Volume 8 - Issue 02
FEBRUARY 2010
Other Articles

 

 

THE SHORT STORY OF AFRISTAR

AND THE HUMONGOUS SERVICE OF DR. NOAH SAMARA

 

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This special musing by Prof. G. Venkataraman is a follow up of his earlier article How Radio Sai is Still Alive wherein he revealed how Radio Sai continues to serve in spite of the collapse of Worldspace, thanks to the mysterious Master Plan of Sai. In the current article (which is an adaptation of his talk on Radio Sai), he shares the changed scenario for Afristar listeners who can now listen to Radio Sai only on the internet as well as offers his heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Noah Samara, the man with a heart of gold, who has loved and served God in an amazing way.

By Prof. G. Venkataraman

 

Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prasanthi Nilayam. This is specially addressed to the listeners of Radio Sais Afristar service, and is a follow up to the special musings How Radio Sai is Still Alive. On that occasion, I shared with you how Radio Sai alone survived the sudden and totally unexpected closure of operations of WorldSpace, India. I also told you that we did not fall into the net because our uplink was from Melbourne, whereas all the other channels of WorldSpace India were uplinked from Singapore.

Radio Sai was born almost nine years ago, thanks to Worldspace. Hundreds listened and continue to listen to Bhagavan's voice and spiritual programs in Asia. It was available in Africa and Europe too until Jan 2010. Nevertheless, but for Worldspace and of course Sai's Grace, Radio Sai could not have come this far!

Those of you who listen to Radio Sai via the AsiaStar service may not be aware that we were reaching out to Africa and a large part of Europe via the Afristar satellite, the uplink for which was from Johannesburg. A few weeks ago, we received a notice that the new buyer of WorldSpace is going to totally reorganise all services being broadcast via Afristar, and that unless we subscribe to the new business plan, the service offered to us thus far would be stopped. Before I come to that, there are two things I should first do.

I must, to start with, tell you how we managed to get a slot on the Afristar satellite, and then express our collective thanks as well as my own personal gratitude to Dr. Noah Samara, whose unimaginable and monumental support to Radio Sai would be written in letters of gold in the Book of God.

Let me begin with the story of how we got a channel in Afristar satellite. It all began on January 19, 2002. This was about 3 months after Radio Sai first went on air, which, let me remind you, was on November 23, 2001. Getting back to Jan 19, that day marked the first anniversary of the Bangalore Super Speciality Hospital.

When Radio Sai started in 2001, it was available to listeners of Worldspace in Asia. Soon after, with the help of Afristar satellite, it was heard in Europe and Africa too.

Swami was already in Bangalore and he had asked three of us, Mr. S. V. Giri, the then Vice Chancellor of Sri Sathya Sai University, Mr. K. Anil Kumar and myself to make a days trip to Bangalore to attend the function. Anil Kumar, of course, was specially needed to do translation duty, while I had my own agenda, namely making sure Sai Prakash of our newly formed digital studio, did good video coverage of the celebrations.

To mark the anniversary, a special Health Meet had been organised, and many important people had been invited to attend it, including leading doctors and those concerned with social welfare in all its aspects.

Two people of special interest to me were first, Dr. Abdul Kalam, my former boss and later to become the President of India, and secondly, Dr. Noah Samara, the Chairman and CEO of WorldSpace.

Bhagavan declaring about the Chennai Water Project
A Health Meet was organised on the First Anniversary of SSSIHMS, WF, January 2002

The main function was in the morning, at which time Swami not only gave a discourse, but also made a stunning announcement, namely that He was going give water to Chennai Metro, which then was reeling under an incredible crisis due to acute water shortage. After the morning session, there was lunch, special lunch of course, and following which we three who had come from Prasanthi were supposed to get back to our base.

 

Dr. Noah Samara, CEO of WorldSpace, U.S
speaking during the Health Meet
 

Immediately after lunch, Dr. Venugopal of WorldSpace India came to me he was there because his boss Dr. Samara was present. Dr. Venugopal said to me, Dr. GV, I want you to meet Dr. Samara.

He is a very nice person and if all goes well, you might even ask him for a channel in Afristar. I was thrilled by the suggestion, regarding it verily as a signal from Swami Himself.

