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Goodnight Sisters and Brothers

A billboard in Kolkata uses his own catchphrase to bid farewell to India's first radio superstar Ameen Sayani.
Sandip Roy
A billboard in Kolkata uses his own catchphrase to bid farewell to India's first radio superstar Ameen Sayani.

AS1: Namaste behnon aur bhaiyon, main aapka dost Ameen Sayani bol rahan hoon” 

Hello sisters and brothers, (sisters by the way always came first) this is your friend Ameen Sayani.
Long before we knew what going viral meant, this was a catchphrase that millions of Indians knew, shared and copied. If Indian radio had a voice it was a man named Ameen Sayani.
He died last week at the age of 91.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata

Ameen Sayani was India’s first radio superstar. But it was not All India Radio that made him a star. It was Radio Ceylon from neighbouring Sri Lanka. with a little American help.
In the 50s, India’s minister for information and broadcasting decided that Hindi film music, while immensely popular was too vulgar, too westernised. So he banned it from All India Radio.
An American businessman in India Daniel Molina saw an oppprtunity. When the British had left neighbouring Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, in 1948, they had also donated their shortwave radio transmitters.
Some of them were long wave radio transmitters, powerful enough to cover all of Asia and even parts of Africa from Colombo in Sri Lanka. So Molina created a production unit called Radio Enterprises Private Limited to prepare radio shows and commercials.
One of those shows was a Hindi film music countdown. It was sponsored by Binaca a toothpaste company. And the show Binaca Geetmala hit the airwaves with Ameen Sayani as the host.
And it was a HUUGE hit all over India. There were over 9000 letters after the first show/ Soom Indians were glued to the radio every week listening to their favourite film songs. Introduced in the warm conversational voice of Ameen Sayani talking about his longest running radio program


He could well be called India’s first radio jockey. Unlike the very stiff formal almost stern Hindi of Indian newsreaders he spoke simpler conversational Hindi as if talking to friends. In fact Sayani born to a Gujarati Muslim family in Mumbai, educated in an English medium school had once been rejected from all india radio because his Hindi had a shadow of an accent.
And although the information minister held film music in low esteem, it was wonderful, filmmaker Saeed Mirza told Indian Express that this kind of secular music rather than religious music was being heard on the air. It helped bind the country together as everyone hummed along.

SM1: Rather than just having no, I don't know, prayer music and bhajan and whatever. This is secular music across the board, you know, and it is fantastic.

The government finally ate humble pie. Or humble vinyl. The ban on film music was lifted. Ameen Sayani’s show returned to All India Radio and it aired for 42 years before it finally ended in 1994.
Sayani also found a whole new audience as he started hosting the Bournvita Quiz contest on the air for school children across India after his brother Hamid Sayani who was the host died.

BOURNVITA: Cadburys presents the Bournvita Quiz contest

Derek O’Brien now a member of parliament who took over the contest later tells Indian Express he grew up hearing that voice

DOB1: So when we were in school, in junior school and middle school, we would hear his voice as the quiz master,

I was one of those children. I was on the school quiz team and got to meet the man. I remember one of the questions was about the meaning of quinsy. A longtime sufferer from tonsil problems I knew it meant a throat ailment. In my excitement I came too close to the microphone leading Sayani to quip that I had the correct answer even though I had made the microphone sound as if it too had quinsy. I am sure he immediately forgot the exchange but I still remember it vividly. The man with the famous voice had directed a comment exclusively to me. We lost the Kolkata finals but I carried his remark back with me like my own personal trophy.
At that time I didn’t know if but I had found my radio guru. Years later he was asked what the magic was. He said simply I spoke from the heart and it reached people’s hearts


In a world increasingly addicted to the visual image, we forget the power of a voice. Ameen Sayani reminded us a voice carries its own memory too, sometimes more evocative than an image.
As Derek O’Brien says we will miss the man who gave Indian radio its voice.

DOB2: Beautiful, humble man, I mean. And I feel the great broadcaster in the sky will welcome him.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW