Ignored and unheralded, but radio commentary too is enjoying its brief moment in the Cricket World Cup sun. As per Sukhjinder Kaur, coordinator, marketing and sports, All India Radio, “At R17 crore, the event is the biggest ever grosser in AIR’s history.”
In fact, the rate per second on air for the semi-finals and finals was a whopping R50,000 per second, she adds. However, while Kaur takes heart from the figures as proof that radio commentary is “still so popular” in India, there is no denying the fact that a medium once seen as an important reason for the massive popularity of cricket in India is slowly dying out.
With a penetration of 98% India, cricket commentary on radio, since the first live cricket broadcast was put out in the 1940s, is the bedrock on which the popularity of the game in India rests. TV viewing may be the norm in cities, but radio professionals point out that “between 60-70% of people outside big towns still rely on radio”.
Apart from its widespread availability and affordability, among the advantages radio enjoys is mobility and lack of dependence on power supply.
However, even the dedicated fans do not contest the falling standard of AIR radio commentaries — the only radio channel that does running commentaries in the country. One reason is that most of them holding the job do it only part-time. Fans like Rehan Fazal of BBC Radio celebrate “the exceptions like Harsha Bhogle, who fought their way up and are products of the system”, but rue the dismal state of radio commentaries now, marked by banal commentaries. Fazal recalls earlier times, of the days of witty and informative commentary, like when the legend “AFST” or Bobby Talyarkhan remarked about Tiger Pataudi getting out on 4 in a Test in Mumbai as “having missed a century by 96 runs”.
There is no system in place for recruitment of radio commentators or for training of new talent, and insiders say the AIR listening board, for the audition of commentators, has not conducted any auditions for about three years now. Combine this with low remuneration (R2,050 for the whole day), and the field attracts very little talent.
In addition, AIR for several matches now has encouraged “off-tube” commentaries, which means not being at the venue, but doing the commentary with a TV screen in front. Live commentaries for domestic cricket matches in the Ranji or Duleep