Some of the oldest memories that come up when you think of radio are of the elders in the house tuning into All India Radio (AIR). It aired some of the best classical music, a legacy that as Indians we are very proud of. It also in many ways supported the musicians because of the monetary support that they received. The Indian government officially took over radio broadcasting in 1932 and started calling it Akashvani (Voice from the Sky) from 1956. It has been one of the largest broadcasting services in the world. Until 1993, AIR was the only broadcasting network and after that, the government started selling chunks of time to private sectors kick-starting FM channels in different cities in India.
Radio as an entity has been a backbone of the music industry in India. It gave and still gives artists exposure. While television was still catching up radio with its wide reach helped music to spread. Drive time radio especially was hugely popular. People commuted while listening to music that played on the radio. In villages, radio was the only form of entertainment; the power it possessed was unmatched.
“The importance of the ‘poor man’s medium’, radio, can be understood by the fact that there are scripts of films that were written around it like Munnabhai MBBS, Good Morning Vietnam, Rang De Basanti, Love Ni Bhavai, Bor Aashbe Ekhuni and many more. Playing songs from films not only reflected popular culture but also often decided the fate of the movie and its music. I remember ‘Meri Neend’ and ‘Gori’ of Band of Boys (from a non-film album) become hits purely because they played on Radio Mirchi. A fact that is claimed by the band members themselves.
The reach that radio provides is larger than any other medium. Radio manages to penetrate geographies and boundaries where even larger than life movies may not reach. Case in point being Mirchi’s recent station in Shillong where there are only 2 single screen theatres but 3 private radio stations providing the locals a wide variety to choose from and making Bollywood closer home than it really is.” Vishaal Sethia, National Programming Head, Radio Mirchi.
Over the years, the medium of radio had a competition from television and now the Internet. With the launch of Internet radio, the access to radio just became that much wider. Music enthusiasts now had a way to launch their own radio station thanks to radio. College radios came into existence and today radio as a medium has many branches and streams. With all the competition that came its way, radio has always found a way to survive and flourish.
The India Radio Forum (IRF) is an annual event that takes place in New Delhi and takes stock of the annual success of radio stations and celebrates what radio truly stands for even today. FM channels that bagged awards this year include Red FM, Big FM, Radio Mirchi, Radio Mango, Club FM and Radio Indigo. The total award categories were 43.
As a music industry, the regional music, folk music, film music, independent metropolitan music, classical music and more are all represented through radio as a medium. The access to these for anyone is simple and easy. The radio stations are pumping in money to establish newer markets and newer programming formats. This just means more audience and diversity for the music industry. Their expansion into smaller towns and villages just means much more growth.
With the reach that radio offers, promotion of songs become an integral part. We have seen over the years that radio has been used in extremely innovative ways by record labels to promote songs. We spoke to Anurita Patel, Vice President Programming, leading private fm station, about why do record labels prefer radio as the promotional medium for their songs.
“Radio involves people at a very personal level. So, by collaborating with a radio channel, a record label is able to deliver a very personal experience of their songs to the listeners. This is an ambit that a record label can’t create on TV as such, that too without spending a single penny. It is a win-win situation for music labels since radio does the ideation for such promotions and works towards promoting their music. Another reason for radio being the medium of choice for promotion of music is the high level of trust that listeners have towards their favourite radio station. Because of the trust, listeners tend to feel that the music that is being offered on their station of preference is the best music. So the record labels put their music out on a platform that is well trusted. It is a symbiotic relation that radio has with the music industry.“
In early July 2017, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) issued a consultation paper on issues related to digital radio broadcasting in India. While the terrestrial radio broadcast is available as both FM (Frequency Modulation) and AM (Amplitude Modulation), with AIR radio running 420 stations, with a reach of almost 92% of the country, digital radio stations have an edge when it comes to signal efficiency. Digitization of radio will also allow the government to use the medium more efficiently.
Streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora have been on a rise. But received a lot of flak from artists who complained against the low royalty from these channels. While these are great to reach people and for the music to travel, in terms of monetary gains, it’s not much for the musicians.
“Earlier radio was a medium for one-way communication, but now with the digital world, it has become more interactive. Apart from promoting music from the film industry, independent music and artists have also found a way to reach out to their audience through radio. We at BIG FM believe in the power of music and always aim to unearth talented artists, remarkable music and bring it to the fore for our listeners with our engaging content.”, Atul Razdan, National Programming Head, BIG FM
For independent musicians, radio is a great bridge between their music and their market. With the onset of streaming channels such as Spotify and Pandora, internationally and Indian streaming channels such as Saavn and Gaana, radio stations face some tough competition but owing to the history of where and how radio began and its solid growth and investment into the medium, it’s not something that will go out of existence. It may adopt newer ways to fit into the current market stream, but radio in India has a strong history and that seems to keep it sailing.