The 24-hour Urdu Service of the External Services Division (ESD), All India Radio (AIR), is steadily gaining popularity overseas. The service that is broadcast across the world boasts of a fan base of Bollywood lovers abroad.

“It is difficult to be able to establish a personal touch between listeners and us when the whole world is our audience. Listeners used to send us requests for songs and send us their messages through SMS. But sending an international SMS has always been an expensive affair. We hardly had any fan base. With the advent of technology, an efficient solution was found for this particular problem. Two years ago, we introduced a ‘WhatsApp service’ for our listeners. All our overseas listeners could simply text us their song requests and messages on a WhatsApp number. Not only did our interaction with our listeners reach a whole new level, but our fan base abroad started growing larger. One could say that the Urdu Service has perhaps emerged as the most successful channel of the ESD,” an Urdu service announcer, requesting anonymity, said.

“The WhatsApp service is available for two programmes. Our listeners can send us their song requests during the morning show ‘Suraj ke Saath Saath’ that is aired between 8am and 10am and during an evening show ‘Shaam Suhani’ at 6pm-8pm. The messages that listeners send, apart from song requests, are only read in the evening show. Another recent addition is that now we also play ‘voice notes’ sent by our listeners on our WhatsApp number. The announcer first listens to the voice notes to make sure that they suit the programme and then these are played on-air,” said the Urdu service announcer.

“We receive a minimum 500 song requests daily. A significant number of regular listeners send us their messages on a daily basis. The traffic is so high that at the Urdu Service, a single show is hosted by at least two announcers. The job would become unnecessarily hectic if only one announcer had to do it,” he said.

The countries from where the maximum number of song requests are received are Pakistan, the US, New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland and Israel. “Our listeners are not only Indians and Pakistanis who live abroad but also people whose first language is neither Hindi nor Urdu but who understand the languages and enjoy Bollywood music. These people also send us requests. Pakistanis who live in Pakistan as well as in other parts of the world form a significant number of our listeners. Other than them, people from countries like Iran also send us song requests. They aren’t Indians or Pakistanis, but love old Bollywood songs and can understand both Hindi and Urdu,” said the Urdu announcer.

The most popular artistes among listeners of the Urdu Service are Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Shamshad Begum, Noor Jehan and musicians like Naushad, Shankar Jaikishan etc.

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