| 08 Dec 2021
From AIR to FM - revolution in the radio industry

Since June 1923 Indian skies are experiencing radio frequencies and they are pretty familiar with them by now. We grew up by listening to the tunes of Aakashwani. Radio has the widest reach and well structured network pan India. Be it Short Wave, Medium Wave or Frequency Modulation it doesn’t matter to the listener as far as he is hearing his favourite music. With time the industry also expanded from 275,000 radio sets at the time of independence to millions. Now in almost every house you may find it. Whether an old transistor, mobile FM Radio, digital radio or any other form it doesn’t matter but you will find the radio. There was a time when radio was considered as the only medium of entertainment. It was seen as a fashion statement also, as it was a licensed property. Nevertheless this situation didn’t held it for long and as the nation got free so did the air waves.

On 3 October 1957, the Vivid Bharti services got launched. Its name roughly translates as ‘Multi-Indian’ service and it is also known as the commercial broadcasting services (CBS).  It offers a wide range of news, film music and drama. The Industry was growing with a gradual but sure pace and as per the data available AIR claims that it has a network of 237 broadcasting centres with 149 medium frequency (MW), 54 high frequency (SW) and 177 FM transmitters. The coverage is 91.85% of the area, serving 99.18% of the people in the largest democracy of the world. AIR covers 24 Languages and 146 dialects in home services. In External services, it covers 27 languages; 17 national and 10 foreign languages.

The Radio was growing with its big brother called television. Everything was going just fine until Feb 1995 when an important judgement was given by Supreme Court. Judgement delivered by Justice PB Sawant and Justice S Mohan on 9 Feb 1995 in the case between the Union of India & Cricket Association of Bengal. The issue before the court, specifically, was if the CAB as well as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (the BCCI) could claim a right to broadcast sporting events that they organized and conducted through an agency of their own choosing.  In essence, the court affirmed that the people have a right to their own broadcasting medium, that they could choose the content, they could hire their own agents and equipment, and they could broadcast these without restriction, except as noted in Article 19(2), which relates to public safety, security, etc. This judgement is an important milestone, as it permits individual citizens to set up their own broadcasting media organizations and operate freely.

Until now Radio waves was the monopoly of AIR but as per the ruling by Supreme Court the citizens of India were permitted to set up their own media houses. From here a different story started which was a revolution in the radio industry. It gave birth to too many radio stations, companies, radio giants, soft wares, technology, radio professionals, radio network and advertisers. It didn’t happen in one day. The first FM broadcasting in India was in the year 1977 at Madras. In the mid-nineties, when India first experimented with private FM broadcasts, the small tourist destination of Goa was the fifth place in this country. The other four centres were the four big metros.

These were followed by stations in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Lucknow. Indian policy currently states that these broadcasters are assessed a One-Time Entry Fee (OTEF), for the entire license period of 10 years.

Music Broadcast Private Limited’s Radio City was the first FM radio station which started on 3 July 2001. It launched with presenters such as Rohit Barker, Darius Sunawala, Jonzie Kurian and Suresh Venkat and after this there was no looking back. Just after a short while Radio Mirchi, Red FM, Big FM, Radio Mantra, My FM and many other players started capturing the market and showed their presence pan India. If we will see from a macro level we may find that the Industry has grown. We won’t be able to find out any problem. As we can see that it’s a billion dollar industry now. The people are listening to it through their handsets and car stereos. The advertisers are advertising heavily. The companies are boasting their quarterly net profit every quarter after quarter.

The scene was very convincing and promising until this melt down which we all know by the name of recession came in 2008. It didn’t affect the radio industry directly it affected the parent company and because of that it affected radio. The man power was cut down to almost half. New responsibilities were given to existing employees. To retain advertisers heavy discounts and value add were given. Almost every radio player applied the similar strategy as it was the need of the hour. But as the economy recovered again the players were ready to experiment, to recruit and to expand. The second phase of financial bidding gave us almost 250 FM Radio stations and almost 107 community Radio Stations apart from our very own AIR. The Third phase of bidding is just around the corner. It is very much possible that by the end of this year (2012) it shall be done and we are expecting almost 837 more radio stations in 239 cities. Very small cities will have their own radio stations.

