Vidula - Children's radio channel
Radio channel: On March 28, past mid day, I was entering SLBC (Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) premises at Torrington Square. To my great surprise, I saw a great change in the entire atmosphere more like children's carnival; a long forgotten merry-go-round, a giant's ride, and an ice-cream stall. A special studio was installed for the purpose. Children were running around celebrating an event of their own.
Children from various walks of life, from distant places and remote schools, had to participate in a new media venture, with their parents and teachers. It was a moment of excitement, introducing a new broadcasting system, different from other forms known so far.
Children were seen as the main programme participants with the adult broadcasters helping them to air their views on many matters. One child had something to say on his school; he came with his colleagues to see what is happening. Another talked about one of his hobbies: keeping newspaper-cuttings in a file, which he believed, in the future, would be useful material for research work.
Many aired their views on skills and activities. A small girl sang a song of the past - a folk song. She wants to be a singer one day. Then they were talking about the new technology: Computer and the Internet, and how it should reach the village. The specialist-adults, in matters of language and culture, were seen airing the views.
I had the opportunity of meeting some radio programme producers, selected for the task of shouldering the function of both planning and implementing the radio programmes mainly for children.
They seem to believe, that it is a challenge mainly due to the extant of television channels and FM radio channels. According to Mahinda Algama, a long-standing radio play and children's opera producer, however, the children's programmes will reach the popularity, if new radio plays are produced with children, and new children's songs are composed, recorded and broadcast.
But an educationist-colleague of mine said that all these have to be planned well, and a need to hold regular planning sessions is important. Added he: "Small scale radio clubs have to be formulated at school level as a part of the curriculum and be affiliated to the new radio channel, Vidula."
Then I met the SLBC chairman, Sunil Sarath Perera who said that plans are on to innovate new types of radio programmes, especially on subject areas: culture, human values and history.
"We like to attract more and more children, but they are not going to be the sole contributing team, as we have many adults, specialists in various subjects, who will help the children creatively to 'know' and 'understand' the traditional as well as modern trends and development. We need new ideas and new creations."
Some aspects of the traditional forms of broadcasting for children are still popular all around the world.
For example, narrating stories is one of the most popular types of broadcasting in the world. However, it is not so easy to obtain the service of good narrators for children these days.
The story-telling element could be revived via radio, and quite a lot of new messages could be inserted as a nation-building mission. The service of the teacher could be obtained to meet this challenge.
I am reminded of the children's programmes of the late forties and early fifties, how the poet U.A.S Perera, popularly known as Siri Ayya, was behind the microphone in the studio with a group of children, where he exhibited the talent to address the children both in prose, song and verse.
It was the well-known Lama Pitiya (children's ground); the title changed over time, and later came to be known as Lama Mandapaya (children's forum). Siri Ayya's student, well-known lyricist Karunaratne Abeysekara, was behind these new innovations, as he was the first officially appointed Sinhala children's programme organiser of then Radio Ceylon. The evening programme format, from five to six, was set aside for children, and listened to by children, as they were at home.
The weekdays broadcast five general types of children's programmes; weekends, special types. In fact, the whole week had daily programmes to offer: Gita Nataka or children's radio opera, Ranga Pitaya or children's playhouse, Tikiri Sinareli or children's magazine programme, Singiti Suratal or kiddies programme and Bosath Lama Lapatiyo or the religious programme.
Side by side grew the special stream of education programmes. With the introduction of the Educational Service (adyapana sevaya), which was initially titled as Pasal Sevaya (school's service), meant to be a parallel stream of education as innovated by the new forms of educational reforms in the commonwealth countries.
There was a keen sense of interest shown by the educationists as a channel to obtain and create a better climate for the teaching of such subjects as science, languages and creative skills.
Most of these educational programmes were designed by the specialists from the National Education Institute at Maharagama and the Ministry of Education at Palawatte, funded by UNESCO and a few other units. These innovations may have helped the children, as well as the teachers.
But the fact remains that the patterns of education changed rapidly at the schools level and the television took over most of the programme formats meant for educational matters, making use of the image, and the sound blended creatively and became a challenge for the local radio and television producers.
When more and more television programmes were imported as material commonly geared to many countries in the commonwealth, the intensity of the creative function of the local producers abated gradually.
One good example is the introduction of 'Discovery' programme, which was received as a variant to the traditional forms of presentation.
It is too early however, to comment on the innovations of the newly introduced Vidula. But a dedicated team of communicators - equipped with a new vision - is a must for the sustenance and development of the channel.
(This columnist is an Advisory Board member of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, and a regular broadcaster, who started his career as a participant of children's programmes as far back as mid fifties. Being attached to the then Radio Ceylon, as a script-writer and programme producer, he was later selected as the managerial programme producer of London based BBC World Service Sinhala programme 'Sandeshaya'.)