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  Volume 4 - Issue 04
APRIL 2006
 
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RESPONSE TO RADIOSAI LISTENERS’ FEEDBACK

By Prof. G Venkataraman


Recently, Radio Sai solicited listener feedback, for the purpose of revamping and rescheduling its programmes. There was a good response to the appeal, and subsequently, after an analysis of the replies received, Prof. G Venkataraman broadcast a special talk responding to the listeners’ comments, suggestions and queries. Since many might have missed that talk when broadcast, H2H reprints the text of the talk for the benefit of our readers who listen to our radio services.

Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.

As you know, in recent weeks, we have been soliciting from you feedback about our programmes. I am happy to say that there has been a very good response to our appeal and we have received hundreds of letters, all the way from New Zealand to Canada and everywhere in between. This is a special talk in which I would like to respond to the reactions of our listeners.

An Overwhelming Response

The first thing I must say is that we are overwhelmed by the response to our request. We have received both bouquets and brickbats, fortunately more of the former than the latter! We have spent quite some time in carefully analysing the comments and questions. I must at this point give you some idea of the diversity of the response, which seems to span many dimensions.

What I mean is that our listeners belong to different time zones; they speak many different languages; they are from different cultures; they have different tastes; and they belong to different religions. You will appreciate that it is not easy to run a radio service that satisfies such diversity in equal measure, at least with our kind of resources. Nevertheless, we have thus far tried to do our best. Feeling, however, that we could do better, we did the survey; now that we have received your responses, the ball is in our court. Towards the end of this talk, I shall give you some idea of what we plan and hope to do in the immediate future.

 
   
RadioSai Logo

In Reply to Your Points

But first, I must reply to some of the points made by the listeners who have kindly written to us. There are some who say that everything is fine as it is. We are grateful for this flattering compliment but we know in our hearts that we can, should and certainly ought to do much better. And that is what we are determined to try.

Some of the suggestions made are already in the process of being implemented, and we are already broadcasting the kind of programmes requested. For example, one listener wants us to broadcast songs sung by Swami’s boys during festivals. I believe we do this regularly. Another listener wants news reports of events in the Ashram. I am not quite able to understand what this particular listener means, but for your information, we do regularly broadcast a programme entitled Prashanti Bulletin, which summarises all recent happenings. Yet another listener wants songs from old Convocation Dramas. We have, I believe broadcast these; in fact, we have even broadcast the entire soundtrack of the dramas. But we must admit that we do not have the soundtracks of all the dramas staged during the various years and so we can do only so much. Incidentally, this highlights one general difficulty we have and which you must appreciate.

You see, we came into the picture only at the beginning of this century. Much has happened before Radio Sai went on the air, and despite our best efforts, we have not been able to get recordings of many precious events of the past; more about this later.

Many have made suggestions that we ourselves have been thinking about and are actually about to be implemented. Examples include: Bhajan tutorials; narration of Chinna Kathas, or stories for children written by Swami a long time ago; interviews in Telugu, and so on. So, no problem there.

The New Telugu Service

Incidentally, this is a good place to refer to our new Telugu service and also respond to requests for programmes in many languages. Let me start with the Telugu Service. For quite some time, there has been a great demand for special broadcasts in Telugu. In the past, we have occasionally broadcast special programmes in Telugu on special occasions like Ugadi or the Telugu New Year Day. However, we held off a regular service because of many practical difficulties. Nevertheless, adopting a come-what-may attitude, we commenced a Telugu service on the holy day of Sankaranthi [14th Jan] this year. This is a one-hour programme that is aired twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. By Swami’s Grace, it is going well and we hope to improve both the frequency as well as the depth of this service.

Broadcasts in Different Languages

 

This brings me to the request for broadcasts in various other languages, both Indian and non-Indian. In all such cases, we have a basic difficulty – lack of familiarity with the language concerned. There are just a handful of us here in the Prashanti Digital Studio, and we simply are not equipped to produce programmes in all sorts of language. Strange as it may sound, Telugu is not the mother tongue of the few of us who work here.

So, running the Telugu programme is quite a difficult job for us. Fortunately, this is Telugu country, and we are able to manage because of the generous help given by volunteers who know Telugu. When it comes to other languages, it is an altogether a different story. Speaking for ourselves, we DO want to have programmes in as many languages as possible – from Japanese and Mandarin Chinese to French and Italian. But for this, we need the co-operation of devotees from the regions concerned.

Prashanti Digital Studio, Prasanthi Nilayam
   

Let me explain. From time to time, devotees from Japan would come to us and say, “Here is a Bhajan programme we have recorded; it is in Japanese. Please can you broadcast it?” We say yes, and air the programme at a time previously agreed. Similarly, there is the occasional programme in Chinese that we have aired, because devotees from Singapore gave us a packaged programme.

Maybe, I should mention here the special arrangement we have managed to enter into with devotees from Latin America. This has been possible on account of the personal initiative of many devotees from that region, besides the strong support given to us by the leaders of the Sai Organisation in that part of the world. These people have gone to enormous trouble to prepare regularly, programmes in Spanish and Portuguese that we air on Radio Sai.

