The AIR signature tune

I have no doubts that some of you, once upon a long time ago, listening to the radio at the break of dawn, have heard this tune. It was a time when the lady of the house would be up, starting up the activities at home, after her bath, with wet hair hanging loosely tied, slightly damp sari with the one end tucked into her hip, getting the coffee & breakfast ready, the wood fire in the kitchen up and going nicely, smoke tendrils creeping up the chimney, clinking sounds of various brass & steel utensils in the background, while the man of the house and his father would be shaking themselves out of their beds, the younger anxiously ready to face life, the elder cursing his arthritic creaking bones and the various indignities of life as one gets older. Through this all, the child of the house would be fast asleep under his thin blanket, dreaming of animate & inanimate things; the boy had at least another two hours to dream before he started off for school.

The younger man would move slowly, still drowsy and with unsteady legs, to the living room. He would reach up to that wooden plank on the wall steadied by the two L brackets, where the old valve radio set was placed and turn the brown stained knob to click the radio on. It took a minute for the EL 84 vacuum tube valves to start up and glow as the man could see it through the cloth front of the radio. But it was not yet time; he heard only the hiss of static. Sunlight had started to streak through the gap between the wall and the roof, also through the glass tiles, and the man idly looked at the dancing dust particles in the beams for a while as his body warmed up. One could not help but notice the webbed antenna of the radio near the ceiling, where a number of spiders were busy with their own lives, spinning webs and waiting for their flying prey.

Then he did what his father had once routinely done during his entire life time, he walked across to the other side of the room and wound the wall clock, always remembering his fathers words ‘Son! Not too much or the spring will break…never should you move the needles back. If the time has to be changed, move it only forward – and as you move the needles make sure the pendulum is stopped carefully’…It was a clock imported from the old blighty (bilayath), and Papaji had to wait a two full months after placing the order at the local Spencer’s. It had cost all of fifty rupees in those days.

The magic eye tuner of the radio narrowed to a slit like cat’s eyes, the station came on air and the Akashwani signature tune started. Kaufmman’s immortal work composed on the resonating Tanpura, Viola and Violin echoed in the room. The Indian day had started.

It was now 0530 AM, and the lady of the house called out from the kitchen ‘coffee is ready, come and have it before it is cold’. Papaji had also come out after his ablutions, he would touch food only after all that was done and after he had finished his bath, and like he said every day, he grumbled “the younger generations are not right, ugh! They drink coffee without brushing teeth”.

And thus the many millions woke up to a new dawn in the teeming Indian villages, towns, cities, metropolises to toil & hustle to reach their own dreams…Many would remember the AIR signature tune in their lives, at some moment or the other – like I did today!!

The fledgling Indian broadcasting company which later became the All-India Radio employed two European musicologists, John Fouldes in Delhi and Walter Kaufmann in Bombay, to oversee Western musical programming. The signature tune of All India Radio, familiar to all Indian Radio listeners, was composed by the composer Walter Kaufmann (1907-84). Walter Kaufmann had left Prague after Hitler’s invasion, for India in 1934. He lived for twelve years in Bombay and worked in the music department of All India Radio and also did significant research into Indian music and with his friends, even worked for Hindi films. Kaufmann later worked as conductor and teacher in Canada and USA

An interesting extract - Unfortunately the start for AIR was not auspicious. Read Shabnam Minwalla’s Times report of 2002 - On a rainy Saturday, 75 years ago, Bombay’s swingers eagerly made their way to the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall. The evening promised not just dinner and dancing but an encounter with a magical technology — the wireless. .Some distance away at Radio House in Apollo Bunder, the new studio with its grand piano and unfamiliar equipment was a flurry of VIPs and violins. At 6 pm, Lord Irwin, the viceroy of India, stepped up to the clunky microphone and inaugurated the services of the Indian Broadcasting Company. History, as well as some hiss and crackle, was created on July 23, 1927. But crowds who had paid eight Annas and gathered at CJ Hall heard none of it. A defective wire pooped the wireless party and The Times of India reported: "The audience left the hall disappointed". The disgruntled crowds may not exactly have gone radio gaga. But that brave, little enterprise survived, grew into the omnipresent All India Radio (AIR) and is today celebrating its Platinum Jubilee.

