Perspective | Art of Storytelling, re-energized by Radio!

The art and trend of storytelling has always existed since time immemorial and is prevalent  world over. Our ancestors and newer generations have grown up listening to stories from parents and grandparents. But people nowadays are so hard pressed for time and  so busy with their work life that it hardly leaves them any time to sit and tell  stories to their children. But it is good to know that it is actually making a comeback through  the most popular and effective medium the ‘Radio’.

Today Radio stations have award winning shows like ‘Yaadon ka idiot box with Neelesh Misra’ on Big FM which is just going viral and is rapidly growing. The good  old days saw the trend of storytelling with ‘Hawa Mahal’, a popular nightly radio skit-format which was broadcast on the famed band of the yesteryears Vividh Bharati. Shows like Ramayana, Gandhi and Bose on 104 FM have also been a success and most recently Bal Gopal has also been in the limelight.

We at Adgully spoke to Radio veterans like Neelesh Misra, who needs no introduction and  has been in this format since quite some time now. He presents an award winning show, Yaadon Ka Idiot Box on BIG FM; Amitabh Srivastava, Regional Head – South Asia, Association of International Broadcasters; Navin Talreja Talreja, President, Geography Head - Mumbai & Kolkata, Ogilvy and Mather; Umesh Pathak, Assistant Professor, Media Studies He has wide experience of radio programming production and was associated with All India Radio and private FM radio as presenter and programmer and BIG FM’s spokesperson to understand the idea and thought of taking the trend forward in an innovative manner. Some excerpts from the interview:

The story telling format is being adapted once again by the radio medium. Different opinions poured forth with regard to this trend which is making a comeback. Amitabh Srivastava attributes it to the fatigue level that people are experiencing and looking forward to a fresh change which they can relate to. Neelesh Misra sharing his views on the subject said , “We haven’t really had a storytelling on radio since a very long time. In fact the earliest references which are from the All India Radio era are also quite different from the format we have now. Those were about radio plays etc. This is a country with some of the greatest storytelling traditions in the world and listening to stories and telling stories is in India's DNA.” He laments the fact that there has been a long break but glad that the concept is gradually being revived.

Umesh Pathak opined, “Story telling format originated in India. It was earlier referred to as  GOLP  which in the Bengali language means narrating a story . There are so many stories in different Indian communities and dialects. Being a simple medium of communication and also since a radio is listener friendly this format  has been opted by them.”
A spokesperson from BIG FM shared his views saying, “The Indian population has grown up to grandparents regaling children and adults with religious stories; Yaadon Ka Idiot Box (YKIB) is a change and a chance to infuse modernity, intrigue, escapism and folklore into radio programming.” He also adds that the feedback they have received has been incredible and they will continue to delight their audiences with interesting concepts, fused with music that will keep them glued to the radio. The first season was a great success and he hopes that the second season too would follow in it’s footsteps.

Storytelling definitely impacts listeners. They tend to identify themselves with the characters in the story and display different emotions in reaction to what they hear over the radio. In this connection Srivastva said “In modern era story telling is considered a bygone era phenomena . It can surely pave the way to inculcate value system to future generations and this may impact for a better society.” Navin Talreja considers it important to make the distinction upfront between a good story and a bad one. He says that good stories appeal to the emotional side of the brain i.e. the creative side which in turn spurs imagination. “They draw you in and make you want to live the life of the characters, become the character at times and thus are very often inspirational. Last but not the least is the fact that a good story makes you feel like a child again,” he said.

We are in an era of mobiles, tablets and internet and social media. In times like these listening to the radio may be a far fetched thought for today’s generation. When asked  how the radio facilitates  the demand for storytelling Srivastva shared his thoughts. He said “In modern era of technological changes storytelling on the radio medium plays a vital role as listening to it is easy, plug in and plug out without any efforts and this will lead to the facilities of better content if shared with audience engagement.” According to him  programming needs to be innovative and that’s the key for its success.

Neelesh Misra believes that, “Radio is a very personal, direct and intimate medium. A lot of my listeners who live alone and are lonely actually call me and treat me as their  friend in who they can confide. Most of them confide on air about their personal problems and their relationships, whether with lovers or spouses or parents.”
He also adds that the radio enables every single listener in every single city to visualize the story in their own way and identify with it which is not possible with the  TV medium.

When listeners identify with the stories they hear on the radio the emotional side of  their nature comes to the fore . How successful is the radio in catering to such people needs and reaching out to them more? In this regard Srivastva agreed and said , “Yes indeed, as the spoken word touches you most and you can relate to the same with your day to day life it is right to say that it caters to the emotional side and creates a bonding too.” Navin Talreja was of the opinion that every good story has a protagonist who desires something. There are things that come in the way creating conflict thus increasing the dramatic value of the story. Emotional engagement comes from this drama. “Our culture is an emotional culture. We laugh easily. We cry easily. Our best and most successful movies are the ones that make us laugh and cry in good measure. So yes as long as your story is good it will pull enough people in,” he added.

Most importantly it is to be seen whether  advertisers are betting big on this concept/format. Talreja strongly feels that advertisers are sure to bet big if listener ship increases and the medium is able to deliver the right format and content. Srivastva too shares his views on this point. He says “Even if the advertisers are not willing to look at talk radio now, going by trend where listeners will continue to grow they would be bound to look at this segment.  So first priority should be given to create a niche and then encash this concept / format for revenue opportunities.” 

The radio as a medium has  definitely made  a comeback and it would be interesting to see how the concept gradually picks up. In this connection Srivastva says it is important to have good programming “Don't forget it’s a proven model in international markets and a  reality in the past so I have no hesitation in saying it will be accepted well if crafted well.”

As far as acceptance is concerned, Navin Talreja was of the opinion that we live in age of content and Radio is only another medium which can fulfil this need. The audiences today are looking for stuff that is unique and engaging. If that happens there will always be a market for it and there will always be a way to monetize the same. With a touch of humour he adds , “Slot it in at 8:30 when the kids are  asleep. Am sure lot of grandparents will thank you.”

The radio veterans agree that this medium will help to bring back the tradition of listening into our country. Srivastva who is sure about this trend making a comeback said , “Yes in good old days when private FM didn’t exist AIR's very own "Hawa Mahal" was a good flagship programme and it had appointment listenership in every household . As times changed people got busy, the talk radio diminished but the trend seems to be making a come back and people in need of a change are welcoming it. Even while driving they prefer to listen to new initiatives, which is a welcome change.”

Neelesh Misra voicing his views on this said, “Radio is a very powerful medium and I am realizing its power and reach with every passing week. I constantly get feedback from people from different cities across India who make an effort to change their lifestyle, to come home early or leave office late, in order to  listen to the show.”
Umesh Pathak agreed that the popularity of such types of programmes indicates the revival of storytelling.

Sharing more on the reactions Neelesh gets from his show, he said, “A lot of people say that the show has touched their life in a way that they could never  have imagined. It makes them look at relationships in a different way or just try to become better people. This is because the show has a deep social conscience and we try to raise a lot of issues which are social in nature, while remaining (hopefully) entertaining.” On an end note he added , “With 4 million Facebook page fans, I am able to realize the impact and the force of radio and the media that comes associated with it. The show is growing day by day in strength and across different platforms. I think the popularity is humbling and it’s a great learning experience for me.”
After talking to all the industry veterans, it seems fair to say that the Indian audience is still in search of the old but gold trend of storytelling. People still want to listen to stories and cherish those memories but it’s just that there is a dearth of such a format.

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