India FM radio
Abuzz with activity
The year gone by was a time when years of hard work
and patience finally paid off for the radio industry
in India. It was a year of intense competition,
aggressive marketing and marginal creativity as
private FM finally flowered in metros as well as tiny
towns throughout the nation.
Big 92.7 FM promotion
© Big 92.7 FM
Even though advertising crept up only slowly, and the
government continued to pussyfoot around the issue of
allowing news and current affairs on private radio,
the mood stayed upbeat throughout the radio industry.
With phase II of FM opening up the industry for
private players, there was no holding back.
Consider these figures. In 2006, 26 private FM
stations were operationalised. In contrast, AIR saw
ten FM stations operationalised in 2004 and an equal
number in 2005, with just two in 2006.
By October 2007, a total of 281 FM channels include
161 of All India Radio and 120 privately owned
channels were operational.
By the year end, there was a scramble among operators
to put up stations in the 91 cities for which licenses
had been doled out - held up in many places by the
government's delay in activating the transmission
towers. It was no mean task. Entities like Big FM and
Sun's SFM have a quota of 45 stations each to put up,
Mirchi has 32 and Bhaskar, the late entrant hurried to
put up 17 stations on air. Most have reached their
targets, some like BAG Films' Dhamaal is yet to launch
in four cities, and India Today's Meow has five more
cities in its kitty.
But more than these numbers, it was programming and
marketing of stations that were put up in a hurry that
hogged the limelight. A trove of radio jockeys was
unearthed from various corners of the country (some
poached, a lot honed) to give that much needed edge to
the programming, while contests and on ground events
(particularly in the small towns) jostled for listener
Meow FM logo. Meow FM targets female listeners
© Meow FM
The core content, despite the operators' insistence to
the contrary, stayed what the listener apparently
wanted the most - Bollywood music.
Music all the way
They gave it their own tags - superhit music, hot
adult contemporary music, latest hits - but the fact
remained that recent Bollywood music played on most
stations throughout the day, with experiments like
western music and 'old' tracks relegated to the very
early mornings or the very late nights.
Very few, like Radio Indigo and Fever played
differential western music and could attract only
niche audiences, and fewer like Meow FM decided to
take the 'talk' format and address the female audience
directly. While Meow claimed that it had managed to
hook the feminine ears in both Delhi and Kolkata, the
other stations played safe and stuck to the 'less
talk, more music' formula.
The innovations came in other forms - Big FM devised a
100 chartbuster formula, to keep playing the 'most
wanted' music all the time, while Radio One went for
the 20 20 format to keep the elusive listener hooked
to a show. "The 20 minute format works on the
principle that if a listener is listening to an
average time of 20 minutes, the programming mix is
designed to achieve that," officials averred, when the
format launched in June.
Radio City amplified its outlook with the Whatte Fun
concept, that started with a music video and spun
across programming to become a microsite of its own,
which will probably have a larger life of its own in
2008. Big FM's new digital division will be another
entity to watch out for in 2008; launched in the last
part of '07, it began small with a podcast of its
Bangalore station but promises a lot in the digital
SFM 93.5 logo. One of India's new FM stations.
© SFM 93.5
It was the myriad contests that remained the nectar to
attract the bees, however. In the absence of a regular
audience tracking methodology till October end, when
TAM's Radio Audience Measurement came into being,
contests and big prizes stayed the carrots with which
stations enticed listeners, who in the absence of
differential programming, exhibited no real station
CSR also remained a strong buzz word on radio - from
distributing raincoats to traffic police paying
tribute to Kargil martyrs , aiding the flood hit in
Rajkot to spreading AIDS awareness among truck
drivers, the initiative also became a good on ground
activity to popularise the stations.
'Ad'ding up the revenues
Overall radio advertising revenue, that was at Rs 3180
million in 2005, was expected to touch around Rs 6800
million this year, a figure that would still be around
six per cent of the total ad pie.
Advertisers are slowly but steadily beginning to view
radio as a medium that can reach out to people, and
need no more be a supporting medium. As industry
veterans had predicted, the presence of more stations,
drove listenership which fetched more ads too.
Players like Big FM introduced uniform rate cards for
advertisers in all its stations across India, to bring
in rate transparency. Elsewhere, companies like MBPL
offer sales support to Gwalior's 'Suno Lemon', while a
Radio Mirchi managed Radio Ghupshup's national ad
Radio itself used other media aggressively to
advertise itself, with radio stations' advertising on
TV tripling in one year.
A measure of success
After a long stint of the lone Indian Listenership
Track of the MRUC that would release data in phases
through the year, TAM finally brought out its data in
the form of the Radio Audience Measurement by the end
of October. While a majority of the stations
contributed to the service, the initial findings
released by RAM (operational only in Delhi, Mumbai and
Bangalore with Kolkata on the cards) created a tizzy
of sorts in the industry with stations staking claim
to numero uno positions in either reach, listenership
or in respective TGs. A few months down the line, the
RAM data should help the industry find its feet, and
tailor programming and marketing to suit the market it
All India Radio
The reign of the unchallenged state sponsored monarch
was challenged in a big way in 2007, but some of the
RAM figures indicate that AIR's own FM, operational
even in border areas where terrrestrial reach is a
problem, continues to hold its own. AIR also continues
to enjoy a monopoly on news and current affairs aes
well as live cricket commentary, an area that gives it
a huge edge over private FM competitors. The other
player in the satellite space, Worldspace Radio, did
not fare much better, despite innovations like a tie
up with MSN India for streaming its content online.
Community radio, 26 stations of which became
operational this year, should become a force to reckon
with this year. The government is also considering the
proposed 5,000 licenses it plans to issue to be
divided into sectors, such as farming community,
fishing community, women and children and others, and
issue the licenses accordingly.
At present 26 stations, all by educational
institutions are using community radio.
Code of conduct
While the I and B ministry said there would no
separate regulatory authority for FM stations other
than the Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India
conceived in the proposed Broadcast Regulatory
Services Bill, the Association of Radio Operators of
India (AROI) formed an advisory committee for the
creation of a self-regulatory Content Code for private
FM radio broadcasting.
The year wasn't without its share of controversy.
Uninhibited chatter by radio jockeys turned into a
crisis of sorts when the north east erupted over a
wayward comment on the Indian Idol winner. The case
still hangs fire.
Needless to say, the sudden spurt of FM brought with
it a fresh wave of young listeners, a wave aided in no
small measure by the increasing reach of the mobile
phone, which came loaded with the FM features. Over 85
per cent of radio listenership in metros by the end of
the year happened on the move. The figures will only
go up this year. Whether the curve is matched by an
increased burst of creativity now remains to be seen.
For regular newsletters and information about the constantly
changing Indian radio scene, we recommend indiantelevision.com
and its partner website www.radioandmusic.com.
This article is © indiantelevision.com 2008.
Also, read our article Indian Radio
Goes GaGa for more news about FM radio in India today.