Programmes Produced by the Linguistic Regions

I shall repeat that all over again in slightly different words so that you appreciate what needs to be done if we are to air programmes in various languages, other than English. First of all, devotees must realise that such programmes cannot be produced by us; if programmes are produced for us, then we can broadcast them, as we do regularly for the Spanish and Portuguese speaking people. If a particular linguistic group say Russian or Bengali for that matter, want Radio Sai to broadcast programmes in these languages, then a special radio group must be formed in that region which would, as a Seva, do all that is necessary to produce programmes in that language.

This includes generating ideas for the programmes, producing and recording the programmes and making the appropriate arrangements for sending the recorded programmes to us for broadcast. Of course, any group wanting to produce programmes, must do so with the blessings of the Sai Organisation in the region. This in turn means that the Sai Organisation must ensure both quality and suitability of content; in other words, it must oversee the whole process and must take responsibility for making sure that something that is not suitable for broadcasting does not get on the air.

All this is not as difficult as it might sound. And thanks to technology, recording etc., is not such a hassle either. However, it requires dedication, firm commitment, and perseverance. You see, it is not easy to generate programmes, unless there is a strong passion for it. One must be charged with the feeling that the programmes would bring so much joy to the listeners. Once there is this fire in the belly as it is called, then the whole process ceases to be a burden.

If You Are Ready, Then So Are We!

Let me wrap all this up by saying the following: yes, we would be very happy to broadcast programmes in French, German, Italian, Russian etc. but people in those linguistic regions must take the initiative, just as devotees in Latin America have pioneered programmes in Spanish and Portuguese. If Latin America can do it, the rest of the world also can. If you are ready, then so are we! If you want to know more about to go about all this, please do write us and we shall fill you in with all the required details.

Study Circles

OK, let me move on to another topic. Many listeners have asked for Study Circle sessions. This is something that has been exercising our minds also for quite some time. Using our Heart2Heart service, we have actually run an entire series of articles, that can serve as reference material for running study circle.

This material has been packaged under the title: Getting Spiritually Better. If you go to Radio Sai web site and click on Heart2Heart, and look up previous issues, you can see and also download all the reference material that might help you to run your own circles in your own areas.

 
   
www.radiosai.org Home Page

Radio Satsangh Programme

Over and above this, we are planning a series called Radio Satsangh, which would involve an active dialogue between two young people, dealing with various practical aspects of leading a spiritual life. This format may not be quite the same as a Study Circle with say ten persons; on the other hand it can be regarded as, if you like, a Study Circle with two people! Wait for it, and then judge if it is at least partially useful. We think it would be quite interesting and also useful.

Talking Books

Many people have been asking for Talking Books. We have actually broadcast a few of these, but obviously there is a lot more we can do in this area. Believe me, we are currently making all the efforts we can to have as many talking books as possible recorded. Here, I must draw your attention to one important practical problem we have.

You know, producing a talking book is not all that easy. The main problem here is finding a good reader. The reader must first of all have a good voice, added to which, he or she as the case may be, must have good diction and pronunciation. I repeat once again that it is not at all easy to find readers in the numbers we need! Secondly, to make a talking book out of a book of say 150 pages or so, takes many sessions of recordings. Even if we are able to find a reader, that person is often not available for an extended period. In short, we have all kinds of practical problems, most of them connected with an acute shortage of competent human resources. However, we have made a few talking books in the past and even broadcast them. We now intend to take a Hollywood or bust approach and not let any further difficulties in our way. In short, do not be surprised if we do convert some of the Vahini series, for example, into talking books.

Talks by Devotees

Some listeners want talks by Hislop, Kasturi etc. Alas, all these people are no more with us, and Radio Sai was not around when they gave talks. So, this is a double difficulty. However, we have been able to track a few precious tapes with talks by these great devotees, and soon you would hear their voices floating into your homes via Radio Sai. But please remember there is only so much we can do about this matter.

This takes me on to talks by Geetha Mohan Ram, who is obviously very popular with our listeners, and with good reason too. Listeners want lots of talks by her. We too would like that but there are ground realities that cannot be brushed aside. This good lady lives in America whereas we operate from Prashanti Nilayam. On two occasions when she was here, we managed to record talks by her. Apart form this we managed to get some tapes containing her talks through the efforts of a well-wisher of Radio Sai. In short, talks of these kind are not easy to come by and with the limited resources we have, we are unable to do better than what we already have. For your information, we made a direct appeal to some of the devotees in America to help in this matter, but then when oceans and continents separate us, follow up becomes very difficult.

I might in general say that we have made a conscious effort to get recordings of talks given in various places, both India and overseas; but the results are very poor. I am afraid they will remain poor unless people out there make a special effort to come to our aid and help.

Meeting the Required Balance

I would now like to deal with a slightly different aspect of the requests communicated to us in the survey that we made. Many would like a lot of Vedic Mantras, Suprabhatham in the morning, etc. On the other hand, there are many, obviously non-Hindu, who want something more suited to their needs and familiarity. All are our listeners, all are Swami’s devotees, and we have to please all. But what is to be done when the demands are so diverse? This is one of the many difficulties we face – wide diversity in preferences.

One thing is clear: we simply cannot have a Hindu channel. Quite apart from the Sarva Dharma nature of Swami’s Mission which mandates a balance in presentation of aspects of various faiths, the broadcast arrangement we have requires transmission from Melbourne and Johannesburg and we cannot strictly speaking run a religious channel. The authorities in those countries do not permit that. I hope that people who want exclusive broadcasts of Hindu programmes shall I say, would have to bear with us.

