wide. The daily catch brought us Radio Netherlands and Radio Deutsche Welle, Radio Australia and Radio Moscow, Voice of America and Armed Forces Radio.
I vividly remember that October 31 morning when Sir Mark Tully broke in to announce that Mrs Gandhi had been shot. Or the night of May 21, when Rajiv Gandhi lay splattered in Sriperumbudur.
The voices of correspondents like Phillip Short (Paris), Humphrey Hawksley (Hong Kong) and Red Harrison (Sydney), and anchors like Willis Conover (Jazz Hour, VOA) and Suzanne Dowling (Soundabout, Radio Australia) are still fresh in my memory.
V.M. Chakrapani, anyone?
The initiation wasn’t easy. Initially, we had a “Murphy” diode radio at home, that took its own time to flicker to life. Fine tuning it was a precision-art, like threading the needle; just a bit more produced static, just a little less woke up the world.
The entry of a Grundig transistor radio at first and then a Sony 12-band world receiver made listening a lot easier. Thus, writing fanmail to the stations, requesting for schedules and freebies, and collecting QSL cards become a hobby that gave a decisive edge over those collecting stamps, coins and feathers.
It was WorldSpace that completed the radio revolution.
Suddenly, on one nifty little receiver, you could receive near CD-quality music and crystal clear news and views of every kind. All you needed was a cute little antenna that had radio-illiterate neighbours wondering what it was.
I picked up my JVC receiver at Suleiman Sait’s Radio Shack on Brigade Road the day it was launched in Bangalore. And thus began a nine-year love affair that ends suddenly at the stroke of midnight on 31 December 2009.
For nine years, I have woken up with one constant partner by my side, and truth to tell, it has not (always) been my gallivanting husband.
Carntic music on Shruti in the mornings. Western classical on Maestro in the mid-afternoons. Jazz on Riff during the afternoon snooze. Alternative rock on Bob in the evenings. Plenty of National Public Radio in between.
And the odd couple of Punjabi Tunak and Radio Vatican, plus WRN.
Where will I now go for my daily fix when the peddler has fallen prey?
Two things fascinated me about WorldSpace from the very beginning.
The first was that it was DTH before DTH. The radio signals came into our homes, rooms and hearts through the antenna without the cable operator deciding what we should listen, like it was for television.
WorldSpace gave me the power to listen to what I wanted, when I wanted.
The second was the realization that, like satellite TV was a gift India gave to the world (SITE, satellite instructional television experiment, gave Rupert Murdoch the idea for satellite broadcasting), satellite radio was a Third World gift to the globe.
The man behind WorldSpace was Noah Samara, an Ethiopia-born Sudanese space engineer, and he brought satellite radio to Asia and parts of Africa and Europe, long before the Americans got it through XM and Sirius.
But the reason WorldSpace became so much a part of my life as it did thousands of others was the quiet, unintrusive manner in which the world wafted into our homes— educating us, entertaining us, engaging us—without expecting too much in return.
The beauty about radio is that unlike television and unlike the newspaper, it doesn’t demand your full attention. You can do what you are doing, like I am writing this or you are reading this, and still be listening to it.
Going about her daily chores, which Carnatic fan on Shruti can say, hand on heart, that she has not been touched by the dedication of Srividya Prakash morning after morning?
Or the sincerity of Mahadevan with his artiste interviews?
Above all, unlike the illiterate’s picturebook that is television, radio, satellite or otherwise, enables you to imagine.
Somebody paints the words on the air waves, you fill the images in the mind. With WorldSpace’s clarity, there was nothing lost in translation.
Initially, when I purchased my receiver, there was no subscription price and I was over the moon. The introduction of an annual subscription fee a while later did little to dampen my enthusiasm for it, such was the way in which it filled a vital blank.
Looking at the complete lack of advertising on the three-dozen-plus channels and given the low subscription fees and the glitzy schedule they mailed subscribers, I often wondered how long WorldSpace would be able to sustain itself, when its American peers had merged to survive or done strange things to stay in the business.
I saw a brief ray of hope when A.R. Rehman came on as brand ambassador to coincide with a subscription drive, which saw WorldSpace receivers even being given away free with magazine subscriptions.
To hear WorldSpace in pubs and bars and in shops and malls, was a sign that the clientele was growing. Rumours that WorldSpace would be soon available on car radios convinced me that the concept had come of age.
When somebody from WorldSpace contacted me to ask if I would be willing to test devices that WorldSpace was rumoured to be making—like a USB device that would bring WorldSpace to computers—I was convinced WorldSpace had it all worked out.
But it was too good a story to last.
And it was.
Reading the almost-clerical reports of WorldSpace’s impending demise on the business pages of our newspapers and the reports of the execrable FM stations thriving makes me wonder if we even realise what we are about to lose.
And if we care enough.
What WorldSpace’s fate shows is that while it is fashionable for the chatterati to talk about the lack of “quality” in our media, it is crap that the Indian masses really want, and it is crap that really sells—and survives.
Obviously, we do not know the circumstances under which WorldSpace has to down its shutters and whether it might not come back in a new avatar, but what it tells me is that quality is a very small and finite market and it is possible to overestimate the intelligence of the Indian listener.
