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Will community radio benefit from India’s FM expansion?

community radio newsThe Indian media/commerce newsblog exchange4media is optimistic about community radio in that huge country. It has an interview with marketing expert Ashish Pherwani, who says that the expansion of FM in India will make the radio landscape there more diverse.

Get ready to see “very small, regional players who are going to run one or two stations because they are very focused on the town and these are low cost stations,” Pherwani predicts. “This is how I think the long-term radio ecosystem will pan out.”

You may have seen all the exaggerated hype about the alleged end of FM radio in Norway and what this means for FM generally (play slow doom music here). Fugetaboutit. India, which has around 1.25 billion more people than Norway, is now launching successive auctions of commercial FM licenses. A Phase III expansion campaign run by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is selling off 135 channels in 69 regions or cities. Big places like Mumbai will gain one or two more FM stations as a result of this sell-off. But comparatively smaller places like Srinagar or Rourkela will get three.

Some of this is catch-up. India discouraged FM for decades. But this auction means that frequency modulated music radio will become more varied. That won’t be difficult in some instances. In Mumbai, Pherwani notes, “of all the channels you have, barring 1-2, everyone else plays the same kind of music—Hindi Bollywood.” He wants the IMB to make even more FM frequencies available.

It’s important to note that when Indians say “community radio” they mean something different than here in the United States. Many community radio stations in India are run by universities (a new one at Mangelore U. is in the works). Also, analysts there classify small commercial stations as community based as well. The problem, as Pherwani sees it, is that a lot of these aspiring signals (commercial and educational) have a revenue problem:

“There are very small guys who want to start community radio and most of them do not have ad sales experience. How will they sell ads? Unless we put together something that will help community radio sell ads, it will never do well. They are not allowed sponsorship of programs, there are a whole bunch of revenue restrictions on them.”

The IMB says that India has 184 operational community radio stations, with another 372 “under process.” These stations can run advertisements at rates set by the Ministry. They can also run sponsored programs, but only those sponsored by India’s central government or the state governments.


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