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Industry wakes up to community radio in India

08-October-2009
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Industry wakes up to community radio in India

With 57 community radio stations in the country so far, and counting, this medium is seen as addressing small communities and meeting an individual’s day-to-day concerns and local needs in a significant way.

Mumbai is the latest to get the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s (MIB) Grant of Permission Agreement for establishing, maintaining and operating a community radio station at Union Park Residents Association, (Khar-Bandra). The community radio station is expected to be operational within three months as per the agreement and will be called ‘Jago Mumbai’.

This apart, some community radio stations to have got the MIB’s nod in recent months include Gurgaon (Haryana), Namakkal (Tamil Nadu) and the Mahila SEWA Trust (Ahmedabad). Of these, the Gurgaon station is expected to be operational in another two months, while the Namakkal and Mahila SEWA Trust stations are already operational.

exchange4media speaks with some industry experts on the scope and the road ahead for growth of community radio in India.

Scope

Ashish Pherwani, Senior Manager, Media & Entertainment, Ernst & Young Pvt Ltd, explained, “The scope for community radio stations (CRS) is significant, given they can provide tailored content to specific audiences, some of which (like students of educational institutions, women, senior citizens, etc.), are greatly sought after by advertisers. The ability to air a few minutes of advertising every hour, without the need for a large investment or on-going operating cost, could also make CRS a viable proposition.”

“CRSs have the ability to build the daily listenership habit (dedicated listeners) if their content is relevant to the target group, and leverage that listener base on other related media, like websites,” he added.

Challenges

Sajan Venniyoor of Community Radio Forum noted, “Although there is a lot of growth potential, community radio in India is still in its initial stage and face quite a few challenges, for instance, the licensing process takes too long, and then there are programming challenges, technological challenges for rural NGOs and even financial challenges like most community radio stations in India today survive through funding agencies, which as a result are not sustainable.”

E&Y’s Ashish Pherwani asked here, “Community radio stations are required to follow AIR’s programming code, but would the Government/ regulators have the ability to monitor the compliance of such a large number of stations with the programming code, given that CRSs would have so much more verbal content than the songs and advertisements that are usually heard on the mass entertainment channels?”

He further said, “Perhaps a bigger threat, if at all, for community radio stations from private radio stations could be picking up talent from community radio stations at more attractive salaries.”

Sunil Kumar, MD, Big River Radio, said, “There is a lot of scope of community radio in India. The challenges that I see for community radio would be in terms of generating content, lack of proper or even no training.”

Trends

Venniyoor observed, “As the market matures, we can possibly see community radio become more entertaining. There will be variety of community radio stations pertaining to various types of communities, be it campus radio or even for auto rickshaws.”

According to Pherwani, “I think there will be rapid growth in this space due to the low entry barriers and available revenue opportunities. There would definitely be some amount of trial and error in getting the content right, though. Most importantly, it would enable a near real time medium of interaction for a certain set of audiences, till such time as literacy levels increase, and internet penetration expands.”

Kumar said, “I see many more community radio stations in India, many more NGOs and educationists setting up community stations and more government support.”

While the content of community radio is very different as it is very niche and not necessarily entertainment-based, the target audience, too, is different. And the industry is gradually waking up to the potential of this growing medium.

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Prior to joining Madison PR in 2012 Chaudhary was Group President Corporate Communications at Reliance Industries Limited.