 
   
Prashanti Digital Studio Logo

Volume Fluctuations

Some listeners have complained about volume fluctuations. This is an important problem, and I am personally looking into this along with our staff to find out what exactly the problem is and why it is originating. There are many links in the broadcast chain, and we must analyse in detail. We hope to track down the root cause and once we do so, we shall of course fix the problem.

Safeguarding the Precious Past

One listener wants to hear Discourses of Swami given prior to 1976. Actually, nothing would give us greater pleasure than to broadcast those Discourses. With enormous difficulty, we have managed to collect many recordings containing those precious Discourses, but unfortunately, thanks to lack of care, many of those recordings have deteriorated in quality, some seemingly beyond any repair. This is most tragic. I would like at this point, to make a few general remarks on the indifference of many devotees to the preservation of historical records, photos, etc.

In the old days, photography was not all that restricted, and during every event, there were many still photographers and also videographers. But unfortunately, hardly anyone has bothered to keep systematic records and preserve pictures, audio tapes, films and videotapes carefully, with two notable exceptions; they are late Richard Bock of America and late Dr. Fanibanda of Bombay. I humbly bow in respect and reverence to these two departed souls, but for whom, we would have almost zero video archive. The Prashanti Digital Studio owes an immense debt of gratitude to Janet Bocker in San Fransisco and to Mrs. Fanibanda in Mumbai for the generous gift they have made of films of priceless value, after holding them for years in impeccable condition.

Getting back to audio recordings going back to the seventies, we have salvaged some and are trying to salvage as many of the rest as possible. Some, I regret to say, are beyond restoration; but mercifully, many can be recovered. However, it is going to cost us a lot of time and money to get that job done. Till the restoration is complete, listeners would have to wait. I am sorry but that is the way it now is. Meanwhile, please believe me – we are doing our very best.

About Live Broadcasts

Some people want live broadcasts. I appreciate the desire of people to listen to events even as they happen, but we cannot do live broadcasts because we do not have a transmitter. And one cannot get a transmitter just like that. Not only is it very expensive but also, one must have a license for that and so many other things besides. Now one way to beat this requirement is to have access to someone else’s transmitter, live. We do have access to the transmitters of Worldspace in Melbourne and Johannesburg, but if we are to have 24/7 live link to these two cities, believe me it would cost a fortune. Only the big boys can afford that kind of money; we simply cannot. We have of course done one live broadcast three years ago, but it was a one time affair, and a very difficult one too. With our limited resources both in terms of staff and finance, I am afraid we cannot do live broadcasting at present. Later, when we switch to 100 % internet streaming, maybe we could think of almost live broadcasts; but we shall cross that bridge when we come to it.

Meanwhile, please note that on the Asiastar service, we bring many festival programmes within a day or two. We are in the process of establishing similar highband connectivity with Johannesburg, and when that is done, listeners to Afristar service would also hear programmes ‘hot’, shall I say. By the way, this special highspeed connectivity to Melbourne and Jo’berg does not come free! There are substantial charges, but we bear them and this is transparent to the listener.

SAICAST - Video Service

One listener has written to us about SAICAST, the video streaming service that we run in collaboration with the Sri Sathya Sai Society of America. This devotee wants us to place high quality videos instead of what is offered now. I appreciate the writer’s point of view but do you know about the cost of running this service?

Let us say a particular video programme content is M bytes. Every time a person logs on and sees the video, M bytes are exported from the server. There is a charge for this that comes to us. If 100 people see the video, then the server exports 100 M bytes. This in turn means that we have to pay for 100 M bytes outflow. I hope you get the point. Now if we place high quality videos for viewing by this process then the content would not be M but much higher, like 30 M or so. Which means that if 100 viewers click on this service to see this particular video, the outflow would be 3,000 M instead of 100 M bytes. In turn, that means we have to foot a much larger bill.

 
   
www.saicast.org Home Page

You see, SAICAST was started mainly to give viewers a sample of what is going on etc., so that if they want to view these programmes again and again with high resolution, they could purchase the DVDs from the book store here. I hope you will understand our argument and realise that we simply cannot afford the expense of placing high resolution videos for viewing on SAICAST.

Regular Programme Slots

Some of you have said why on earth could we not have a particular kind of programme aired at a specific time every week, so that the listener knows well in advance what to expect when? Certainly this is a feature of all reputed broadcasters, and it is no big deal to implement this. I agree with all this and let me inform you that very soon when we implement our new look, or should I say our new audio programme model, this feature would be very much present.

Advance Publication of Programmes

Another related question is why can’t we publish in advance the programmes for say one month? We wish we could but we are not quite in a position to do so. Here is a typical situation. One day, the boys decide to present a programme before Swami. We record it, and would like to broadcast it soon. Right now, we can broadcast it within a day over Asiastar and the Internet. However, presently, we cannot do that over Afristar, but we have already made the required payment for the highband internet connections required and when the installation is complete, we can broadcast the programme next day over Afristar also. This clearly is a situation where we cannot anticipate in advance. Hence, under present circumstances, having a one-month pre-planned programme would not be helpful since there might have to be many mid-course corrections.

 
RadioSai's reach in Africa (left) and in Asia on the Worldspace digital radios. On the internet it is available anywhere.

