| 18 Jun 2024
Brighter days ahead for FM, community radio in India

NEW DELHI: Although 2009 did not begin so well for private FM radio with the government adamant that it would not permit the broadcast of news and delayed the launch of the third phase of FM, the year ended on a somewhat brighter note. The shutting down of Worldspace Radio channels in India did prove a dampener at the end of '09, however.

Information and Broadcasting minister Ambika Soni told the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit in November 2009 that a note was being finalised for the cabinet to recommend an increase in foreign direct investment limit and allowing Akashvani-sourced news on private FM radio channels.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, just last week, recommended that the foreign investment in private FM should be increased from 20 per cent to 49 per cent, following a reference made to it by the I&B ministry earlier in the year. This may come as a boost to the private FM radio sector.

And Airtel Digital TV announced that it would replace the 10 Worldspace Satellite Radio channels on its DTH platform with 10 All India Radio channels from 1 January 2010. This replacement would be automatic and at no additional cost for all subscribers of the Music Plus Top Up and for those who were receiving the Worldspace channels as part of their subscription pack.

A senior official of the ministry confirmed in an interview with that the FM Phase III would be announced within this financial year – that is, before 31 March. The ministry had initiated a draft Cabinet note on Phase III of private FM radio broadcasting which was at the stage of inter-ministerial consultation.

The official also said that the ministry was not very happy with the slow growth of community radio in the country since it had to be understood that �community radio can change the face of local broadcasting'.

The government is therefore, according high priority to this sector and is organising consultation workshops in different parts of the country to increase awareness of the advantages of local radio stations. Beginning with one in Rajasthan (Tilonia) in November 2009, other such workshops were held in Meghalaya (Shillong), Haryana (Faridabad), and Madhya Pradesh (Chanderi), and Tamil Nadu (Tiruchendur) before the year closed.

A workshop had also been held earlier this month in Kerala (Wayanad), while four others planned so far were in Karnataka (Budhikote), Maharashtra (FTII in Pune), Uttar Pradesh (Allahabad), and Uttarkhand (Tehri Garhwal) before the end of the financial year 2009-10.

Further, he confirmed that it had adopted a painless procedure for obtaining licences for operating community radio stations.

The ministry says it encourages setting up of the Community Radio Stations as CRS promises to provide opportunities to the local communities to express themselves, and empower women. The main aim of starting the CRS in educational institutions is to provide different and useful information to the people in nearby villages.

Although community radios were allowed since April 2005, the Central Government in December 2006 had liberalised the Policy on Community Radio by bringing in the civil society and voluntary organisations, agricultural universities, ICAR institutions, Krishi Vigyan Kendras etc, under its ambit. The policy was liberalised to allow greater participation by the civil society on issues of development and social change. Earlier, only educational institutions were permitted to launch community radio channels.

The government in late 2007 also announced that existing community radio operators can take advantage of the revised guidelines for new operators and get their broadcast permission extended to five years from three years.

Under the new guidelines,limited advertising and announcements relating to local events, local businesses and services and employment opportunities shall be allowed. The maximum duration of such limited advertising will be restricted to five minutes per hour of broadcast.

A total of 48 Community Radio Stations are presently functioning in 16 states and union territories which included 42 from educational institutions and six from non-governmental organisations. Twenty letters of Intent have been issued in 2009, taking the total to 189 LoI so far. A total of 584 applications, including 240 applications from educational institutions, have been received from various organizations for setting up CRSs. While 79 had been rejected, a total of 316 applications were under process.

Tamil Nadu has the largest number of CRS – ten, followed by Uttar Pradesh with six, Delhi and Karnataka with five each, and Maharashtra with four. The number of stations in other states – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chandigarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal - varied between one and three.

There are 251 private FM Radio Channels in the Country, and the government earned revenue of Rs 1330 million between 2006 and September 2009 from private FM radio stations. FM Radio broadcasting was first launched in the country in 1999.

Private FM channels, supported by TRAI and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), have for long been demanding that they should be allowed to broadcast news on their channels. At present, this is permitted only on the channels run by All India Radio.

Earlier, Phase III of FM Radio expansion had been deferred to resolve certain issues primarily relating to royalty for music. However, the changes contemplated in the Copyright Act will help resolve this issue. The third phase is expected to cover a total of 92 cities, according to the plan drawn up by TRAI.

While the ministry wanted that the news, if permitted, should be taken from Prasar Bharati (All India Radio), the TRAI as well as FICCI Radio Forum have been insisting on news agencies being the source of news.

Maharashtra has the largest number of private FM stations 31 followed by Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with 21 each and Rajasthan with 19. Kerala has 17 stations, while Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have 16 each. West Bengal has 15 channels, Karnataka has 14, Andhra Pradesh has 13, and Punjab has 12 stations.

Delhi has eight private FM stations, followed by Jharkhand with seven, Haryana with six, and Chhatisgarh and Orissa, with five each. All the other union territories besides Delhi have a total of five stations. Assam has four, Goa has three, and Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, and Sikkim have two each, while Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura have one each.

Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Uttarakhand do not have any private FM station at present.

The Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2009 Round 2 data on the radio industry, released by the Media Research Users' Council (MRUC) on 8 January 2010, again showed Radio Mirchi as the lead FM radio station across India. However, compared to the IRS 2009 R1 data (Radio stations - last one week), the listenership of the FM station has seen a decline of 2.36 per cent from 41,416,000 in R1 2009 to 40,438,000 listeners in this round.

What is interesting to note is that unlike in R1 2009, wherein almost all the Top 10 FM stations had witnessed growth, only two of the Top 10 FM stations have witnessed growth in listenership this time, while others have witnessed a marginal decline.

Radio Mirchi, Big FM, Red FM, Radio City, AIR FM Rainbow, Suryan FM, AIR FM Gold, Radio Mantra, Radio One and My FM comprise the top 10 FM stations in the all India market.

Red FM has registered the highest growth in listenership in R2 with a 24.15 per cent increase from 14,993,000 in R1 2009 to 18,614,000 in R2. Ranked second is Big FM with a listenership of 20,380,000 in R2 as compared to 20,381,000 in R1 2009, thus making for no significant gains in its listenership. Ranked third is AIR FM Rainbow, which has seen a marginal 3.88 per cent decline in listenership from 22,153,000 in R1 2009 to 21,293,000 in R2 2009.