| 22 Mar 2018
Action stations!

MUMBAI: The frenetic activity that marked the electronic auctions for 135 channels in 69 cities in private FM radio's much delayed phase III auctions in the country, was matched by the pace at which the stations began launching across India in 2016.

The total value of sold channels was Rs.1,187 crore. However, the government made more than Rs.3,000 crore from these auctions, including the migration fee from 245 stations that will move from Phase II to Phase III. FM Phase II, introduced in 2005, saw 243 FM channels becoming operational in 86 cities.

In batch one of the phase III auctions, HT Media won 10 licenses, ENIL won 17, Big FM acquired 14 and Radio City added 11. Some networks were slow to get off the ground, preferring to do their homework wisely, while others, ready with their audience research and keen to showcase differentiated programming commenced operations early on in the year.

Brands like Mirchi and Fever brought in new brands in cities where they already had an operational station. But networks did not stray far from the tested formats. Retro music, as Big FM had proven, turned out to be flavour of the year. Fever and Red both chose to go the retro way for their new brands. The biggest network Big FM, has chosen to lie low, not launching a single of its 14 acquired licenses in 2016. Nor did Rajasthan Patrika, which had bagged 14 frequencies in phase III.

Here's a quick look at the stations that went on air in 2016.

Fever and Nasha - Heady days ahead

HT Media, one of the country's media giants, had a presence in the four metros - Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata at the beginning of 2016. It ended the year with seven new stations across northern India and two new stations under new brand Nasha, in cities where it launched a second frequency - Delhi and Mumbai. With a full complement, Fever will be present in 13 cities with its 15 new licences.

 Radio Nasha became the country's first differentiated radio station to come out of the phase III licenses. It launched on the 107.2 FM frequency on 9 March in the country's capital, and two weeks later, launched on the 91.9 FM frequency in Mumbai. Pegged as 'India’s first cool retro station with the best of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s' music, it caught the imagination of the 30 plus listeners, starved of Hindi film music of the three decades. Nasha had taken a leaf from Big FM which went retro in 2013, bringing back the years of melody for listeners. The ploy worked to a degree - listenership data shows Nasha inching up the stakes in the two cities, making a minor dent in the listening patterns of Mumbai and Delhi.

While Nasha catered to those with a taste in retro music, older sibling Fever got busy launching its own new stations in Uttar Pradesh, covering it comprehensively. Fever's 'contemporary Bollywood music' format launched three new stations in August in Uttar Pradesh. On 4 August, it launched in Lucknow on 104 FM, bringing in celebrity RJs like Anil Kapoor, Virendra Sehwag, Amit Kumar and Satish Kaushik. The next to launch was Kanpur, on 95 FM on 11 August and Agra on 19 August on 93.7 FM.

The next month, Fever launched in four more cities -Gorakhpur on 10 September on 94.3 FM, Allahabad and Bareilly on 94.3 FM on 14 September and Aligrah the next day on 94.9 FM. Fever FM has positioned itself as ‘Maha Radio’ in Uttar Pradesh, promising to offer differentiated programming and music in sync with the needs of the listeners which include contemporary hits plus best of retro.

Radio Mirchi - Love is in the air

The Entertainment Network (India) Ltd owned brand spread its tentacles across the country in 2016, with a slew of stations with licenses acquired in batch I of phase III. ENIL had bagged 17 new channels across 16 cities which included Kozhikode, Jammu, Srinagar, Guwahati and Shillong. It also acquired an additional frequency in existing markets like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Kanpur, Lucknow, Jaipur, Nagpur and Surat.

The first off the pad was the Kochi station that launched on 17 April on frequency 104 FM. Just four days after it launched in Kochi, Radio Mirchi made its presence felt in the north east by launching a station on 21 April in Guwahati on the frequency 95 FM. Assam's poster boy of music Papon launched the station.  On 4 May, Mirchi launched in Bengaluru as the second frequency. The new brand, Mirchi 95, is aired on the frequency 95.0 FM and offers latest Bollywood music. Radio Mirchi has been offering Kannada music to Bangaloreans from its first frequency – 98.3 FM – for the last 10 years.

