- Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
- South Asia Institute
- Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
- Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
- The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
- Free and open to the public
- Registration required. See details.
Radio for the Millions: Hindi-Urdu Broadcasting Across Borders
by Isabel Huacuja Alonso
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 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.
Isabel 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.
Huacuja Alonso 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.
This event will be in person at the Heyman Center and live-streamed online. Please register for both in-person and virtual attendance via the link.
Please email [email protected] to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.
About the Author
Isabel Huacuja Alonso is an assistant professor in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Her book Radio for the Millions: Hindi-Urdu Broadcasting Across Borders (Columbia University Press, January 2023) is a transnational history of radio broadcasting in Hindi and Urdu from the late colonial period through the early post-independence era (1920-1980). It argues that the medium of radio enabled listeners and broadcasters to contest the cultural, linguistic, and political agendas of the British colonial administration and the subsequent independent Indian and Pakistani governments. The book draws on her dissertation (2015, University of Texas at Austin), which won the Sardar Patel Award for “the best dissertation in any aspect of modern India defended at a US institution.”
About the Speakers
Dolores Inés Casillas is a Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies and Director of the Chicano Studies Institute (CSI) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on immigrant engagement with U.S. Spanish-language and bilingual media, the representation of accented Spanish and English languages within popular culture, as well as the integration of Ethnic Studies within K-12 schools. She is the author of Sounds of Belonging: U.S. Spanish-language Radio and Public Advocacy (NYU Press, 2014), which received two book prizes, and co-editor with María Elena Cepeda (Williams College) of the Companion to Latina/o Media Studies (Routledge Press, 2016) and co-editor with Mary Bucholtz and Jin Sook Lee (UC Santa Barbara) of Feeling It: Language, Race and Affect in Latinx Youth Learning (Routledge Press, 2018).
Gil Hochberg is the Ransford Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, and Middle East Studies at Columbia University and Chair of MESAAS.Before coming to Columbia University, professor Hochberg was a professor of Comparative Literature and Gender studies at UCLA for fifteen years. She is currently maintaining her strong ties to Comparative Literature and to Gender studies as member of the executive committees of the Institute for Comparative Literatures and Society (ICLS) and The Institute for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (ISSG). She is also a member of the executive committee for the Center of Palestine Studies (CPS) and CPS.
Debashree Mukherjee is an assistant professor in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University. She worked in Mumbai’s film and television industries from 2004–2007. She is a scholar of film and media, specializing in South Asian cinemas, with methodological investments in film and media studies, feminist decolonial historiography, environmental humanities, and technology studies. Her book, Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City (Columbia University Press, 2020), presents a practitioner’s eye-view of filmmaking activity in late colonial Bombay, approaching cinema as an ecology of energy relations that connect the studio and the screen.
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