TODAY, Nepal has 60 independent F.M radio stations. In Pakistan, its growth is accelerating due to its popularity. India has already planned to grant licences for 250 new commercial stations and 4,000 community radio stations. Bangladesh has recently opened the airwaves to the private sector that is now leading to birth of private radio stations.
Four private FM band radio stations have been given nod to operate by the Ministry of Information recently breaking its long silence to popular demand for freedom of this popular media. Radio Today -- FM 89.6, started test transmission for limited hours a day in May this year. Three other independent radio stations, given licence to operate as Ayna Broadcasting Corporation, Uniweb and Radio Phurty, are also in the process of giving an air of freshness to the listners.
Although all the four FM radio stations are likely to cover limited areas of broadcasting and emphasise on entertainment programmes, they are likely to break the long tradition of the listeners tuning the country's lone state-owned radio -- Bangladesh Betar. Being the pioneers, they have to face many challenges -- like quality in content and preparation, making a difference from other media in approach, developing skilled and innovative broadcasting personalities.
Rafiqul Haque -- Managing Director of Radio Today, FM 89.6, said being the first private radio station, focus of this station would remain mainly on making the programmes enjoyable and popular among the listeners.
"We are considering the potential of this new medium from a commitment to serve the society," he said adding that at the beginning, Radio Today would not think of the commercial side.
The first ever private radio -- which is likely to go for formal airing next month, has got permission to cover a radius of 100km from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, which will cover 16 districts. It also got the permission to air news. "We call it 'Infotainment', a combination of both information and entertainment," the MD said.
Throughout the world, among the radio stations, FM is the most popular band for the listeners for its smooth reception. There are a myriad of FM stations which provide specialised information as required by the targeted group of people. Haque said people of many countries cannot think of taking a step without listening to their prefered radio stations to start the day with the information about the matter of their interest.
As this was not the case previously in the country, he said, the prospect of radio broadcasting is now high here compared to other media.
Radio broadcasting is changing rapidly in South Asia. It is said that listeners tune to everything on radio -- from the government news bulletins to commercial Bollywood music shows, and from soap operas to information about food prices and bus timetables.
But it has not happened so in the country because of the control of the government. There was always a trend of the government retaining grip on the popular media in South Asia. Radio, however, remained at the top of the list as it enjoys easy accessibility -- unlike all other media. Sources said the governments of all time had perceived its powerful potential in shaping opinion and considered its freedom a threat to the state's monopoly.
Yet radio stations still face tough challenges. All these pioneers have to air radio programmes with a different taste from that of government-owned medium wave and nationwide broadcast system. They have to create listeners and make them dependent on their programmes. All the investors have also the challenge to make their investment feasible through attracting the business sector in the competitive media market.
However, analyst said this liberalisation hasn't meant the end of state influence. Although the Radio Today is allowed to air news -- the real strength of the electronic media, there is a common trend of the South Asian radio stations not being allowed air to news. A feature of Inter -- World Radio reported that broadcasters in Nepal had to fight against restrictions imposed by the king, which threatened the future of independent radio. And in other South Asian countries -- Bhutan and the Maldives, state radio still holds strong. The report said that the so-called independent FM stations in Pakistan and India were not allowed to broadcast news as its hold on creating public opinion is stronger than any other programmes.
At present, Radio Today has a plan to air news three times a day. But the emerging station has the tough responsibility to make radio news attractive and different from the popular satellite television channels. Analysts find it more hard for the private media due to digital and online technology. As radio journalism is now being redefined in the wake of adoption of new digital and online technologies for radio production and distribution, radio journalists also face practical problems in terms of skills, affordability and access to new radio technologies. Effective use of internet through releasing of radio programmes is also dependent on the people's access to broadband internet and PC.
At the same time, they consider that it is also a challenge for the investors to successfully utilise the fruits of this stimulating innovation. The early history of radio shows that radio is a story of individual inventors and entrepreneurs and some 43 scientists contributed to the development and progress of radio since 1912. But many of them were both inventors and entrepreneurs.
Carole E. Scott, editor of B>Quest, in an article said the fruits of scientific discovery over the centuries became a part of our everyday lives as a result of decades of work by inventors and entrepreneurs, scattered across the world. Many scientists were not inventors, and many inventors were not entrepreneurs. So he believed that the success in the development of the radio is a combination of both skills and technology. At present, the industry involves funding from Tk one million to 100 million but the fruits of the investment is likely to draw much more from each of the investors' future plans.
Rafiqul Haque said Radio Today FM 89.6 has targetted the young generation of 15 to 35 years age group and planned to give a new feeling about radio programmes. "We are trying to bring a revolutionary change in the medium," he said.