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30 part serial Radio DATE [Drug, Alcohol , Tobacco Education ]. The serial was a joint venture of AIR and ICMR

**Prof. T K Thomas

*Radio DATE (Drug, Alcohol , Tobacco Education )

......................I left All India Radio [AIR] in1987. An year or two later I was invited to write a 30 part serial Radio DATE [Drug, Alcohol , Tobacco Education ]. The serial was a joint venture of AIR and the Indian Council of Medical Research [ICMR]. At that time I was involved in a study of the problem of drugs and alcohol in India. I had travelled extensively in the country wherever major drug or alcohol problem existed.
I was under the impression before the research that substance abuse and addiction were social problems on account of deviant behaviour or at the most medical or mental health problems . But my research for the Radio DATE programme proved that the ramifications of addiction comprised drain on domestic budgets ,state resources, poverty ,deprivation ,domestic  violence  law and order  problems including   narco-terrorism. In  the  scripts  of   Radio  DATE  programmes  I included all these  aspects.
So a problem like substances abuse is a development issue  because , it  affects  the quality of life and well-being  of large sections of the population . Needless to say, development issues need very creative and well conceived development communication strategies. Instead of ritualistic annual observations of anti tobacco or anti- drug ‘days’ sustained campaigns on media are essential.  The Radio DATE serial  turned out  to  be   very successful .

The serial had about 150000 registered listeners who were sent media- kits which included  the  synopsis of each episode well in advance . There  was  a poster  competition  on the topics at the  end  of  the  broadcasts  of  the  serial . The competition attracted a large number of  entries . Prizes  were awarded  and  an exhibition  of  posters  were  also  organized .

The  original  scripts  of  all  the  episodes   were  written  by me  in  English which  were  then  translated  into  Hindi . Pilot  episodes  were  produced  by  a team  of  very  creative  broadcasters  drawn from  various  AIR  stations . This  team  also  did  the  musical score and a very  catchy  signature  tune . From  the  English and   Hindi  scripts  the regional  AIR  stations   created  their  own  regional  language  versions . In  order  to   give  area specificity  and  local   flavour , instead  of  the  folk  and  traditional   music  and  theatre  forms  used   in   ample  measure  in the original  script  were substituted   with  respective  local   forms .  The  ICMR  or Delhi  doctors   experts and others  were  replaced  by   local   and  familiar  ones .

One  of  the  major creative  inputs  in   all the episodes  of Radio  DATE   was  humour  and  of course  satire . The  ICMR  and  AIR  team  had clearly  defined the  audience  of the  serial  as  semi urban   and  rural  youth  not  very  literate .  This   well  defined  audience  profile  facilitated  the  scripting  and   my  selection of  jokes and  anecdotes . I  had  to relate to them  and ensure  that  the  messages did  not  go  above their  heads  . After all  a  message  understood  is communication [a definition  I  learned during my training  in AIBD ! ] . I  collected rustic jokes  and anecdotes  for  the  programme and the listeners we gather liked them.

The  Zero  episode   was produced and was played  before  a group  of   communication experts . The experts  were annoyed . They  accused   me  and the production  team  of making  a  joke  of  a  serious  problem  like  addiction  and  for  trivialising   it . Though as  creative  people  we  were  a bit  disheartened  according our plan of  pretesting  we sent the programmes  to  villages  in  five  states  adjoining   Delhi. The  villagers ,our prospective  listeners , liked the programme  immensely .  So the  production  of  the serial  continued in the  same vein .

The broadcast of Radio DATE started on April 8, 1990 on Sunday mornings and repeated once again for 30 consecutive weeks from almost a 100 AIR stations. Some years later on December 24, 1999, I read a story in the Indian Express under the title “AIR anti-Tobacco Show prompts Listeners to Quit”. The story highlighted how 1.6 million  people may have kicked the habit after the programmes, showing radio as a cost effective tool to fight tobacco. The story was on the basis of an impact study done by ICMR. The official report came out later. The Indian Express story added “such programmes can be used community wide on a public service basis to publicise the advantage of cessation. In a large population like India, even a small percentage shift in users or quitters has a high effect on health indices”.
Radio  DATE  has demonstrated that  public  and mental  health  issues  are  development  issues  and need  communication  support  to  improve  the  quality  of  life  and  to  ensure  the  well being of the people. All  the  media  especially  radio   which  is  a  cost  effective  medium have a  seminal  role to play  in  development  communication . We   have  witnessed tremendous development of  media technology  but unfortunately  such  advancements   have not been  in the  service  of  development  communication .

*This is an excerpt  from the article published in Souvenir on the occasion of The General Assembly of the Asian Broadcasting Union in Delhi 2011.

**Prof. T K Thomas has been a media adviser and trainer to Nada India Foundation since its inception. He is  a former station director of All India Radio and chairman of Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore Foundation  is  presently visiting professor of Sikkim University, Gangtok


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