Above all, looking at WorldSpace’s fate, makes me wonder about our entrepreneurs and investors who are willing to put in hundreds of crores on junk (24-storey houses, me-too TV stations), they cannot put their money in institutions that ought to another day.
It is a cliche to say all good things must come to an end.
It is also a cliché to say it is not the end of the world.
But surely it is not a cliche to say we are a nation of dumb suckers?
While you work that out, may I take the opportunity to wish everyone at WorldSpace who brightened my life over the last nine years, a big thank-you and a happy new year?
Sir Mark Tully himself told me that he never broke the news of the death of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi! It was his deputy Satish Jacob.
According Tully, he was in Mussorie on that day (31st October 1984) to cover the visit of prince and princess of Britain. He heard two police constables talking about Indira Gandhi’s death and rushed back to New Delhi.
He heard Satish Jacob’s BBC report on his way near Saharanpur.
Satish Jacob, who was BBC’s deputy chief of bureau broke that news around 10-30 AM on 31st October. Tully finally joined Satish Jacob at 10 o’clock in the night.
Sir Mark Tully says he got credit for something he never did!
The company shut down because its parent company went bankrupt, right? I agree that WS will be sorely missed. But how can you expect the whole country to perceive quality the way you do? Not everyone appreciates fine wine or high fashion, right? That doesn’t make the country ‘dumb suckers’, the people have other priorities – trying to make ends meet or other passions to pursue.
Also, if WS was not able to sustain it, they did something wrong as a business. Maybe not here, but at the parent company level. Online radio probably caused the demise of WorldSpace. And it’s probably what you should consider switching to now – there are tons of options out there, you needn’t be so glum!
“and the reports of the execrable FM stations thriving makes me wonder if we even realise what we are about to lose”
Chennagi helidri Madam
Kind of valuations FM station companies are getting is simply unimaginable. It makes lot of sense for folks like SFM(Marans) or Big FM (Anil Ambani) to buy Wordspace at this stage at bargain basement prices and get a national (and international) footprint. Or for that matter for these guys like TataSky/Dish/BigTV or
Sivappa(sterling) kayo tande!!! Sivane
May soul of great C Ashwath rest in peace and his musical progeny like Pallavi , Raghu etc take up the continuum.
Shame on you Mr. KrishnaMurthy for your gallivanting nature with such a beautiful mind.
Ramya – Really liked the usage of “dumb suckers”. The more women like you write columns the less will the Murthy Angadis will gallivant in US seeking pleasure.
It is really sad to read about Worldspace. Please extend your support to keep them alive and join http://www.facebook.com/home.php?filter=app_2361831622#/group.php?gid=217337192654&ref=nf
Well written.Thank you.It looks end of the world with so many channels – carnatic, hindusthani, the old and new hindi film songs , news channels , spiritual discourse and the western classical music.. all will go dead from 31 dec. Hopefully some business house will take it up and continue the ‘heavenly’ daily fix for lakhs of rasikaas.
Just the right tone of elitist in this piece to make me feel better for being contemptuous of anything and everything that passes for television and radio programming in India today.
Thanks Ramya! :D
this is very sad. i was thinking of subscribing to worldspace radio!! and it is almost dead before i subscribe!! hmmm… quite a funny and sad situation this is for me!!
Is there no way to continue the operation of worldspace radio in India with a better strategy, tie up with some chain of petrol pumps, coffee days , pizza huts and so on…
Hi, I am an ex employee of WorldSpace, I know exactly what every one here feels, this is tragic! Content WAS the KING at WorldSpace..
Really sad to see WorldSpace go away. I remember buying WorldSpace way back in 2006 when I got my first job. Infact, WS was my first ever expenditure with my first salary. However, I had to give up my job for furter studies and so I had stopped renewing WS as well. But now that my studies are complete and I have a new job now…WorldSpace is stopping their sevices in India. And just look at the irony….I am joining my new job from 1st Jan 2010 and WS is leaving us from 1st Jan 2010…!
Its really a sad turn of event and what we can probably hope is that some media house in India will take the initiative to revive it. A report in DNA stated that 95 % ow subscriber base for WS globally is from India and so its even more strange to figure out that the new owner of WS globally has pulled the plu in India. We shouldnt do an RIP here and rather gather momentum for inspiring someone to revive it as a lucrative business.
Listening to World Space was a totally a different experience, I just can’t explain by words, We will miss it.
Ever since I subscribed Worldspace (some 7 years ago) I felt at home in spite of being out of India. I will miss Gandharva, Farishta and Umang. When Indian music (classical, folk music) is dying, Worldspace is (was) the only radio who were keeping alive. I am disappointed…
I do completely agree with the views of Ramya.
Yes we are a country of that ” ” kind.World space was much ahead for indians.must have used some cheap ‘love lines’ ,’agony aunties’ ,’long and machh songs’ to thrieve in this market (it is how we refer ourselves).What more -even some very BIG people who think of buying a bankrupt hollywood production house couldn’t step in just with a percentage of that money to save WS.Well we are connoisseurs of great music ,even from our ancient past ?!