There is also another factor, which is even more important. If we were broadcasting live like the big stations do, then all we have to do it to say such and such programme would be broadcast at such and such time, and simply broadcast it live. Our service is not like that. We have patiently to make what is called a playlist. This playlist tells the computer what it has to broadcast for 24 hours, every second of it. Making a playlist is a tedious affair since the computer has to be told what music to play when, what announcement to make when and so on. Right now, the playlist is made about two days or so on in advance. Now if you want us to have the playlists for the entire month ready on the first of the month, then I am afraid we simply cannot do it; we have just half the time resources of someone to do playlists at the moment, and so we cannot offer one month playlists in advance. However, having said all this, there IS something we can do which is to give you some idea of the highlights of the coming week. This feature we shall implement soon, when we revamp our service.

Downloading Programmes Already Broadcast

A related matter, and a valid one too. Some people write, “Often, we miss an important broadcast because we are not at home at that time. Why don’t you do something so that we can download that programme later for hearing at our convenience?” Valid point and it is under serious consideration. I assure you that soon we will start doing something about it.

Region Specific Services

I might also add that we are also considering three separate internet streaming services so that Asia, Europe and America can have their own streaming services, suited to their respective time zones. So as you can see, we are trying to serve you better!

Heart2Heart, The On-Line Magazine

At this stage, I would like to say a few words about Heart2Heart, our on-line magazine. We launched this magazine about three years ago. When we started it, this magazine was visualised as a distinct activity for spreading the message but as we went along, it seemed desirable to slowly link our radio service to H2H. Right now the linking process has commenced; true it is a bit nebulous at present, but soon we expect the link to be fairly tight. How exactly, you might ask. Let me explain.

Linking Heart2Heart and Radio Sai

Firstly, many things that appear in H2H would be aired on the radio. For example, for quite sometime, we have been offering on H2H something called Bhajan Tutorial. This programme would now be aired on Radio Sai.

We have at least 9000 subscribers now, for a service called Sai Inspires. Everyday, we e-mail to each and every one of these 9000 and odd subscribers, a nice picture post card with a sweet photo of Swami and a beautiful saying of Swami. We are now making arrangements to read out these sayings over Radio Sai.

Next, many talks and interviews are aired on Radio Sai. Transcripts of these would be published in H2H. In this way, even people who do not listen to us can get the benefit of our radio programmes. In every possible way, we are making a conscious effort to improve the content and quality. Please send us your critical comments and do not give us any rest! If you drive us hard, then we would deliver better, we have to!!

 
   
Heart2Heart, Radio Sai's e-journal
Home Page, March 2006 issue

The Path to Professionalism

I would now like to touch upon one comment made by a listener who obviously knows a lot about broadcasting. He quotes an Englishman to say that our broadcasts are not professional. I entirely agree! Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. You see, when I was in service I worked in some of the best laboratories in the world. Besides, I have been in charge of groups that have designed and built chips, set up a silicon foundry, built control electronics for nuclear power plants, and set up big computer centres. So I know what professionalism is all about. I also know how BBC, NPR in America etc., run their broadcast services, since I hear them all the time.

Having said that, I must add that when it comes to Swami, things are very different. Let us start with His healthcare programme which now is world famous. Do you know it all started way back in 1954 with a small general hospital with six beds, two for men and four for women, with one doctor and one female nurse? And then, Swami established three colleges, a college for women in 1968 in Anantapur, a college for men in Brindavan in 1972 and yet another college for men in Puttaparthi in 1980. In all cases, the classes were started in temporary and even improvised locations; the buildings came later. In short, the start has mostly been on a low key, the build-up coming later when the time is ripe.

 

So you see, with Swami, there is a different timeline and a different evolution philosophy. Since He is the Master of the show, always, things have to happen His way and not ours. To somebody living in the West, used to Germanic precision and Swiss discipline, this style may not appeal very much. That is understandable; at the same time, we as devotees have to see behind what meets the eye superficially.

Swami starts something not merely as a facility that would serve the public but one that would serve as a test bed for the staff working there. You take the Sri Sathya Sai Institute for Higher Learning, about which I can speak with some familiarity, both for the reason I have been a faculty member for 14 years and also the Vice Chancellor for one term. Now in many respects, our Institute faces constraints not encountered elsewhere. When I first came, I was taken aback; then I became unhappy and frustrated; I then began even to grumble.

This went on until I did some deep introspection. When I did that, I realised that the so-called problems and obstacles had a purpose of their own. They were meant to teach me that life is not perfect, that in life we must often improvise, that obstacles and impediments are meant not only to toughen ourselves spiritually but also to teach equanimity, and so on.

The bottom line is this: yes, if we have all the worldly resources, we sure can run a professional service. The BBC, for example, gets a huge budget from the British Government, and it has about 2000 people on its staff. No wonder it can run many radio and TV channels and produce all kinds of quality programmes. With are just four people doing everything and with the load we carry, we obviously cannot match professional broadcasters.

The Stimulus to Improve is You

I hope some of you heard my earlier broadcast giving a brief history of Radio Sai and how constrained we are in terms of human resources and all that. OK, so what do we do? Throw in the towel and walk out or do the best we can? We have chosen the latter option. And what is the outcome? That is really interesting!