Deccan Herald’s GV Joshi provides a very interesting tidbit - Children from Karnataka should be proud of the fact that the vernacular name for ‘All India Radio’, ‘Akash Vani’ originated at Mysore, a place well-known for silk and sandalwood. In 1935, Dr MV Gopalaswamy, Professor at Mysore University, started an experimental radio station using a low power transmitter from his residence. Subsequently a 250-watt transmitter was imported for better coverage and this station was named Akash Vani. The station survived with support from the municipality and private grants. In 1942, the station was taken over by the then Mysore State. The designation of the Indian State Broadcasting Service was changed to All India Radio (AIR) on June 8, 1936. All India Radio adopted the name ‘Akashvani’ in 1958. Note however that there were a number of experimental stations before all that. GV Joshi provides details in this Daily excelsior article. Prof BB Mohanty recalls those days in his own words, here.

The provider of the AIR tune file is Soumyadip of Cutting Chai. He has a wonderful blogsite, check it out.

Edit Feb 2009 - One year later after this was posted, a keen reader Mr Chakravarthi provided me with this clarification.
At the risk of being called a revisionist, let me say that Walter Kaufman did compose the AIR signature tune but not as a signature tune. In fact, it was an extract from a sonata commissioned by Mehli Mehta the well-known violinist who later became the first violin of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, and ended his days in California at the tender age of 92. He was, ultimately, better-known as the father of Zubin Mehta, the conductor. Mehli Mehta also played the violin for the signature tune . He remained justly proud of this fact to the end of his long life. There is no viola audible in the signature tune, contrary to the assertion in your blog.

So Mehli bhai - Thank you for this wonderful tune..



Bhel Puri & Seekh Kabab said...

Nice post: from the tune itself to the part about the valve radio, brought back some memories. Interesting history about AIR, I don't know how you dig these facts up. :p

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the another good one, AIR tune took me back to my school days!!

kallu said...

Wonderful post. With the signature tune of AIR, it hits one. Yes, the same tune is used -I think it comes on at 5.45 . Long time since I tuned in to AIR.

Its Suryan FM or our local FM channel that I tune into the minute I enter the kitchen in the mornings. And the radio does stay on until the morning routine is done. The analog clock is still important though a timer has its place too.

Sunlight, when it hits the stainless steel sink can still hold one with its patterns. And the hiss of the idli cooker and the milk boiler compete with the ragaas on the radio.

But, when I do get up early enough to catch vande mataram , its still special.

harimohan said...

dear maddy

once again you took me back to my childhood,the morning scene was similar but by then it was the pumping stove instead of the firewood ,and my dad used to keep carnatic music in radio ,i still remember that . whenever i hear violin pieces specially one in A.R.Rehman composed song sung by unnikrishnan "uyyire " where the piece ends with a soulful signing off violin tune ,i remmebr rushing to school once vividbharati songs ended at 9.30pm which was late for me
tks for making me go back

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks Maddy, for bringing back nostalgic thoughts.Good to learn that it was Walter Kaufman who composed the tune of a generation!

Unknown said...

Lovely post! The scene you described could be straight out of my house!

It was interesting, that tune being composed by a German. I always thought it was quintessentially Indian.

Soumyadip said...

This post brings back memories from my growing up years. We had a Murphy radio. When it conked off, I used its speakers to power my brother's Walkman to listen to my kind of music.

I believe AIR still plays this music at the crack of dawn.

And Akashwani is so much a better name than All India (Indira during her era) Radio.

Nanditha Prabhu said...

i remember waking up to this tune.thank you for taking us back the memory lane. nice post as usual.

