AIR bridge to North East

NES continues its eventful journey that began 29 years ago

January 3, 1990. The All India Radio finally brought the northeastern part of the country closer to the rest of India and flagged off a journey that has only become more entrancing over the years.
The AIR started its North Eastern Service (NES) with an aim to make the mainland aware of the culture and tradition of the various tribes in the region and the complexities, both political and social, which had made the North East an inaccessible zone in the country.
The service, which was also intended to ensure integrity among the eight states, started almost a year after NES’s test transmission on April 8, 1989.
The service was broadcast on short waves 60.36 m band that later changed to 41 m band. With time, short waves have given way to new-age platforms like mobile application, which started in June 2017, direct to home since 2005, 100.1 FM and now Alexa, a virtual assistant, since last year.
The NES, which functions from Shillong, has three transmissions — morning (6-9.30am), afternoon (12.30-3pm) and evening (4.30-
11.10pm). There is a plethora of programmes, both entertainment and informative.
A bilingual service (Hindi and English), the NES has sections where programmes are also transmitted in languages of the northeastern region.
Jangkholal Gangte, the head of the service, says NES focuses on all subjects and caters to listeners of every age and temperament.
“Before the inception of NES, every local station in the North East was catering to the respective state. There was a need for integration through the media. NES provided the much-required platform for all northeastern states to contribute so that the variety of culture and tradition is presented not only to the rest of the country but also to the world,” says Gangte.
From music, documentary, discussions, science magazine programme, sports to current affairs, there is no dearth of choices for listeners.
An old-timer in Shillong says Hindi transmissions were quite popular in the nineties with programmes like Hello NES, Patraoli, Doctor se miliye and Gitobhari kahani going on AIR. “I still remember Akelabhai would anchor the Hindi programmes. We would not miss a single one,” he says.
Dr Akelabhai has been with the service since its inception and was the first anchor. He says the popularity is because of the interactive and unique nature of the programmes.
“Doctor se miliye, which is still aired, is a live programme where we invite a specialist who speaks about ailments and their remedies. Listeners call up and talk about their problems and the doctor answers to their queries,” he explains. The programme is transmitted every Friday and gets around 8-10 callers.
Gitobhari kahani, aired on the second Sunday of every month, presents Hindi songs and also plays requests.
Patraoli was one of the most popular programmes where listeners waited eagerly to hear their words and thoughts, sent via letters, being read out on air. The anchor would reply to the letters too. But the programme was stopped as with time, the number of letters only decreased in the age of email and WhatsApp.
“Programmes are changed or rescheduled according to demand and popularity but you never know, we might come back with a similar concept like Patraoli,” Gangte replies to a query about whether NES will restart the letter-reading section.
Akelabhai and Krishna Dasgupta, who anchors the English programmes, as hosts of another popular programme called Akash-Vaani, have earned much adulation for their presentation skills. “My father listened to this programme regularly, besides news bulletin. With NES not anymore on short waves, he listens to news and sometimes discussions on the app that I downloaded for him in his phone,” says Arpita Paul.

Though it is called North Eastern Service, anchors get calls from across the country.
Ramona Araujo of Goa who has been listening to NES for the last four years says the service has qualitative programmes for the youths. “I listen to both the Hindi and English programmes as the radio is on almost the whole day in my house,” says the 56-year-old listener.
Talking about the programmes’ mass appeal, Dasgupta says each transmission lives up to AIR’s motto of ‘Bahujan Hitaya, bahujan sukhaya (welfare and happiness for all). “The simple language, varied subjects and the interactive platform have helped not only NES but every transmission on AIR to transcend social, regional and economic boundaries,” she asserts.
AIR is one of the largest broadcasting organisations globally with its diversity of languages of broadcast and power to reach out to all strata of the society. According to the website of Prasar Bharati, AIR’s home service comprises 470 broadcasting centres which cover around 92 per cent of the country’s area and 99.19 per cent of the total population. Terrestrially, AIR originates programming in 23 languages and 179 dialects.
Keeping in mind the needs of the target audience in the North East, the NES has designed three sports-related programmes. Among these, Sports Round-up presents news from all over the region and the feeds are taken from local stations in the northeastern states. “This is one programme that is broadcast in different languages and dialects of the region,” says Gangte, adding that the NES connects with 32 local radio stations.

The team has a fixed point chart prepared for six months after which rescheduling is done according to the popularity of the programmes. The charts are put in place after approval from the Directorate in Delhi.
Gangte says each programme or script is vetted thoroughly before being aired as “we have to abide by certain rules and code of conduct”. He holds a team meeting every morning to review the previous day’s programmes as well as to preview the upcoming events. The NES also avoids playing songs with “unsuitable lyrics”.
North East Collage in English, Purvottar Vani in Hindi and Connecting North East broadcast in different languages and dialects of the region are also on the list of most sought after programmes. The service helps in spreading awareness on government schemes, both central and states.
“The working format of NES is slightly different from capital stations. We have our own production and we are catering to all stations,” informs Gangte, who has been with NES since 2004.
In 2013, Gangte introduced a live video-based programme where experts from across the North East talk on various issues through video conferencing.
The NES has twice hosted musical competitions in the city that brought the service closer to the youths. The event was broadcast live on AIR and telecast on Doordarshan.

Challenges for NES

Despite the popularity of the service, there are several challenges before the NES team. The first and the foremost hurdle is manpower crisis. The team has only 28 staff as against the sanctioned post of 60. The last recruitment was in 2015.
Another technical problem is that the NES is bilingual and that restricts the service from taking commercials in other regional languages. “This way, we are losing on revenue. I am trying to make a convincing case in favour of taking commercials in other NE languages. It will not only help us raise our revenue but logically the service should be allowed to do so. I am hopeful that we will be able to do so soon,” says Gangte.
Besides, some listeners say the NES does not have any email service where they can send their views. Araujo, who uses the DTH platform, says listeners’ views will help the service improve and improvise.
Gangte informs that the email facility exists but is not fully functional. He, however, adds that the service is open to ideas and innovations. He also believes that the hurdles are only part of the journey and is convinced that the team will overcome them in no time.
Even with such daunting challenges, the team has given its best over the years to make NES more popular in the age of private FM stations and online streaming. It has utilised every opportunity to innovate and improve so that NES’s journey becomes more eventful and exciting with time.
~ Nabamita Mitra

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