All India Radio Signature Tune

Before the advent of television in India, people who could afford a radio were definitely familiar with the signature tune of “All India Radio”, the government run public radio channel.

We had a radio at home when I was growing up. I remember with great fondness the AIR signature tune. I post it below. First a bit about AIR, also known as Akashvani (literally “voice from the sky.”) The wiki says:

All India Radio is the largest radio network in the world, and one of the largest broadcasting organisations in the world in terms of the number of languages broadcast and the spectrum of socioeconomic and cultural diversity it serves. AIR’s home service comprises 420 stations located across the country, reaching nearly 92% of the country’s area and 99.19% of the total population. AIR originates programming in 23 languages and 179 dialects. [AIR wiki article.]

I suppose the news programming was, and still is, mainly government propaganda. However the programming was not too shabby. The other station on the dial was Radio Ceylon.

Now back to the signature tune. I suppose you’d find it interesting but nothing to write home about. But not to people who grew up with it. It evokes memories of carefree lives. Listen:

The tune is based on Raga Shivaranjini. It was composed by a Jewish Czech refugee named Walter Kaufman (1907 – 1984.) He fled the Nazis and after a bit landed in India. Here’s a bit from the wiki:

He married Gertrude Hermann, a niece of Franz Kafka and the family fled Nazi Germany in 1934. He moved to India and worked as a director of music at the All India Radio in Bombay from 1937 to 1946. He founded the Bombay Chamber Music Society along with others like Mehli Mehta (Kaufmann also taught the Mehli’s son Zubin Mehta).  He composed the signature tune for All India Radio in 1936. [Wiki.]

Zubin Mehta (b. 1936) is one of the best-known Western music conductors from India. “He is music director emeritus of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra  and conductor emeritus of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.” It is believed that his father, Mehli Mehta, is the one who played the violin on the signature tune.

In this brief video, Mr. Mehta talks about himself and his father. The interviewer is cringe worthy but the man is interesting. He’s one of those high-performing Parsis that we are all so familiar with.

Alright, since he’s a conductor from India, here’s him doing his conducting in India of a piece that I believe represents the pinnacle of the Western musical canon. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, composed 1804-08. Ludwig was nearly or completely deaf when it was first played in 1808. Listen to Mehta conducting the first movement.

Well, I thought this was going to be only about the AIR signature tune but I like to digress. C’est la vie.


Author: Atanu Dey


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