Chandigarh's Mirchi station launched on 11 August with Bollywood actor Tiger Shroff doing the honours. Mirchi Chandigarh plays latest Punjabi music with the ‘latest Bollywood music ka tadka’. Punjabi singer Diljit Dosanjh has handpicked the songs and has provided inputs for the shows that will air on the station.

Radio Mirchi also launched its new brand Mirchi Love, in cities where it already had a presence and was launching the second frequency. The motto of the new stations is 'getting back to the melody era and giving listeners the feeling of love'. On 5 September, Mirchi Love launched in three cities - Ahmedabad on 104 FM, Surat on 91.9 FM and Jaipur on 104 FM. The last of the Mirchi Love stations for the year was Pune, which launched on 5 December.

Radio City - a finger on the pulse of the city

Radio City, India’s first private FM station, was a tad late to get off the launching pad with its newly acquired 11 licenses, but then the launches happened in quick succession by the end of the year even as the network readied for its IPO.

Radio City, that had re-invented itself earlier in the year with its 'Rag rag mein daude city' campaign' took the message to newer cities with its launch in Kanpur on 10 October on 104.8 FM. Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan was roped in fo the inauguration honours. Radio City's tried and tested programming pillars - Babbar Sher and Love Guru travelled to Kanpur as well.

On 10 December, Radio City launched in Ajmer on 104.8 FM and followed it up with its Udaipur launch on 12 December on 91.9 FM. Kota that followed had the same frequency, followed by a station in Bikaner on frequency 91.1 FM. Here, Radio City provides its listeners 'melodious romantic music to retro music to the new age peppy songs to heart rending ghazals'.

Red FM - Bringing back the 90s

Digital Radio Broadcasting group’s Red FM launched the first of its new stations, acquired under the phase III licenses in Mumbai on 22 June under the new brand name Red-tro on the 106.4 FM frequency. The new station is a 'retro music' station, making it the third 'retro' station to play in Mumbai. Redtro however specialises only in music released in the 1990s, but does not restrict itself to Bollywood, allowing the listener to savour 90s indie music as well.

Of the eight new licenses it had acquired for Srinagar, Jammu, Jodhpur, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Patna, Surat, and Chennai, Red FM launched in Jodhpur on 93.5 FM on 4 November. It is a Contemporary Hit Radio station for the city and airs only super-hit songs.

MY FM - Making inroads into the interiors

Dainik Bhaskar's network MY FM launched two new stations in two cities in Haryana - Hissar and Karnal, on 29 July and 30 July respectively.

The next stop for the network was Gujarat, where it launched a station in Rajkot on 7 August, making it the third station of the network in the state after Ahmedabad and Surat. In December, MY FM launched four new stations in Maharashtra - Aurangabad, Sangli, Nanded and Ahmednagar.

Sarthak FM - Banking on local content

Radio stations also managed to touch the south eastern parts of India. Odisha based music label Sarthak Music launched Sarthak FM, its first ever radio station in Odisha. The station, Sarthak FM, is aired from Bhubaneswar since 5 September on the frequency 91.1 FM, providing competition to its older rival Choklate FM, Red and Big FM.

However, Sarthak says it does not see itself as a competitor to other radio stations in the state as they play Bollywood hits. Radio Choklate has 30 per cent Odia and 70 per cent Bollywood music content, whereas Sarthak has decided to air only Odia content.

Wait and watch

Big FM, currently the largest network in the country with 45 stations, has added 14 new stations to its existing 45. The brand plans to target Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with its new stations launches in 2017. Following that, the network plans to reach the north eastern region along with a few parts of Maharashtra as well.

Rajasthan Patrika, which operates Radio Tadka, also won 14 frequencies. It strengthened its presence in the North with eight of the 14 frequencies in the region—Agra, Srinagar, Muzzaffarpur, Jammu, Gorakhpur, Bilaspur, Bareilly and Allahabad. None of these launched in 2016.

Matrubhumi Printing and Publishing (Club FM) had picked up one station in Kozhikode for Rs 7.02 crore in the auctions. It is yet to launch.