Already I have sent few messages regarding the unfortunate demise of World Space Satelite Radio, for me the life will not be same again after the stopping of the services of World Space Satelite Radio, specifically the old hindi film songs channel Faristha and Bengali channel Sonar, since I am hooked up with old hindi film songs from srilanka broadcasting corporation from 1967, I just cannot accept such a heart breaking news that I will not be able to hear the fantastic songs on old cinema any more, how cruel the God is, I appeal to everybody do something for the revival of World Space Satelite Radio in INDIA, for the sake of the revival of World Space Satelite Radio I can do something as per my humble abilities.
I have two sets of World Space Satelite Radios and I am not at all bother about the fees and all, my suggestions are increase the annual fees taking into account the running costs of the radio, start accepting advertisements judiciously and broadcast in regular intervals in all the channels, no need to make brand ambassadors, minimise the expenditures at all levels, expand the listeners numbers as much as can, take guidance and co-operations from radio listeners clubs all over India.
I hope there is every possibility for revival of my very dear World Space Satelite Radio. God bless all.
It is now almost 90 days since demise of World space and Space in the world is not musical anymore. We have tried all FM stations and listened to all kinds of chatter belted out by the RJ’s, triedhard to laugh at their jokes, discussed few of them as being funny, naughty, horrible etc. , but realised that we have stopped discussing music.
Now that the satellites may be decommissioned soon (to be dumped in to space dustbin,so that it does not create more “litter”), our hope of a miracle, some gallant businessman to rescue the damsel in distress, are also lost.
Can we do something about it ? An “earthling human movement” to save “space machine” ??
COME BACK PLEASE …… I JUST CAN NOT Live WITOUT YOU WorldSpace……….
We bought our first JVC receiver in 2001. Bought 2 more BPLs later, all 3 subscribed on my name. There was no subscription for the first 2-3 years or so however, the subscriptions never pinched. I dont think anyone in my family ever turned back to FM. Infact, I find it really irritating today. I am an audiophile and I attribute discovering some of the finest R&B/Soul music through WS’s Potion channel which I guess was removed an year back. I am in agreement with Ramya that a partner is gone forever. I feel its also to do with the western perception about Indians that we dont deserve quality stuff hence the protection was not extended to India Operations. Today on this dull Sunday evening in Bangalore, I spent hours researching on latest updates about WS, Liberty Media, Noah Samara to get some heads up on WS revival. I have pasted 2 links for you to know that the sats are not yet de-commissioned after Liberty terminated talks on WS survival, but infact, bought by Noah’s another investment firm – Yazmi for $5.5m.
I feel, these years were getting slightly better with the newer generation looking forward to more quality content programming. 2010 could have been really good for WS. I am surprised to see LPs/Players being sold in mass stores like Reliance Electronics – isnt it a good sign? Is music scene in India really re-surfacing back? Shame on our entertainment tycoons/successful actors failing to find this niche of connecting through the hearts of every other indian. A mobile WS was on its way & could have completely changed the way we heard radio. I really miss it – 9 years is not easy to let go :-(
Wanted to add – that this bid of acquiring WS assets by Yazmi might bring WS operations back in Africa. Then, we may not be that far :-)
every now and then i google ‘worldspace latest’ to see if any new development has taken place. and there is no sign of a resurrection.it is 1 year and 3 months and counting.
Dear madam Ramya Krishnamurthy, I do not miss radio Australia, Radio Kuwait Nor SLBC(ceylon) , we have a Radio group in Bangalore and Mysore do get in touch for re vitalising your self and get rid of theRMS “Radio Missing Syndrome”. We are having Fun with KL Saigal at sharp 8 even today. Raja Madhukar G Appaji 9845143211
Timbre was supposed to have revived WS in this month, I do not know what is holding back. I hope they start before this september is gone.
Suzanne Dowling (Soundabout, Radio Australia) are still fresh in my memory.
Sounabout was my favorite musical show from Radio Australia.Other Radio announcers of DJs I still remember are Peter cavanagh, Barry Seeber (late), Rob Hoskin of RA Pete Meyer, Nevil. Jonathan Marks, Tom Meijer of RNW,Dave Lee Travis. John Peel of BBC and Ray McDonald (Now Music USA-VOA)
Dear Ramya Krishnamoorthy,
Still Radio Ceylon broadcasting program in the morning from 7 am to 9am,3pm to 5.45pm and a couple of weeks ago started 7pm to 9 pm program.Trnsmission power has been increased and you can enjoy naustalgic old hindi songs in the morning and evening.After the death of LTTE prabhakaran i sent letters to Mahendra Rajapakse,Chairman Hudson Samara Singhe and Station staff to restart program which was being stopped during the time of LTTE conflict.Many people must have sent letters to Radio ceylon for this purpose.Anyway we can enjoy over favourite songs now.
Mahadevan, Srividya & Mangala are back on http://www.radioweb.in
I miss radio nowadays, especially the plays. I am on a hunt to get a good , portable world band receiver. Any suggestions? Am working in bangalore.