People do note that we have shortcomings but most wonderfully, over 90% of our listeners are prepared to be quite forgiving and fault tolerant. Because, even with all our imperfections, they can hear the voice of Swami, the Prashanti Bhajans and so on right in their homes, be it in Kobe or Vancouver. You know something? Unknowingly, it gives so many of our listeners an opportunity to forgive our lapses, and thus practice Kshama or forbearance - the greatest of virtues! Mind you, I am not, repeat not, making excuses for many of our technical lapses, but when listeners unconsciously forgive us, it actually elevates them.

What about us? We too are spiritually elevated in our own way. If we compare ourselves with the big daddies of broadcasting, we sure become downcast. But if instead we turn to Swami and say, “O Bhagavan, we know we are not doing a great job but please help us to bring every minute of every day, some Ananda into someone’s life somewhere.

 

If we achieve that, then that would fill us with Bliss, knowing that we have in our own little way helped to spread Your Infinite Love.” Believe me, that is the spirit in which we work. We try to do the best with what we have, and bring Ananda to our listeners in every possible way.

Are We Pleasing Sai?

We are sure that Swami has deliberately put a cap on our resources, so that we learn to do things the hard way so called, because for God that is the best way. Smooth efficiency is OK in the ordinary world, but in the world of Swami, He tells us loud and clear, “You are NOT the doer but Me. So, don’t bother about worldly parameters like market share, listener ratings etc. Don’t look at others and compare yourself with them. Ask instead: are you pleasing Me? And know that I am pleased when you see Me in your listeners and bring them Ananda.”

Swami on the Studio Inauguration day...
   

Well dear listeners, I can honestly tell you that all of us here do feel that in some little measure, we do bring Ananda to our listeners, at least a good many of them. How do we know? From the innumerable letters that we constantly receive. Here is a sample, a letter written by a lady in Connecticut, America. She writes:

Firstly, I strongly appreciate your service especially to people far away from Prashanthi Nilayam. My family enjoys all the programmes on Radio Sai and I would like to share one experience. My 1 yr old son is fascinated by the Sai Students's bhajans. He stands near the laptop all thru aarathi until shanthi. He listens very keenly and wherever he is in the house, he comes fast to the laptop the moment he hears the arathi. It looks like that he is captivated by their voice, maybe Swami's love is spreading more thru His students. May Swami bless you all with strength to continue with the good service.

This letter is typical; there are hundreds like this.

So, to put it all briefly, we do know what professionalism is, but working within constraints that we cheerfully accept as the will of the Lord, there is only so much we can do at present. While we cannot get high marks in the department of professionalism, we can certainly claim that when it comes to Ananda and not worldly joy, our programmes, with all their limitations, do help people experience the Bliss of welcoming Swami to their living rooms.

Please do not imagine that by saying all this, we are absolving ourselves of the responsibility of trying to constantly improve the quality, the diversity and the depth of our programmes. In fact, right now, all of us are engaged, not only in studying carefully your responses, but also in figuring out many improvements both in content and in execution. Possibly in a later broadcast, I shall spell our some of the details. For the present please be assured that stimulated by the responses we have received and we are doing everything we can to revamp our present services to a much higher level.

 
Swami pressing the button to launch RadioSai on the Birthday morning, 23rd Nov 2001

Volunteers at Radio Sai

I would now like to turn to the question of volunteers who can help us. Many people write to us asking whether they can in any way help us. I would first of all like to thank all such well-wishers. We really feel very grateful for this wonderful response. Over the years we have come to appreciate that the real world is quite different from the ideal world we tend to lose ourselves in. This we have learnt by hard experience.

In the beginning, we tried our best to accommodate all who volunteered to help but soon we discovered that this was not working out. In the case of people who showed up at our studio, the first problem was that they did not quite have the specialised skills we needed. I mean a radio and video studio is not like a canteen. In a canteen, volunteers mainly serve, man the cash counter or do dishwashing. All these are relatively simple jobs and do not require specialised pre-training. The volunteer shows up and in five minutes he is working.

In our case, it is not so. Even if it is a simple task, it takes time for us to train the volunteer. After that, we have to do a lot of babysitting because the volunteer would often run into some problem or the other. Still, we decided to bear it all, hoping that the volunteer would be happy and we too would benefit. However, after a while, it became very evident to us that this thing was simply not going to work. Basically when a person comes from say Germany or America for that matter and says he would help for the ten days here, it takes us two or three days to orient that person. Then we discover that the person would be away for the two darshans and also has to stand in long lines in the canteen. After that, there is shopping, taking care of a friend who has fallen sick, and so on. Mind you, I am not, repeat not, complaining. These are things that do happen; we have to expect them. But at the end of the day, short spells of volunteering simply does not work out. Fortunately, we have a couple of volunteers who are with us for long spells, and they know exactly what to do – they have been trained and so we can do our work while they do theirs. It is not easy to get such people, and that is why we are restricted in what we do.

Outsourcing

Some people say, “Come on, every body outsources; why can’t you?” Believe me we have tried and most of the time, it simply does not work out. When people show up here and have long discussions with us, they promise many things but when they go back, they get so much sucked up in their work, they are unable to help us even if they want to. Obviously, we cannot go on e-mailing them and bugging them. We accept this a fact of life, and generally stay away from outsourcing. In short, we manage from here to the extent we can.

However, having said all this, I cannot omit to mention that there are a few wonderful people who have done jobs for us on a regular basis even though they live far away from here. We have for example a lady in America, an angel I must say, who regularly does transcription work for us, quite a lot of it in fact. She is simply amazing, and I do not know what we would do without her. There is similarly a lady in Kuwait who helps us with a lot of art work, and another in Singapore who helps us with voice work. So it is not as if we do not have volunteers helping us. There are some; however, since our work is quite demanding, it is not possible for all to actively help, and this we fully understand. That is why we do not complain and at the same time feel immensely grateful to those who are able to spare so much valuable time for us. The point simply is that volunteer work here is not easy and we cannot go on bothering anyone and everyone to help us. We feel happy that some are able to, even though the work is demanding, and are happy to rest content with that. On the whole, we have found that when faced with a real pinch, Swami sends someone! And we feel quite happy about that.

Positive and Negative Criticism about the Radio Interviews

 

I now would like to comment upon a programme I am personally involved with, and that is the so-called Interviews. I wish this programme had not been billed as Interviews but as Conversations. Anyway, that is what this programme has been called and right from the beginning, this particular programme has attracted a lot of interest, and we have received many, many letters concerning it. Most of it has been quite complimentary but to be absolutely truthful, I must mention that a small minority has been quite critical of some aspects of this particular programme that relates to me personally. Before I come to that, I must say a few things about the genesis of this programme and how it evolved.

It all started with our desire to fill air time really. In those early days, we needed programmes other than Divine Discourses and Bhajans, because we simply did not have enough Discourses and Bhajans to broadcast 24 hours without too much repetition. So we strained ourselves to come up with other kinds of programmes, and conversations with devotees turned out to be one of them.

An Interview with Garry Belz
   

When I first went out looking for possible people with whom I could have a chat in front of the microphone, I found that most people I contacted were quite nervous. They wanted me to submit a list of questions in advance and things like that. Obviously, I could not operate that way. If I did, that would look like obtaining a formal statement. This is what happens with some political leaders who are very allergic to meeting the media. I wanted something very different – I wanted a free atmosphere where the guest would feel comfortable and just have a conversation like anywhere else, forgetting the mike.

So, I would take the guest to the studio, converse for a while putting him at ease, and then gently signal for the recording. This invariably succeeded and what happened then was, I really plunged into the chat like I normally would. Of course, in all this, I kept two things always in mind. One was to watch the clock, and the other was to draw out the guest on a variety of topics relating to his personality, status in life, etc.

All this may seem fine, and it did so to me. But many found that there was the fatal flaw that I interrupted often and cut short the guest. Over the years, we have received many mails, a majority of them strongly approving of this programme, and a small minority expressing equally caustic disapproval. I would like to respond to these comments, both appreciative and highly critical, but before I do that, let me give you an explicit example.

The Narasimha Murthy Interview – A Case in Point

Sometime ago, I had a chat with Narasimha Murthy, Warden of the Brindavan Hostel, about Swami’s trip to Kodaikanal in 2005. This was broadcast, and our web site received many mails appreciative of the programme. But one day, there was a letter addressed to me that came by post, and I quote from that letter in part:

Many times I thought somebody should inform you of what you are doing in the interviews you are in charge of. And after the recent interview with Brindavan Warden, which we all looked forward to, I realised that it is a must that I must inform you. To say it as mild as possible, you are actually spoiling the interviews with so many interruptions, comments and stories which we have heard many times before. We want to hear the person interviewed and not you.

It is only an excuse to be on the whole time. People are deeply frustrated about it and disappointed. It sounds as a huge ego who want to hear his own voice all the time. I am sorry to be direct but it seems to be necessary.

There were many other critical remarks the writer has made, but they do not add to what I have quoted above. Basically, the writer is hopping mad and thinks there is a fatal flaw in what I presented.

I was sort of taken aback by this because normally when I finish a conversation – note I keep on saying a conversation and not an interview; this was one of the mistakes made in programme presentation - I invariably ask the person about how it went off and almost invariably people have come out of the recording quite happy, so happy that almost all of them wanted a copy of the recording.

It so happened that Narasimha Murthy was here in Prashanti soon after this letter came, and I showed it to him and he was totally surprised. I then said, “Narasimha Murthy, I shall give you a recording of this chat described as an interview. You please hear it in leisure and give me your comments.” He agreed, and went away to Bangalore. He came back a few days later for some work, and when he met me he said, “I played the recording and listened to it carefully. I do not feel the criticism that you were frequently interrupting me is correct.”

Now one might argue that this is not a correct perception and that the listener is a better judge and all that. I agree. At least I made sure that Narasimha Murthy was not offended. Anyway, soon after this letter came, I received another letter, it so happened from the same town. I don’t know this person even as I do not know the person who thinks I am on an ego trip, and the contents of this letter also stunned me. The writer, a retired air force officer, said:

I thought it fit to share a few words with you about the Radio Sai Programmes that I and my wife are very attached to. In particular, I am writing to inform you about the thrilling interviews that are broadcast day after day, for the benefit of devotees around the globe. In particular the interview about the Kodaikanal visit of Swami with Sri B N Narasimha Murthy was fantastic, and I have heard it 3 to 4 times already. It is invigorating and rejuvenating.

The writer goes on to say many things that are pertinent, but I shall refrain from quoting them lest I be accused again of ego, giving publicity to myself and all that. But there is one point the writer makes that is relevant and so allow me to quote those words. He says,

I have been a teacher at the Flying Institutions in the Indian Air Force, and I always thought it necessary to understand the minds of the audience, while trying to steer the class in the right direction. In this regard, your appropriate input, word, gesture, a little encouragement, a query, and exclamation etc., have always been noticed to bring out the right word from the devotee being interviewed, and we have always admired your natural talent in this regard.

Praise and Blame

I would now like to comment on the entire issue, from three perspectives. The first is from a contextual point of view, the second from a technical point of view and the third from a strictly personal point of view. Before I start, I would like to make it very clear that I have no personal grudge or animosity to those who have made critical remarks. Long ago when as a scientist I started writing books, I found from the book reviews, that while many praised, some were also critical. In one case, a long scientific biography of Prof. C.V.Raman, the only Indian physicist to win the Nobel Prize for Physics working in India, there were some who attacked certain portions of the book. Many asked me to respond and rebut those comments but I refused to. I just took the stand that professional reviewers were entitled to their views, and authors should not get into a debate with them. This was the general Dharma of the publishing world, and that I too would follow it. In that sense, I have learnt to take the bouquets and brickbats with some balance. After coming here, I learnt that this equanimity is actually mandated by the Lord and that I had better improve my performance in this department. One might then ask, “In that case, why are bringing up this issue at all?” There is a reason. You see, it is not so much a case of the critical remarks as the perception people have about the so-called Interview programmes. I would now like to clarify what I mean.

A Conversation – Not a Media Interview

Let me get back to the contextual aspect. Basically, I was trying to get people with whom I could converse on matters of mutual interest, relating of course to Spirituality. Although this programme was unfortunately billed as an Interview, my own perception was that it was a dialogue.

I certainly did not see the point of playing the role of a press or media correspondent who interviews a celebrity. Instead, I tried to put people at ease and conversed with them as I would do normally, and since many knew me personally and were used to my style, they certainly did not feel that I was doing anything inappropriate. You may or may not agree with this statement, but I am merely stating how I approached the task.

Next, sometimes people tend to talk at length and even go off at a tangent. If this is permitted, then the programme would become pretty boring if broadcast as recorded. We would have to do a lot of editing. In fact, I might mention that in some cases, the recording could not be aired because even with the best of effort from our side, the person speaking to us tended to be rather incoherent. In such cases, we transcribe, distil and then try to use the material. The point is that we do not want to, if we can avoid it, be burdened with a lot of post-recording editing work. I hope you understand.

 

   
Another Interview with Jay Stuart Borden

Many of the people whom we have invited are quite busy. They show up here only during the big festivals and they are so busy; it is difficult to catch them. And when they come to our studio, we have just about an hour at the most when we have to get as much as possible out of them while they are with us. With respect to this task, perceptions might vary. For some, only certain aspects are important but for us, all aspects are. And clarity is also important. In one case, a listener wrote that a certain person was not answering some crucial questions with clarity despite repeated efforts on our part. This particular listener appreciated our effort and commented on how difficult it is sometimes to gently steer the person speaking with us.

Media Interview Styles

I would now like to move away from our own programme and discuss briefly the scenario elsewhere. Programmes involving discussion, conversation, dialogue, etc., fall into many categories that include: 1) interview of a celebrity, 2) panel discussion, 3) talk with an ordinary person in connection with an important event, 4) opinion sampling, 5) talk show where listeners phone in, etc. I have heard and continue to hear, almost daily, programmes of these different kinds, and I find, that interruptions of various kinds are quite common in most of them, though the reason for them vary widely.

Before I amplify, I must mention that broadcasters do not always butt in, especially when the person speaking to them speaks crisply and in short paragraphs. The high profile celebrities are masters of the art of conversation and make sure they do not make speeches. This enables the broadcaster enough room to walk the celebrity through wide territory.

Having said that, next let me consider the interruptions. At one extreme, we have the studio person say, “I am sorry that is all the time we have and I must stop here.” This happens often and I have heard this many times.

Then there are the interviews with people supposed to be difficult. Say a western media person interviews a top politician who is not exactly popular in the West. On many occasions I have heard the media person interrupt rather rudely, just to ask yet another provocative question.

Then there are shows designed to stir up trouble where the excitement runs so high that everybody starts not merely talking but shouting at the top of their voices, leaving the moderator one hell of time to restore peace. Here one finds the moderator pleading helplessly almost, ‘quiet please, one at a time’.

The point I am trying to make is that interruptions often do occur, and I am mentioning this specially because many write to me to say, “You do not know how to run programmes. Listen to what is broadcast by the others.” Well, I have listened to others, and there too there are occasions when there are no interruptions and there are also occasions when interruptions do occur. So it is a mixed bag really.

Notwithstanding all this, listeners can well say, “How is all of that relevant to us? Is not this channel different?” Of course it is, but since some people mentioned other channels I thought I would make a brief reference to them also.

At this point, let me make the following very clear:

  1. I am personally very sorry if inadvertently I have caused some pain to some of our listeners. This was not intended.
  2. We have noted the point and will try and make sure this does not happen in the future.
  3. The remarks made earlier in the talk are not in anyway intended to criticise or attack those who have genuinely felt that there were flaws in what we are doing.
  4. There never was and there never will be any deliberate effort to eclipse our guest.
  5. Indeed, never have our guests, not even once, ever felt that we were slighting them. On the contrary, all of them have felt happy while leaving the studio and have asked for a copy of the recording. So, I can say that at least our guests never felt offended.

The Technical Side

I would next like to make a brief reference to the technical angle. We record digitally, and later do some technical processing known as equalisation, noise reduction etc. In addition, unwanted sounds like breath pop, coughing, pauses when someone drinks water, etc., are eliminated.

It might happen that in the course of pause removal, the interval between the end of one person speaking and the other person starting might be tightly clipped. As a result, this electronic editing might give the impression that the second person is rudely interrupting, while he is not. I am not saying this is actually the case but listening to one so-called Interview broadcast recently, I did get the feeling that this might be happening.

 
   
Audio editing in progress...

On a Personal Note…

I now wish to mention what I referred to earlier as a personal note. Many listeners, including one whom I quoted earlier have accused me of ego. They are of course entitled to their perceptions, but speaking for myself, this charge pained me a lot. Ego is a manifestation of body consciousness, which grips all of us. No one is exempt from ego. Having said that I would like to say that I have made a conscious effort to limit body consciousness - if I am that much in the grip of ego then I would not be here at all. When I retired more than a dozen years ago, my immediate boss was Dr. Kalam, now the President of India. Dr. Kalam tried hard to make me continue for at least two more years, but I declined. If I had continued, I would no doubt have enjoyed many things that came with a top job. There were many incidents in the earlier part of my career that I could cite in continuation of this argument, but I shall mention just one.

For a scientist, publishing a paper means a lot. In the middle part of my career when I was doing more management than pure research, there were times when my juniors who had benefited from my guidance and were writing papers, would add my name as an author, even though my personal involvement was not deep enough to qualify me. Many bosses in fact demand the inclusion of their name, the world over. However, I have always rejected such unmerited authorship. If ego had played a part, certainly I would not have missed these opportunities to inflate my publication score. Indeed, after coming here, there are many books I have prepared on Swami and His Teachings and Mission but none of these carry my name.

I am not trying to prove that I am a saint or something like that; all I am trying to say is that it is painful for me that an unintentional act on my part should have prompted some to attribute to me something I have consciously endeavoured to avoid.

One thing I do know. Broadcasting does have its occupational hazards. Since even the regulars and the greats like the BBC often attract the ire of listeners, I do not have to feel anything special. If there are shortcomings, we do have to be ready to hear about it. In that spirit, I apologize once again and express the hope that we will try to commit less mistakes!

Fewer Interviews, Why?

By the way, I wonder how many of you have noticed that of late there are not many so-called new interviews. This is partly because I have become deeply involved with many administrative and management matters. For example, we are trying hard to enhance our radio reach. We are also trying to make a concerted effort to produce programmes in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam, besides enhancing our effort in Telugu. Then there is a lot of work connected with archiving and so on, each of which requires a lot of time for chasing, and correspondence. This is work that I simply cannot dodge; I have to do it myself.

I am hoping some of our younger staff members can take up the work I have to lay off from - but then, they too are overworked. Right now, the most important task that takes a good deal of my time is the long video documentary on Swami’s Avatarhood, that I am deeply involved in.

Circumstances have changed, and with it my work pattern has also changed. All the regular staff we have are overloaded with running the Studio, and they too are not in a position to handle the Interviews. We are on the lookout for someone who can take charge of the programme, and we hope Swami would send us soon a suitable person.

Highlights of the Forthcoming Changes

Let me now fulfil the promise I made in the beginning and give the highlights of some of the changes we are currently planning:

  1. There would be greater structure and discipline in our programme schedules.
  2. We will make a serious effort to avoid repetition, and straightaway pull out programmes you have heard many times already.
  3. We will try and add new programmes, besides injecting more variety.
  4. We hope to introduce three separate internet services to suit the needs of different regions of the globe.
  5. We will introduce Bhajan tutorials.
  6. We will try and give exposure to the teachings common to all faiths.
  7. We will increase the cross links between Radio Sai and Heart to Heart.
  8. We will add more and more talking books.
  9. We will try and introduce a download service so that you can download and hear a programme you have missed when broadcast live.

There are many other improvements planned and you will hear about them in the future. I am sorry this has turned out to be a rather long talk but then there were so many things to respond to.

Keep on Writing…Your Comments Are Precious.

Finally, I would like you to continue writing to us all the time, even if it is critical because we learn from them and also because your criticism helps us to improve our service. However, please do not write to us about organisational matters, especially the difficulties you face there.

I hope you appreciate that we cannot be involved in organisational matters. Concerning these, you had better get in touch with the office bearers of the Organisation itself. I hope you would understand.

I hope you will bear with us and forgive us for our many lapses, most of which are unintentional while some are due to infrastructure inadequacies. If, however, at the end of the day we have made you even a little bit happy by bringing Swami’s Love into your homes, then I hope we can be forgiven all our other shortcomings, even though they might be many.

 

Thanks again. Jai Sai Ram.

- Heart2Heart Team

 
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Vol 4 Issue 04 - APRIL 2006
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