I had seen Dr. Samara earlier when he came to Prasanthi a year prior to this event. I narrated that story last time. As you might recall, it was that visit of Dr. Samara that was responsible for the launch of Radio Sai.

However, although I had seen Dr. Samara, I had never met him and this looked like a good opportunity.

video video
"It is wonderful for us to broadcast Radio Sai Global Harmony as all things begin with spirit and great things begin with beauty of spirit", Says Dr. Noah Samara

So we met, and because Dr. Samara had to brush up on the speech he was due to give soon, our meeting was brief. However, I did manage to convey a few points. Firstly, I personally thanked him for making available a free channel on Asiastar, I then told him that by Swamis Grace, the popularity of Radio Sai was steadily picking up.

Finally, I asked him if he could make a similar channel available on Afristar so that we could reach out all across Africa and a good part of Europe as well. Dr. Samara was quite positive in his response, but said there might some red tape involved and that I had to go through it.

It was a good amber signal; however, it took a while for the amber to become green. I shall not tax you with all those tiring details. Instead I would like to make just a few points. Firstly, when the Afristar service finally came through, our uplink was from London.

 
It was on this occasion that Dr. Samara offered to
air Radio Sai through Afristar too

That suited us because internet facilities in London were superb. Prior to this, I had to fill numerous forms as required by the British Government, to convince them that our broadcasts did not contain any objectionable stuff and things like that that is what red tape is all about. We came through that process alright, but the finance officers handling Afristar made a condition.

They essentially said [after strong intervention from Dr. Samara], OK, we give you a channel free of charge for you, that is to say, you do not have to pay any uplink charges, but listeners cannot receive your broadcast as a pay-free channel; they have to pay a subscription. We tried hard to talk to the accountants out of this stiff stand but failed. Finally, we decided that something was better than nothing and that is how our Afristar service got regularised and also stabilised.

Meanwhile, the uplink was shifted from London to Johannesburg, which made our life difficult because the internet facilities in Joburg were nowhere like what were available in London. But for the sake of our listeners, we bore it all and it worked out well, since the number of listeners steadily increased. Further, just before the takeover of WorldSpace by a new company, the London operations were closed down, whereas the Joburg operations continued. So that gave us a reprieve!

A Satellite Control centre needs highly skilled people as well as expensive infrastructure
 

Let me now come to a communication we received a few days ago, which was to say that since the ownership had passed on to a new company, the earlier arrangement to air Radio Sai programs over Afristar would automatically stand cancelled, and that the cancellation would be effective from the day a changeover was made. That changeover date was January 30, 2010. In other words, the curtain came down pretty soon for our Afristar listeners.

At this point I should add that the Jo'burg officials who wrote to us, also said that we might be able to continue provided we pay service charges, which was $15,000/ per month. I always knew that even with Worldspace, both in the case of Asiastar and Afristar, all other broadcasters were paying and quite substantially too.

That should not come as a surprise, since it costs millions of dollars to build a satellite, millions more to launch it and place it in an orbit about 23,000 miles above the earth, and finally have a complex control system to make sure that the satellite does not drift away due to solar wind.

 
Dr. Noah Samara

Add to that the operational costs, and it is no surprise that costs are what they are. However, the general public is not aware of all these factors, and that perhaps explains some of the mail we receive.

But before I come to that, there is something very important I have to do, which is to place on record our indebtedness to WorldSpace and also express my personal gratitude to Dr. Noah Samara.

Maybe I should first say something about Dr. Samara. He was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and went to America at the age of 17 to study and work. He got his bachelors degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and followed it up with a masters degree in international business.

Later he received his doctorate in law; he specialised in communication laws. At the age of 34, he became the founder, chairman and CEO of WorldSpace. About his dream and how he came to launch his company he once said in a speech:

In the mid-1980s, I read something that changed my life. It was an article in the Washington Post about AIDS in Africa and how it was spreading because millions of people had no information or the wrong information. It became clear to me that people werent simply dying of disease; they were dying of ignorance. Something had to be done. I came up with the idea of launching a satellite over Africa that would broadcast digital radio across the continent to inexpensive portable receivers.

In 1990, I quit my job and devoted my body, mind and spirit to a quest that required securing international regulatory approval from 127 countries, designing a new communications system, building and launching satellites, establishing a corporation, hiring staff and raising capital to pay for it all. We needed around $1.5 billion to make it happen.

