Isabel Huacuja AlonsoMar 2, 2023
Radio for the Millions
Hindi-Urdu Broadcasting Across Borders
Columbia University Press 2022
From news about World War II to the broadcasting of music from popular movies, radio played a crucial role in an increasingly divided South Asia for more than half a century. Radio for the Millions: Hindi-Urdu Broadcasting Across Borders (Columbia University Press, 2023) by Isabel Huacuja Alonso examines the history of Hindi-Urdu radio during the height of its popularity from the 1930s to the 1980s, showing how it created transnational communities of listeners.
Huacuja Alonso argues that despite British, Indian, and Pakistani politicians’ efforts to usurp the medium for state purposes, radio largely escaped their grasp. She demonstrates that the medium enabled listeners and broadcasters to resist the cultural, linguistic, and political agendas of the British colonial administration and the subsequent independent Indian and Pakistani governments. Rather than being merely a tool of nation building in South Asia, radio created affective links that defied state agendas, policies, and borders. It forged an enduring transnational soundscape, even after the 1947 Partition had made a united India a political impossibility.
The book traces how people engaged with radio across news, music, and drama broadcasts, arguing for a more expansive definition of what it means to listen. She develops the concept of “radio resonance” to understand how radio relied on circuits of oral communication such as rumor and gossip and to account for the affective bonds this “talk” created. By analyzing Hindi film-song radio programs, she demonstrates how radio spurred new ways of listening to cinema. Drawing on a rich collection of sources, including newly recovered recordings, listeners’ letters to radio stations, original interviews with broadcasters, and archival documents from across three continents, Radio for the Millions rethinks assumptions about how the medium connects with audiences.
Isabel Huacuja Alonso is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asia, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University. She is a historian of sound media and modern South Asia.
Shatrunjay Mall is a PhD candidate at the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He works on transnational Asian history, and his dissertation explores intellectual, political, and cultural intersections and affinities that emerged between Indian anti-colonialism and imperial Japan in the twentieth century.