RadioandMusic
| 22 Feb 2020
Radio MUST head Pankaj Athavale - For us, the most important thing is to sound interesting and intelligent

Mumbai University initiated its community radio station – Radio MUST 107.8 FM in February 2008. The unique initiative completes one year next month. Airing content initially for four hours, the CR now broadcasts 13 hours of programming   In a conversation with Radioandmusic's Anita Iyer, Radio MUST head Pankaj Athavale looks back at the year gone by, initiatives of Radio MUST and sustainability of CRs in India.

Can you introduce your radio station to our readers?

Radio MUST started a year ago, backed  by Mumbai University, and  follows a talk format. Our main concern is to air content relevant to the community and also exhibit it in a the conventional â€?FM' manner to lure listeners.

What content do you air on Radio MUST?

We give information about anything which is informative, but the packaging plays a very important role where the RJs speak in typical FM style. We primarily have programmes in Hindi, English and Marathi languages.

Students are our primary audience; we have segments like music shows where we profile musicians, bands and college students. We air capsules on economics, history of forts across Mumbai and Maharashtra, �did you know' factoids from the animal world, environment, health tips by doctors, book reviews, food reviews, psychology shows, English speaking tuitions, snippets on e-waste. We have listeners calling us for civic issues with complaints concerning BMC leaving road pits, water shortage, SRA schemes, municipality rules, traffic rules, etc.

Also we have started field broadcasts where our jocks send live links. Like, for an economics convention, we would be placing the cell phone next to the speaker and airing the convention live.

Has the concept of talk based radio station gone down well with your listeners?

The talk concept is new to India and there are not many takers as there are many music based radio channels available. For us, the most important thing is to sound interesting and intelligent, otherwise the listeners would move to the next channel. Our content is divided into 70 per cent talk and 30 per cent music. The music is non commercial and original  - created by bands, individuals and students form the university. We air songs composed and written by the students rendered by Shankar Mahadevan. Youngsters inclined in their area of interest need a platform to showcase their music and MUST radio provides them with a platform.

You have partnered with Germany based Radiojojo for content?

To increase the content of international music, we have tied up with Germany based Radiojojo and are exchanging music and content. Also, we are trying to talk with radio stations in Australia and Canada for content. In India, we are talking with Jadavpur University in Kolkata.

When does Radio MUST go on air?

We started with a four hour broadcast, mornings 7-9 am and evenings 7-9 pm run completely by freelancers. Now, we have a team of freelancers, editors, producers and RJs, operators and technical staff who come in twice or thrice a week. Our strength is 20 people who multi- task and the university pays them a stipend on a weekly basis.

As we gathered momentum in terms of making the programmes, we added a slot in the afternoon from 1-3 pm. Later on, during the admission period, we gathered promotions of University departments, courses and tied up with institute providing distant education, going on air from 8 am to 3 pm, gradually going on air from 8 am to 9 pm. Radio MUST is the only CR in India to go on air for such a long time  We are planning to start night slots as well.

Do you have enough content for 13 hours?

Out of the total 13 hours, we have six hours of live broadcast and other hours are scheduled. Also we are open to exchange content with other CR stations as it helps us to reach out and also increase our content. Also, we mix the fresh content creatively with old content so that the listeners don't feel bored.

Who are the RJs who host your shows?

Anybody who wants to go on air has to take a voice test and sit on live recordings with RJs. Then we put the RJ into co-host mode and then when you attain proficiency, you can go on air on your own. Many RJs coming here do not have any professional courses to their credit but over a period of eight to 10 days, they do a fantastic job. It's the passion for radio that connects them even after they enter into the professional world.

Radio MUST is essentially a nursery for radio aspirants, there are people who have come here and learnt a lot of things and are working with other commercial radio stations. The overall setup, software and technologies here are like any commercial radio station. There is no age group for RJs on our station; we have students from the eighth grade who host a show, �Science hour' on Saturdays.

Also, we have trained a couple of girls from nearby slums and on 1 December, World Aids day, we had four HIV positive girls on our show. These girls are undergoing training at our station now and would become jocks soon.

What is the radius of your reach?

In the suburbs, we reach areas like Sion, Matunga, Dadar, Vikhroli to Goregoan Aarey milk colony on the other end. In the western line, we are heard in areas of Bandra, Khar, Vile Parle, Santa Cruz, Chembur. We reach out to a radius of around 8-10 kms with good frequency in cars too. As a community radio, we have our drawbacks when it comes to reach but we are constantly working on the technicalities for better reach.

You have tied up with Tagg.in for your SMS service?

Tagg.in is a free SMS based networking site where we have created a MUST radio group. Started five months ago, we have an impressive subscriber base of 2000 registered members for our tags. Through Tagg.in, we send SMS alerts about the shows lined up and give out numbers to call and discuss issues. This helps us in attracting listeners and also creates a better connect with them.