The future seems very convincing and prominent but it is not. When we overdo something it may back fire also. There are few things which are affecting this old and traditional media. Let’s discuss those factors which are affecting radio industry.

i) Too many players: The first and foremost factor is too many players. It resulted in too many radio stations which were not even needed. If we see today’s scenario only at those cities radio is required where it is not been reached. Otherwise we have more than sufficient radio stations in the country. Like mini metros have three to four radio stations and metros have seven to ten stations in each city. As a listener it definitely gives a choice but it has an adverse affect on the owner and the revenue. Radio business is not an economic business. Lot of capital and operational expenditure is required to run it on a monthly basis. Therefore too many players in one city are ofcourse a big hurdle in earning profit.

ii) Non Media players: When Supreme Court gave that verdict about the freedom of air waves. The after affect was not thought at that point of time. Government of India invited private players to open the radio stations but many players entered into this field thinking that they will earn a lot and some of them entered just by seeing it as a glamorous field. They fell flat and some of them returned back to their core business and few are fighting case to get rid of their music royalties.

iii) Music Storage Devices: The technology has given us mass storage. A virtual space which is in Giga Bytes. We can save data, pictures, music and movies as much as we want. If anybody can listen to music on those devices and with full privacy then who would like to tune in to radio, at least a teenager or young person won’t do so.

iv) Car Stereos with USB port: Nowadays car stereos are coming with an in-built USB ports this also affected the radio audience in a negative way. When you can listen to your favourite song through your pen drive by connecting it to the USB port then why would you take pain to adjust the frequency that too while driving.

v) Capital expenditure Vs Operational expenditure: It requires a heavy investment to set up a radio station. Earlier the corporate house thought that it will be a onetime investment and after let’s say a couple of years or three-four years they will be able to earn profit. But that day didn’t come as radio is a costly business.

vi) Royalty and licence fee: The monthly royalty and licence fee for radio is too high. Almost all radio players were demanding to increase the licence duration to fifteen years from ten years. Even they were asking to reduce the royalty.

vii) Competition from everywhere: Radio has been considered as a background medium but that doesn’t mean that it is not affected by its foreground competitors. Radio is facing a tough competition with Television from day one. Apart from TV, new media is its new but strong competitor. Lot many devices are there in the market which is drifting the audience away from radio.

viii) Every Radio sounds the same: The similarity of content is also one factor which is a problem. Almost every radio station sounds similar. The jock talk has been considered as Bak-Bak by its own listeners. No FM radio takes the innovative path to play something different. They fear of losing revenue. Only AIR still plays a variety of programme.

ix) Internet Radio: This is a new threat but a serious one. Many internet radio stations are coming up at a rapid pace. The advantage they have that they are out of sight of the government and the royalty collection companies. Though they have little audience as compared to traditional radio stations but still they have the same audience which any XYZ radio stations could have got.

x) News not permitted: No news broadcast is allowed on FM Radio. Due to this only youth which is searching for new music comes to radio station and before they listen to a full song with patience they change the channel.

If Radio wish to survive in this frequently changing environment it has to do something. It could be a mutual step consisting the government, radio players and radio audience then only things will get better. From the past three quarters the radio is facing a dip in listenership according to RAM (Radio audience measurement). If Radio wants to survive then it has to come back with some innovation and stability. A cleaning up exercise is required to settle down things. The main problem is that audience is getting away from this tradional medium which is a dangerous sign. To some extent the industry itself is responsible as they shifted the focus towards client (advertiser) rather than the listener. In radio a thumb rule works which is ‘Radio sells audience and not the air time.’ If you claim that your radio station is number one then you should be able to show the figures of high listenership rather than market share. If you will run after clients all the time then you may lose your audience. Understand a simple point. Radio has its existence because of its audience. It was never invented to broadcast the advertisements. The companies thought of this idea because of its reach and popularity and by not catering our audience properly we are just doing the opposite.

As per the current scenario and with such a strong presence which is almost like a threat to this traditional medium. Radio is required to play safe and to play by the basics. The owners are trying hard to survive they are trying this much that they are almost converting the radio in TV magazine and event agencies. Radio is a wonderful medium if we wish to save it then we have to follow the basics. It’s a blind man’s elephant let’s keep it blind, let’s keep it simple. Let’s listen to radio once again like old days lets save radio.


Lokesh Gulyani, Assistant Professor, Amity University Rajasthan, Jaipur