Every evening, groups of people across various regions in India station themselves on rickety wooden benches at local tea shops. Besides munching on biscuits and sipping the refreshing beverage, they lend their ears to the radio. From humming to melodies, listening to news updates and discussing daily happenings, they engage in it all.
Though a lot of people predicted the death of radio a few years ago, it has stood the test of time. The medium has survived several new technologies over the years - starting from audio cassettes, compact discs, television sets, computers, smartphones to streaming apps. In the late 2000s, it also began catering to different sets of listeners with talk radio, genre specific programmes, call-in shows and many more.
Lokesh Gulyani, an industry expert who has spent more than seven years producing and managing shows at several radio stations such as Red FM and Big FM, explains this further.
“The end of radio was foreseen because of competition from various innovative products like the USB, applications like Gaana and Saavn, television as well as OTT platforms. However, the industry made it out alive once it started hosting events, music concerts, awards and tweaking shows based on the listeners’ interests,” says Lokesh.
Relevance of radio in the 21st century
With a view to keep up with the times, radio channels such as Red FM, Radio City, Radio Mirchi and many more, are putting in efforts to develop their online presence - whether it is Youtube channels or podcast libraries. Radio jockeys on the other hand are developing their own brand and fan-following through their shows and on social media.
According to a study conducted by AZ research PPL using a sample size of 3,300 listeners, the radio industry reaches an average of 51 million people in the country. The research also pointed out an increase in listenership by 23 percent (2.36 hours everyday) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is not all. It also highlighted that radio has a credibility score of 6.27, second only to the internet which is at 6.44 and television at 5.74. Putting a stop to fake news and steering clear from information clutter is quite challenging in the digital era. This is not so much the case with radio.
“Radio being a traditional medium is considered to be more authentic compared to other media outlets. It is highly unlikely for things to be blown out of proportion or sensationalised,” says Karan Machado, Radio Presenter at 94.3 Radio One India.
As per the data given out by the government of India-owned All India Radio, there are more than 369 private radio stations operating in over 101 cities and towns. Besides this, AIR itself has about 450 FM stations in 27 languages across India.
Hence, barriers like language and illiteracy do not come into play. It enables even the unschooled to understand and assimilate news and information. This is one of the reasons for the increased consumption of audio content and podcasts too. The engagement on platforms like Tapri, Khabri and Kuku FM confirms this even further.
Another advantage that radio offers is affordability. While purchasing a radio set is far more reasonable than a smartphone, laptop or television, the cost of content production is also lower when compared to producing visuals.
“Amongst other reasons, radio serves as a companion for people - whether it is listening to some feel-good music while driving a car or turning up the volume during a brisk walk in the evening. Well, though radio has a special place in people’s heart, if the industry has to survive in the long run, the government needs to reduce the whopping license fee it is charging,” notes Karan.
Giving a voice to the community
Radio encompasses both commercial communication and broadcasting as well as community radio. And, the latter focuses on giving a voice to the community and a platform to raise their concerns. Since a community radio is run by the people themselves, it also acts as an integral tool to boost freedom of speech.
Community radio made its way into India after the 1995 Supreme Court judgement announced airwaves to be a public property. If you happen to tune into any of the stations, you are likely to hear local news and issues, poetry, weather details, agricultural updates, and other informative programmes in local languages. For instance, Apna Radio which was started by the Banasthali Vidyapith, a residential women's university to talk about women empowerment and gender equality.
“There are a slew of community radio stations across India that cater to niche and local listeners. They create waves of transformation just by highlighting social issues and spreading awareness about things that matter,” says Lokesh.
And, during emergency situations and disasters like the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, radio played a huge role in disseminating useful information about relief and rehabilitation. Even now, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is gripping citizens with fear and anxiety, several community-driven stations are bridging both information and communication gaps with regard to the health crisis. Radio Mewat and Mandakini Ki Awaaz are a few examples.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources to help you learn more about the radio industry: