As a powerful broadcasting platform, radio has always had a special significance for the Indian musician and music lover. In the not too distant past, so prestigious was it considered to be empanelled as a radio artiste on the national broadcasting network that artistes would often print visiting cards with “Radio Artiste" emblazoned next to their names. Although this perceived value has not lost its shine altogether, radio in current times is a hugely modified space and medium.

Like other broadcasting media, it lives and thrives on business models. If you have the money to buy media time on radio networks, pay up and you will get your money’s worth. If you don’t have the money, look elsewhere or go fly a kite. Further, radio was earlier a space that introduced you to a multitude of musical forms, styles, artistes and genres. Classical music, folk music, tribal music, geet, ghazal, bhajan, qawwali were all featured on radio programmes in addition to film music. Today, radio in India finds little or no use for many of these forms, and musical content that is considered broadcast-worthy consists largely of mainstream film music.

Internet technology once again comes to the rescue, with online radio platforms. RadioWeb is one of several recently launched online radio platforms that could set a trend for musicians and music lovers alike. Their website, www.radioweb.in , offers both hope and excitement with lots of great music. Currently focusing on Carnatic classical music only, the channel presents specially curated programmes and features. One of the special features that I listened to with my trial account (free for the first seven days) focuses on duos in Carnatic music.

A simple, uncluttered interface, easy navigation and no-nonsense announcements by the presenters would, in my opinion, definitely accumulate brownie points for RadioWeb, particularly for listeners who cringe at the incessant presenter-prattle one often encounters on FM channels. Established by a small team including some who worked on Shruti, the 24-hour Carnatic music channel on WorldSpace satellite radio, RadioWeb is a brave new venture which hopes to find subscribers for its services in this big bad world of broadcasting and often indifferent audiences. It currently sources content from independent labels like Carnatica and Swathi but is open to entering into agreements with individual artistes as well. This would then imply that not only could artistes offer independent self-published albums for broadcast on RadioWeb, but also hope to receive a broadcasting fee drawn from the accumulated subscription fee.

Despite its many shortcomings and flaws, All India Radio (AIR) remains the one radio network that has supported diverse forms of music through the decades. It is worth remembering that AIR has always been a subscription-free service for listeners. On the other hand, WorldSpace, which also supported diverse genres of music and built a subscriber base, left its subscribers high and dry, looking for space in their attics in which to abandon defunct players when bankruptcy drove the service to closure. And now, as other online radio channels like Mirchi Edge begin to make their appearance, often as offshoots of powerful mainstream FM channels, offering subscription-free music, new ventures like RadioWeb will have to dig their heels in, while music lovers will need to dip into their pockets and come up with the subscription fee. Or, forever hold their peace and not complain about everything sounding the same on radio!

Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com

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