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Hello! Is it Radio `chechi' and `chettan?'

Asalatha and Balakrishnan vibe well with listeners who share their joys and sorrows with them in their FM programme. They share their experiences with SHILPA NAIR ANAND

PHOTO: H.VIBHU

CONCERNED Balakrishnan and Asalatha, popular radio anchors, presenting their programme

There are stacks of neatly arranged letters on one of Asalatha's desks. They sit there, awaiting their turn, very patiently, as patiently as those who have poured their hearts out in those letters; waiting for Asalatha and Balakrishnan to share their joys and sorrows, on air on Kochi FM. `Asa-echi' and `Balettan' to their listeners, who tune in to the shows that they anchor - Hello Joy Alukkas Wedding Centre and Joy Alukkas Sayantharam.

Asalatha and Balakrishnan are the voices behind two of Kochi FM's popular shows which are aired in the morning (8.30-9.30 am) and evening (5-6 pm). While `Hello... ' is a phone-in programme, the other is a write-in programme.

'Sayantharam'

Asalatha is the constant, she is part of both the shows. Balakrishnan co-hosts the `Joy Alukkas Sayantharam' with her. The friendly ribbing that the duo indulges in is one of the factors that have made `Sayantharam' a hit with listeners.

To listeners like young Gangotri, a cancer patient, Asa-echi and Balettan are dear friends, making the agony of cancer less, or even finding a reason to live.

"I remember there was this woman who wrote in saying that she was on the verge of suicide when she heard the show. Incidentally that day I was talking about facing difficulties in life successfully," says Asalatha, who is a playback singer.

Dubai stint

She started her career as a programme producer for Radio Asia, which was launched in Dubai in the early 90s. She was the first female radio artist in Dubai on a government visa, she later moved to UAQ Radio 846 AM. She has sung for Malayalam and Tamil films.

The pair has been hosting the show together for the past year, and have been colleagues for more than a decade in Dubai at UAQ Radio 846 AM. They used to jockey a show sponsored by Joy Alukkas. Balakrishnan is a trained journalist who had worked with AIR before he went to Dubai"I came to India to get the show in motion, Joyettan (Alukkas) asked me to do something of this kind, we used to have a programme by the same name in Duabi (`Joy Alukkas Sayantharam'), in Kochi. I was game for it and worked out a deal with AIR and that is how the program came to be. And we have been airing for two years now," says Asalatha, also the marketing manager of the group in India.

Both the programmes have committed listeners who set apart time during the day just to tune in to the programme. The RJs see their job as more than just providing entertainment, they see what they are doing as a "social service, an attempt to change what is ailing our system. We make no big claims, but we believe that we can make a change in a small way, in ways that matter.

We derive a lot of satisfaction from this." But what sees them through the tedium of repetition - taking phone calls, reading out letters - they say, "is the love and affection that our listeners shower on us." Initially Asalatha was allotted a half-hour slot, which was then extended to an hour and subsequently to two hours. "Our listeners rue the fact that we do not air on Saturdays and Sundays," says Balakrishnan. With all the adulation that both of them get comes tremendous responsibility. "Those who write in do not realise that their letters are being read out on air. Their just pour their hearts out, so we have wives talking about husbands and vice versa. There have been times when we have put down letters because if read, all hell would break out for those who write in," says Asalatha, to which Balakrishnan adds, "What we share with our listeners extends beyond the show, the interaction is heart to heart.

We are their `somebody', a companion in their loneliness." And there is a lot of hard work too.

Asalatha reads up on various subjects, surfs the net so that they can incorporate nuggets of information and philosophy into the show and make it more than just a film music show.

Spontaneity

The show's USP is spontaneity, and that is where the duo has managed to score. "We do not work with a script. Whatever that you hear is spontaneous, there are no scripts and rehearsals and that I feel is the beauty of the show.

Whether it is my show in the morning or the one that Balakrishnan and I present, it is all about spontaneity and the rapport," says Asalatha. The rapport that the two shares is evident, it is a healthy give-and-take of jibes minus the ego.

Now that the buzz is that there are around 14 more FM channels due to start, do they see their standing affected? "Not at all. In fact I believe that we have a dedicated following that will stay with us, we have our niche listeners and I do not see them going anywhere," says Balakrishnan. Amen to that, for the sake of Asa-echi and Balettan's committed fans.

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