ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Radio’s ‘global’ listening publics in India during the Cold War


Bajpai Anandita - Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany


49 – Public Knowledge: Audiences in South Asian Media and Screen Studies


 This paper conceptualizes the making of ‘listening publics’ by foreign broadcasting radio stations during the Cold War in India. It focuses on the competitive acoustic registers utilized by radio stations to sketch how ‘bloc’ politics was played out in 1960s-80s, when radio’s presence was ubiquitous. Stations like Radio Berlin International (GDR), Deutsche Welle (FRG), BBC Hindi Service, Radio Tashkent, Radio Moscow, Radio Beijing, Voice of America, NHK Japan, etc. saw India as a sonic hotspot for producing Cold War affinities and animosities alike. Especially in rural India, where radio sets and transistors were a luxury even in the 1980s, collective listening was commonplace and played an instrumental role in the formation of listeners’ clubs. By presenting the perspective of those behind radio sets in rural and semi-urban locales in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, I will show how Hindi-speaking radio listeners in India actively designed registers of local internationalisms. Tracing their trajectories offers a vibrant field of entangled interventions from the ground, whereby listeners do not just listen, but also speak back. The sonic field therein emerges as a space of transfer/techno politics, political communication, and the creative making of ‘localized’ global publics in the Cold War. The paper relies on archival material (auditory/textual), ethnographic fieldwork (listeners) and the study of material culture (photos, letters, souvenirs etc.)as its source-base.