Radio Ceylon, the oldest commercial radio station in Asia, is synonymous with Ameen Sayani , the veteran Indian broadcaster whose unconditional love for the simple Hindustani language - the language of Indian film songs, as he beautifully puts it - played a pivotal role in making him a legend. However, his somewhat inadequate acquaintance with Hindi and Urdu (the "mothers" of Hindustani) took him years to be proficient at it.
Sayani, who started his career with Radio Ceylon as an unpaid commercial announcer, rose to prominence with the overnight success of his show, Binaca Geet Mala, across the subcontinent. “The program had yet to be started on an experimental basis and the administration was looking for someone who could produce, script and present the weekly program, and check the mail of a write-in contest for a hundred rupees weekly jackpot - all that in just rupees twenty-five! "The moment I got to know about it, I immediately agreed to it,” he recalled. Read: Making Radio future-proof
“Jittery about the listeners’ response on my first broadcast in Hindi, I prayed to God to give me a hundred letters at least. But, to my surprise, we received 9,000 letters in the first week of the show itself!” said Sayani, who was rejected the first time he auditioned in Hindi for All India Radio (AIR) due to his slightly English-cum-Gujarati accent. But his earnest desire to be well-versed with the language, an obsession that he got into mainly during the independence movement, made his dream come true.
“We were well-connected with Gandhiji. My family’s deep involvement in the national movement influenced me immensely.” He started honing his Hindi language skills at the age of eight, while assisting his mother to bring out a fortnightly journal, Rahbar, initiated by Gandhiji.
Veteran Radio presenter Ameen Sayani at his Recording Studio in Colaba in Mumbai. (Photo by Vijayanand Gupta/ Hindustan Times)
Talk about his successful career, and another name that finds instant mention is Hamid, his elder brother and guru - an eminent English broadcaster with AIR, and later director of programs for Radio Ceylon in Mumbai, under whose direct supervision he blossomed.
With the success of Geet Mala, there was no looking back, and he went on to producing and presenting numerous programs. Some of his outstanding sponsored shows were S. Kumars Ka Filmi Muqaddama, Bournvita Quiz Contest, Saridon Ke Saathi and a large number of other formats featuring interviews of filmstars and music personalities.
His internationally known radio campaign, Sangeet Kay Sitaron Ki Mehfil, has been running now for over two years on sixteen stations of Radio City 91.1 FM. His shows are exported to as many as ten countries across the world, and he is now busy reviving retrospects of a number of other fascinationg shows.
An ardent music lover, Sayani studied Indian classical music for four years while in school, but could not become a singer after his singing voice "cracked" during adolescence. However, as a broadcaster, he immersed himself into all sorts of programs that featured Indian film music and the film stars who ‘sang’ those songs on screen.
Ask him about his favourite music director and singer, and he says, “I cannot name just one, since there are many on my list, and all of them have enriched our lives for many decades, along with our lyricists."