Breaking Down News: Switch Off, Tune In

The growing popularity of stand-up comics has been fed by divisive, illiberal politics. Drama, the universal specific for catharsis, is trying to break out of its niche by streaming to homes.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Updated: April 1, 2017 12:00:25 am
Aadhaar, supreme court, supreme court aadhaar, aadhaar bank account, ms dhoni aadhaar controversy, ms dhoni, Bharat Rang Mahotsav, Internet radio, istanbul radio station, social media, yogi adityanath, indian express news, india news Aadhaar card (Representational image)

The day after the Supreme Court pondered if the government could insist on Aadhaar for uses other than receiving direct benefits, like opening a bank account (thus reopening the debate on identity and privacy), an agency tweeted cricketer MS Dhoni’s details while updating them. Then a Hindi daily reported that Dhoni’s wife had cornered Ravi Shankar Prasad and demanded to know if there was any privacy left. Not exactly riveting reading, but the comments section below that story was. There, Indian manhood had done what Indian boyhood loves to do in high school urinals, apart from urinating. In exclusively filthy language, it had demanded to know if women need privacy for anything other than the procreative act.

It is with a sense of relief that one turns to cultural media. The growing popularity of stand-up comics has been fed by divisive, illiberal politics. Drama, the universal specific for catharsis, is trying to break out of its niche by streaming to homes. Hotstar has ventured into theatre video, and the National School of Drama had live streams from the Bharat Rang Mahotsav in February this year. Overseas, carries the best of the British stage, and teems with musicals and stage plays. It isn’t exactly a seat in the dress circle, but streaming sites are pushing theatre out to people to can’t attend live performances.

But to reach the world at the twist of a dial, there’s nothing like the radio. Internet radio (live streams, not podcasts which you have to browse and download) has brought it up to speed with the mobile, and there are pages and pages of apps out there. If you hate app bloat, there are websites aggregating internet radios. While most are lists heavily weighed towards contemporary music, (that’s the URL) offers visual empowerment. It spawns a globe where cities are marked by green dots, whose radius indicates the number of active internet radios.
You can spin the globe like Chaplin in The Great Dictator, and stop wherever you like. After a quick listen at some Indian stations, I spun it away towards the Great Game countries.

FM 100 Islamabad was playing “Kaisi aag hai tera junoon”. Radio Sharda Jammu had Kashmiri folk, Sputnik Radio in Kyrgyzstan was agitated about Putin and Arakozia FM 90.3 in Kabul harangued Afghanistan about the latest “zalim shaitan”. It’s interesting to see that someone, somewhere, remembers Arachosia, other than historians and the Croats, who trace their ancestry to south Afghanistan on grounds of linguistic and cultural similarities. Meanwhile, Moscow chills with easy-listening jazz and London offers, apart from the BBC, radios for Gurkhas and Poles.

Internet radios flourish in unexpected locations. Cagliari and Istanbul have six radio stations each. Mikonos in Greece has two. Crete, a popular destination for visitors from northern Europe, is positively humming. If you have a gift for languages, you’ll find that the news and opinions offered can diverge from what we get from the English international press.

When you are left brain-dead by the appalling discourse on television conducted by cowed down, gau-like reporters determined to discover goodness and greatness where neither the great nor the good exist, an older medium in a modern avatar provides relief. Internet radio does most of the things for which people used to buy shortwave radios — it is a window on the world. In the last century, you needed antennas the size of mosquito nets to pick up shortwave signals from halfway around the world (mine was a roll of copper wire strung out on the branches of a tree). In this century, for decent shortwave reception you need a receiver that’s worth Rs 7,000 and up, which is visually indistinguishable from your grandmother’s beat-up Murphy from Bhagirath Palace, apart from the absence of the logo of the child with the finger placed endearingly to the lip. Internet radio is painlessly easy to receive and almost as painless to transmit. There should be more of it, especially since most of the world’s governments don’t take it seriously enough to enforce licensing.

Let’s begin at the beginning. To receive, you need nothing more than a phone with an internet connection. To transmit, you could set up a streaming server of your own on a spare computer, but your audience would be limited by your bandwidth. Home connections are pretty frugal and they upload slower than they download. And there’s the headache of administering a server, which would typically be Shoutcast or Icecast2. Admittedly, it’s trivial compared to administering a web server, but the pain can detract from the pleasure.

The technically inept and practically adept therefore take the services of streaming hosts, which cost about the same as hosting a website, unless you have serious traffic or stream quality music. It usually takes 10 minutes to set up, doesn’t need a dedicated computer, and all you need is to be careful of the royalty police — make sure you don’t stream copyrighted music. Or take your feed off YouTube, whose hosted content is presumably legal. And you are ready to animate the lulls between the music and jollies with your rants and pet peeves. No 140-character limit, either. Imagine: all you ever wanted to say about ABP News’s investigation into why Yogi Adityanath’s hair does not grow like other people’s. As the McDonalds ad put it, “Just say supersize it.”

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