You would also be extending your on air presence on the internet?

We are planning to launch a website where our content will be available offline. As live streaming is not allowed, we would have deferred shows which people can hear online. We would creatively mix the content where the listeners don't have to listen to the same content repeatedly.

How do you fund the working of your station?

Mumbai University is funding us for two years and we have budget provisions for everything right from recurring budgets for paying stipend, hospitality, maintenance and working of the station. We would like to start selling our ad spots to sustain our radio station in the long run.

How do you plan to cash in on the permissible five minutes of advertising per hour?

Community radios are allowed advertising of five minutes, every hour which comes to 300 seconds every hour. We have 13 hours of broadcast, so we have 3900 seconds of advertising time to sell  If we sell 10 ads in an hour, it amounts to Rs. 100; accordingly it comes to 1000 rupees per hour resulting in revenue of Rs 13000 per day.

We plan to start airing ads from March, so that from the next fiscal year, we would try to get as many ads as possible.

Have you already started targeting advertisers?

We are in negotiations with a couple of advertisers and as a policy decision; the university has decided not to take ads from private coaching classes keeping in mind the ethos of the community as we are running a college radio. These policy decisions are made by our advisory committee headed by the Vice chancellor and Member Secretary of the Coordination Committee involved in the setting up of Radio MUST,  Dr Neeraj Hatekar. We are prohibited from taking sponsorships from private parties but sponsorship from government and semi government bodies like NACO, postal services are permitted.

We didn't push the advertising aspect earlier because we didn't have a regular broadcast but now with 13 hours, we can do it. We have tied up with management students of various colleges where marketing students are selling spots for us.

How you compete with seven commercial FM stations in Mumbai?

It is not possible for a community radio to compete with a commercial FM radio. It is like a local cricket team competing with an international team and the only similarity is both are playing cricket. The audiences are the same but instead of competing we are providing a far better variation in content for the listeners from the songs played across all stations. Community radio is about creating creativity on airwaves.

What are the challenges of CR in India?

The key reason for failure of community radio is India is that people do not think of it as a social business and expect to earn money after the initial investment. Also, they assume that it is a one time cost where they invest for infrastructure and setting up a station but they are ignoring the daily working and maintenance costs. Community radios have to allot funds for initial two years and cannot expect ads till they establish themselves. Also packaging is of outmost importance to keep the listeners tuned to your frequency.

In Andhra Pradesh, CRs are doing well as all community radio stations of the state are linked with the Chief Minister through a hotline number; such a move is welcome in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra.

What is the number of CRs in India today?

Now there are 35- 40 existing stations and lot more are in the pipeline. The main issues faced by these stations are lack of professionals, funds and understanding to sustain the medium. There would be 400 which would spring in the coming year but only 40 might sustain. Packaging of content should be dealt carefully according to the needs of the area.

What is the initial cost of setting up a community radio?

Mumbai University invested about Rs 2.2 million in setting up our radio station but the community radio can be set up in something between Rs 8,00,000 to Rs two million. Your infrastructure will depend on the investment, you can reduce the size of your equipment, studio, production rooms etc. but the drawback of investing less is when the station wants to increase broadcast hours; it will need money. The community cannot afford to invest in community radio time and again. So, they have to invest a decent amount initially and gradually ads to sustain the mediums will start flowing.

Is it difficult to acquire license for setting up a community radio?

Government is very clear with the guidelines, codes and procedures of setting up a community radio and it is a non-tedious process. Community radios today have been divided into educational institutes and NGOs. Getting permission for setting up CRS for educational institute is easy but granting the same for NGO is an issue as their funding is not transparent. Government is scared that the NGOs would use it for their personal propaganda and branding, so NGOs are not getting licenses easily. As the number of educational institutes applying for license has increased, the government has further fragmented it into private institutes, semi private and government institutes.

Are there frequency issues in Community radio?

The I & B Ministry issues licenses in consultation with the Department of Communication. The available frequency for CRs is 88 MHz to 108 MHz and it might be difficult to get a frequency as there are already existing frequencies. For example, in Delhi, Delhi University and JNU have to share the same frequency, so the slots are divided between them in the evenings and mornings. Such problems occur only in cities where many commercial players already exist.

What do you aim for in the coming year?

Now, we have a dedicated team that has stuck with us for a long time and also the university has supported us throughout. We aimed towards broadcasting for eight hours but successfully managed to air 13 hours daily. It has been a learning journey for us. In the coming year, we plan more and more live broadcasts. We have many concepts in mind like networking all the daily wage earners at different nakas and providing them to contractors as per the requirements. Our basic aim is to provide information and entertainment and produce as much as content as possible. Also, we would be targeting advertisers to generate revenues for sustainability.

Are you working towards setting up other community radios?

I am helping two other universities- Narsee Monjee and Xavier's for setting up their radio stations.