 

Dr. Michael Nobel, a member in the Worldspace board, also shares his thoughts during Health Meet, Jan 2002
 

So you see the kind of money that is needed to get into the satellite business. And yet, when he came here, Dr. Samara agreed to give us a free channel, and the reason for this was clearly explained by Dr. Michael Nobel who represented WorldSpace at the inaugural function.

Looking back, I would say that thanks to all this, Radio Sai has, unknown to it and entirely by Swamis Divine background orchestration, rendered a most unique kind of service. Before I get on to that, I want you to do a bit of arithmetic.

We have received free support from Dr. Samara for 12 satellite years, that is to say 8 on Asiastar, and 4 on Afristar. I might be a bit wrong about the latter number and it could even be 5 years. Even if we take it as 12 satellite years, just calculate how much of free support we have been given. You have to multiply $ 15,000 by 144! That sure is a lot of money. And yet, Dr. Samara has given that support for spreading global harmony; and not once did he make any kind of request or demand to us, not once.

At the working level, we have received the best of support from both the link stations, at Melbourne and Joburg. Particularly in the case of Melbourne, Mr. Graham there whom none of us have ever seen, has been so close that we feel he is one of us right here. I am sure that though Dr. Samaras dream has met with a setback, his place in history as a pioneer in satellite radio would never be forgotten. Nor would God fail to bless him and shower His Grace and blessings for providing such a wonderful support to Sai devotees for so long (which still continues for Asiastar listeners), literally till the last moment.

Dear Dr. Samara, unlike me, most of the people working in Radio Sai have not met you or even seen you. But together, all of us thank you from the bottom of our hearts and wish you Godspeed in whatever you would go on to do.

And now a few words about the changed scenario. As many of you might be aware, we have been for some time, broadcasting via the internet too. In fact, on the net, we have five channels, three being called respectively Asiastream, Afristream and Ameristream, for obvious reasons. In addition, we also a have a channel where we broadcast nothing but bhajans 24/7, and another channel where we broadcast nothing but discourses, once again non-stop.


www.radiosai.org

So it is not as if we have vanished into thin air for Afristar listeners. Rather, we continue to be available, but in a different mode.
Since I am rushing to finish this talk, I shall not say much more about our new plans, but there a few things I must say. Some people wrote to us to start our own satellite service. I do hope you would appreciate after reading this piece, that satellite broadcasting is a billion dollar business, which clearly is beyond us. I mean if we had a billion dollars, we would rather establish half a dozen hospitals!

We also often receive mails asking us to start a TV channel. If a radio channel costs $15,000 per month, a TV channel would cost at least a hundred times more. The reason is simple; TV signals require much more bandwidth and that is why almost all TV is commercial except those that are state-sponsored.

That said, we might venture and do some serious video streaming as we did at the time of the 83rd Birthday celebrations. That is less expensive than broadcast TV but costs money nevertheless. We have to carefully examine the financial implications before we get into that. Maybe some other time I shall share something more about those plans and the issues involved.
For now, I would like to say the following:

  1. The erstwhile listeners to Afristar service, please changeover from radio to computer. All you have to do is visit radiosai.org and click on Listen Now and then choose Afristream service.

  2. Dr. Samara, thanks a million. After the battle of Britain, Churchill offered a tribute to the airmen of UK. Borrowing from that let me say never have so many devotees owed so much to one single person for keeping them continually connected to Swami as they do to you. We are all deeply indebted to you, and your service to Swami would receive due recognition via Divine Grace and success in whatever you go on to do. Of course, our prayers for you would also be there. Thank you Sir, and all the best.
    Swami gifts Dr. Samara with a token of His Love as
    He blesses Him lovingly in January 2002

I know many are no doubt disappointed. I would say that we should instead thank Swami for opening a new door. I can tell you that but for getting started via WorldSpace, we might never have started streaming service and gone on to do video documentaries and so on. There is always a brighter side to even painful events. On that positive note, I take your leave.

God bless and Jai Sai Ram.

Dear Reader, did this article help you in any way? Please share your feelings with us by writing to [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.

~ Heart2Heart Team
 
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