Dinakar KR said...
That is my blog. Look at that Bush Radio in it too. Will post about our good old [may be 100!] Ansonia clock later

I enjoyed your post... so beautifully describing the morning scene. That 'L' bracket... it was where my father had placed it - to be out of reach of us! The 'magic eye'- we enjoyed how it worked. The shades of green there was a beauty - in fact, IS. I've still kept it in working condition - with some effort!

How we converged to it when the film sound track was broadcast every Sunday afternoon!

Many thanks for the information on Signature Tunes. I've taped it too many years back.

The beauty of the sounds emanating from that Bush is something unsurpassable. I somehow like the sound better on Shortwave and Medium Wave than the FM. They have a depth.

Happy Kitten said...

bad connnection.. am waiting still to hear that tune..

but great post...

Prats said...

I got here from searching for a signature tune....and then realised this took me back to my school years.....its really nice to hear this

Naveen Prabhu said...

i used to love this tune as appa switched on the radio every morn .. & particularly luv the way the sanskrit news reader began "samprati vaartah sruyantam ..pravachaka baladevanda sagarah..."

Finla said...

Reading your post and seeing the pic of the old radio relindeme of the radio we had at home when i was really litle :-)

Maddy said...

Thank y'all pals...

kallu's comments brings it to current times, the milk boiler & pressure cooker brings another story to mind - you will see it asa blog soon..

thanks Murali, dinakar, prats, happy cook and soumyadip for dropping in, hope you become regulars!!

Anonymous said...

Can anyone corroborate this please?I have always thought while Kaufmann composed AIR's signature tune, the violin was played by the late Lord Yehudi Menuhin.

Maddy said...

thanks for passing by - i am not aware of yehudi's contribution to this, I tried checking but of no avail..

Ketan said...

Hey even I came here searching the AIR signature tune. God know I am searching for it since I don't know how long!
And very nice blog.

Athena said...

Nice post ..
heartwarming to see someone from this generation, staying in the US and still remembering the good old homeland and its sounds and smells... :)

Phanindra K said...

Yes, AIR still uses the same signature tune to this day on all of its stations. :)

Anonymous said...

Great, I was searching for this tune from a long time.

Web Cave -

Anonymous said...

I am not from India, never been to, but have heard this tune in a couple of films such as Ardh satya, and Pareenita.As a child I used to listen to radio from all over the world and in early morning I might have heard this tune. This tune depicted dawn and was fantastic, since then I have been looking into finding out more about this tune. Found out now and amazed.

Maddy said...

Thanks Anonymous - Nothing beats the simplicity of the tune. It either took a lot of work or came about in a flash from the creators genius..

krishna said...

Dear Maddy,
I can't thank you enough for uploading this tune followed by Vandematharam. It brought tears in my eyes right away. I loved the description of the typical morning scene which was probably universal.
Would be nice if we can go back in time and go back to those days without all the complex technology we have now. As somebody pointed out, radio was the only entertainment at home.
Thanks again.

The Talkative Man said...

Simply magnificent! I cannot believe 2 years passed since this tune was available on the internet thru your site(perhaps a reminder how marriage kills surfing habits?)

Thanks a lot...Now I got to learn to wake up early and play this as my 10 month kid gets up :)

Saahitya Abhimaani said...

Dear Maddy,

I just started a Blog in Telugu by name "Radio Abhimani" meaning Radio Fan. Your article on Signature Tune is quite interesting. I read somewhere that the signature tune was composed by Shri Vishnu Govind Jog a well known Violin Artist. In your blog you have written Kaufmman’s. Can you kindly clarif. One more thing is that I wish to reproduce your article (of course translated into Telugu) in my blog

Please permit me.

My E mail address is

Swarna said...

can still be heard at 5:55 on AkAshavANI channels.

Maddy said...

Thanks swarnalatha
Yup I had covered Kaufman some years ago in some more detail