In my student days, I listened mainly to BBC World Service radio for news and features. I could also listen to, among others, Radio Moscow, Deutsche Welle Germany, even Beijing (then Peking), all in English, on shortwave radio. My favourite music came from Radio Ceylon. Like the BBC, the Voice of America, too, increased my knowledge of the wide world outside. I even learnt to distinguish British and American English accents and usages.
I’m retired now. But as far as radio is concerned, my interest has only grown. Because of good, clean radio, I have unsubscribed to cable TV for the past several years. Most people see radio as something from a bygone era, but the truth is radio today is far better than in my student days. The programming is wonderful. So are technical standards — thanks to digital online streaming, and the ease with which a radio announcer can connect with people living across the world. The sound is crystal clear. And you no longer need a “real radio” any more. It’s done with an app downloaded to my phone, my laptop, iPad, even to a car’s player.
There are several such apps, but very popular is the one I use: TuneIn Radio. It brings you any radio station in the world with its ‘Search’ feature. It’s free and works without a glitch. There’s live radio and podcasts too. If you enjoy podcasts, look for another app on Google Play Store. It’s called Podcast Republic, on which you can save your favourite podcasts and keep track of your listening.
The same BBC World Service of my youth is there, and I still listen to much more than the news. The regular features include Outlook (human-interest stories about ordinary people who did extraordinary things), The Forum (where leading experts discuss history, culture and ideas), World Business Report, World Book Club, More or Less (which analyses statistics from our everyday lives), Inside Science, and Witness History. There must be over a hundred such features on various subjects on BBC Radio alone. As for Radio Ceylon, my favourite music still flows. It’s now called SLBC Radio Sri Lanka.
Television does not offer as many choices as radio does. TV also ties you down — you have to sit and watch. With radio, you can listen while you cook, clean, garden or whatever else. I may stroll from one room to another with a radio station playing on my cellphone. I listen with headphones during my evening walks in the park (Warning: avoid headphones on the road!). In fact, the radio is on all the time when I’m oil painting. (For better audio, you may rig your phone to speakers, Bluetooth or wired.) It’s like being able to read a book while doing another useful thing. Those who have only got their news and features from TV won’t understand how much efficiency, learning and joy radio can bring.
Unless you give it a try. Go ahead — tune in.
Mohan Sivanand is a journalist and artist. He was with Reader’s Digest for 32 years, serving as the magazine’s India Editor-in-Chief for a decade until his retirement in 2015. He teaches journalism at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai.