Today is the 60th anniversary of the day Geet Mala was first broadcast on Dec 3, 1952, Ameen Sayani. Sayani ran the programme to record-smashing success for nearly 45 years, earning a place among the world’s top broadcasters.
The show was first called “BINACA GEETMALA”, then “CIBACA GEETMALA” and, thereafter, “COLGATE-CIBACA GEETMALA”. It commenced over the Commercial Hindi Service of RADIO CEYLON towards the end of 1952 and shifted to All-India Radio’s VIVIDH BHARATI network in 1989.
The initial half-hour “Geetmala” began as an experimental weekly jackpot show based on a random selection of songs. It dropped into Ameen’s lap only because other leading broadcasters declined it. For all of Rs. 25 a week, he was required to select the songs, produce, script and compere the programme, and also process the mail.
The mail-response competition required every letter to be checked, and hardly 40-50 letters were expected. The first episode brought 9,000 !Within a year, that number touched 60,000 per week. The show, and the station, both began ruling the Asian airwaves – but Ameen was fast becoming a nervous wreck managing the mail response with a mini-group of volunteers! Fortunately, the competition was shelved in 1954, and was replaced by a 1-hour countdown hit-parade.
The new format became a rage in no time, drawing an estimated nine to twelve crore (90 to 120 million) listeners from all over Asia, and even from East Africa, with its powerful Short Wave sweep. “That was the golden period of film music”, Ameen reminisces. “The songs were not only fabulous, but also helped in integrating our huge, intricately multi-lingual nation. Everyone loved Hindi film songs, and everyone was latched onto Geetmala and Radio Ceylon – particularly because the gigantic network of All-India Radio had suddenly decided to totally ban Hindi film music in the early fifties!”