Thursday, August 27, 2009

Strong Signals: India's FM Radio Stations Brace for New Competition

When Mumbai residents tune into one of their local FM radio stations, it is understood that the jockey is not going to use his air time to tax them with discussions about the global economic downturn, terrorism or any other weighty matter of the day. Instead, his challenge to listeners is to find the answers to riddles like, "I have eyes, but cannot see; a tongue, but I don't speak. What am I?" (A shoe, in case you were wondering.)

For many private FM station owners, such light-hearted programming is no laughing matter. Even if they wanted to air current affairs programming, regulations prohibit them from doing so. Broadcasting news, weather bulletins and live sports are all also off limits to these stations. In addition, they can forget about owning multiple licenses in a single city, and one license can only cover a single type of programming -- say, contemporary rather than classical music. None of those regulations, however, apply to state-owned and operated All India Radio (AIR), which was established in 1936 and is one of the biggest radio networks in the world with more than 230 broadcasting centers across the country.

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