For K Raja, a working professional, the BBC Tamil radio broadcast used to be the only source of information to keep himself updated on current affairs. “From the war in Sri Lanka to the Gulf War, our source of updates in the 1980s and 90s was the Tamizhosai BBC Tamil Radio service,” he recalled.
Nearly 76 years after it was started on May 3, 1941, the broadcast had its last show on April 30. The short wave transmission broadcast, which became a daily programme from 9.15 p.m. to 9.45 p.m. in the 90s, initially began as a weekly programme. The radio broadcast then became a bi-weekly programme in the eighties.
“For people in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka who were keen to know more about current affairs and international news in particular and wanted to listen to it in a language they were comfortable with, the Tamil broadcast was a staple. The radio broadcast was always known for its objective reporting of the Sri Lankan civil war and had a lot of listeners from there,” said Sampath Kumar, a former correspondent with the BBC.
“Apart from the programme ‘Paatu ondru ketten’, Tamil translations of the works of Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, which were done by Sankaramoorthy, were fascinating to hear. Through these special programmes and the news broadcasts, many of us improved our Tamil vocabulary. Tamil words were used even for words such as ‘guerrila warfare’ and ‘helicopter,’ which we picked up,” Mr. Raja said.
“Tamizhosai offered a platform to virtually trace the history of so many interesting topics such as Tamil theatre and music and this made for some interesting programmes. A large number of listeners from Sri Lanka could be attributed to the fact that the broadcast played a huge role in bridging the information gap during the war there,” recalled T N Gopalan, a former correspondent with BBC News.
“With the explosion of 24-hour news channels and websites, many people from the Tamil diaspora continued to listen to the Tamil news broadcast online in the late 2000s,” he added.
Digital presence continues
An article on the BBC Tamil website announcing the end of the ‘Tamizhosai’ service stated that in the 1980s, the broadcast proved to be a major source of information during the war in Sri Lanka. The article further stated that while the radio broadcast would be stopped as more and more listeners migrated to television, Internet and social media for news, BBC Tamil would continue to have a strong digital presence online.