Transmitting Hope: Endeavors in Communication Devices

How the evolution of Radio, Television & Telephone connected and amplified the voice of India.

The centenary of Postal TransportationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

The development of the railways, telegraph and postage systems in the 1850s facilitated unprecedented connectivity and sparked nationalism. 

Transport and Communication served to ignite latent attitudes and ideas that eventually grew into larger political movements against the British. Ironically, the emergence of the Indian wireless broadcasting system in the 1920s was not only a consequence of the Imperial rule and anti-colonial agitation, but also a result of the burgeoning ‘international broadcasting' environment. 

Time Covers - The 20S (1926-12-06)LIFE Photo Collection

The Radio

History is ridden with scandalous stories - and the origins of wireless transmission is definitely one such. Around the early 20th century, during the wireless telegraphy era, Indian scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose had demonstrated the use of electromagnetic waves by inventing an Iron-Mercury Coherer. It was reported in the Royal Society, London, in 1899. Later, in 1901, Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi procured the mercury detector from a friend, Lieutenant L. Solari of the Royal Italian Navy. Shortly after, he filed a patent application for the device in England under his own name. Marconi then employed the Iron-Mercury Coherer to make the world’s first transatlantic radio signals.

Philips Radio's AIR Advertisement by Philips RadioMuseum of Design Excellence

In the 1920s it was the ‘Radio Clubs’ of urban centres like Bombay, Calcutta and Madras that drove India’s early interest in the radio.

Organised broadcasting in India and Britain was almost contemporaneous. In 1927, with the ceremonial inauguration of the Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) in India, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was awarded its first charter to provide public service programming across the UK by the British government.

The Indian Broadcasting Company was later nationalised and renamed All India Radio (AIR) and broadcast Nehru's Independence Day Speech in 1947. It continues to reach a great number of people of the India, and is one of the world’s largest broadcasting organisations.

Transmitting Hope - Installation ImageMuseum of Design Excellence

Bush Radio by Bush RadioMuseum of Design Excellence


Foreign brands such as Emerson, Grundig, Murphy, and Bush popularised valve-based radios - large, bulky, and expensive models - during the early decades of Independent India.

Murphy RadioMuseum of Design Excellence


National Ecko Radio by National Ekco Radio & Engineering Co. LtdMuseum of Design Excellence


The arrival of the semi-conductor into the Indian subcontinent promoted the invention of more economical and portable models of the transistor radio which, eventually, became indispensable to the common man.

Solidaire AdvertisementMuseum of Design Excellence

The Television

In 1959, All India Radio began television broadcasting. The Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute in Chennai, India, first developed the initial model of the television that were set in wooden cabinets with knobs. At the government’s behest, the methods to create the television were shared with private companies such as JK Electronics, who were its first licensed manufacturers. Soon thereafter, private and state-owned brands like Telerad, Weston Electronics, Televista, EC TV and Dyanora began producing televisions that proliferated through metros.

Televista AdvertisementOriginal Source: Illustrated Weekly of India

In the mid-1970s, the televisions encased in wooden boxes moved onto solid state technology, which eliminated vacuum tubes and valves, and provided improved visual and sound quality. From 1973 to 1978, the number of television manufacturers grew from 12 to 72, and the production grew from 70,000 to 4,10,000 units.

Doordarshan established its position in the television space in 1959, and content from the channel was transmitted daily as part of All India Radio. Supplemented by the introduction of coloured television in 1982, the channel streamed live telecasts of the Independence Day speech by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, followed by the coloured telecast of the 1982 Asian Games held in Delhi.

Doordarshan separated from AIR in 1982 to become a national broadcaster.

ONIDA 21 Advertisement by ONIDAMuseum of Design Excellence

The economic liberalisation policies of 1991 gave programming rights to International players, such as Star TV, increasing the amount of available content.

Brands such as Onida and Videocon increased viewership in the cable-ready TV market.

Gandhi Colony (1946-05) by Margaret Bourke-WhiteLIFE Photo Collection

The Telephone

The telephone was first introduced for commercial use in India in 1882. Telephone exchanges, under the Oriental Telephone Company Limited, were being set up at Bombay, Madras, Karachi and Ahmedabad. After the nationalisation of services in the 1940s, telephone exchanges were taken over by the Indian Post and Telegraphs department in 1943. By the time of Independence in 1947, all major cities in the subcontinent were connected, and the number of subscribers stood at 83,000.

Bombay Stock And Cotton Exchange (1946) by Margaret Bourke-WhiteLIFE Photo Collection

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) was established in 1986 to provide fixed-line services in Mumbai and Delhi, while Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) served the rest of the cities. Today, BSNL is the seventh largest telecommunications company in the world.

In the 1990s, IT companies from Bangalore, such as Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services revolutionised the delivery of software services by employing telephones for global transactions.

Telephones, along with the eventual arrival of the internet, became an integral part to “outsourcing” businesses, revenues from which altered the perception of India’s technical abilities nationally as well as internationally.

Bakelight TelephoneMuseum of Design Excellence


In the 1930s, the telephone industry witnessed a seismic shift as bakelite began to supplant metal. This transition had a massive impact on production times, drastically reducing it from seven days to seven minutes.

Trans-national companies such as Ericsson were ardently promoting bakelite, exporting their plastic models to India, amongst other British colonies.

Bakelite had many glorious years ahead. The advantages of this material were that they offered a streamlined sculptural design, as opposed to the engineered look of earlier phones. The material had an even lustre, was moisture-resistant, and easy to maintain. While technical limitations initially restricted the colour palette to black, coloured plastic telephones came in a few years later.

Indian Telephone Industry by Design: The India StoryOriginal Source: Film's Division


A model developed by the Indian Telephone Industries Ltd. by repurposing defunct moulds from ATM, England.

ITI was interestingly founded in Bangalore in 1948, to meet the country's developmental needs, as British companies like ATM were not able to supply telephones to India after WWII.

Trim PhoneMuseum of Design Excellence


Martin Rowlands developed the TRIM phone in the 1960s for the General Post Office (GPO) in England. It was meant to be a fashionable alternative to contemporary models. The handset rested vertically across the base, the buttons lit up when dialled and, a new electronic ringer replaced the traditional.

Credits: Story

Read more about India's design objects on:
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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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