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FM radio industry has flourished, 388 private stations in 2022 June quarter: Economic Survey

The Indian FM radio industry has flourished in the last few years with the number of such private stations going up to 388 in the quarter ending June 2022 from 243 in December 2015, according to the Economic Survey 2023 released Tuesday.

“The rising number of FM radio stations depicts how radio as mass media has satisfactorily delivered on their mandate of public service and stood strong with the people during the time of the pandemic,” the Survey stated.

The Economic Survey also spoke of the role played by community radio stations stating that it targeted local and well-defined communities, while FM increased its outreach to even far-flung rural areas. “The daunting task of spreading awareness on the pandemic, and that too in vernacular, with innumerable dialects, was made possible, as CRS channelized the community partnerships,” it said.

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“In times when the reach of centralized media to every nook and corner of the country was a gargantuan task, these radio waves travelled without interruption for the larger public cause,” it said. It added they not only became a medium for information dissemination but also functioned as a channel for empowerment as virtual education also took the recourse of radio.

Last year, the Narendra Modi government had approved three top demands of the private FM radio industry which was severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the amendments to the FM Radio Phase III policy guidelines, financial eligibility norms were simplified for companies with a net worth of Rs 1 crore to take part in the bidding process for category C and D cities, the three-year lock-in period for restructuring was done away with, and the 15 per cent national cap on channel holdings was removed.

The auctions for the third batch of private FM radio frequencies, under its amended FM Radio Phase-III policy, have been long pending. In the last few years, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry have been deliberating over various demands from the private FM industry including a relook at what they said were high base prices.

As many as 683 radio frequencies across 236 cities will be sold in an electronic auction in this round, which government sources say, might be held this year.

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The last e-auction for the second batch of 266 frequencies in 92 cities was held in 2016. The auction saw a lukewarm response with the government earning only Rs 200 crore with the sale of 66 channels. In comparison, the government had earned Rs 1,187 crore from the first batch of auctions held in 2015, when it sold 97 channels in 56 cities.

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Additionally, it also earned over Rs 1200 crore worth of migration fees for 245 stations which were shifting to phase 3 from phase 2. The government is also looking at a policy to promote digital radio in the country.

The Economic Survey 2023 said radio continues to be the most affordable and popular medium of mass communication in India and has been a tool that has consistently helped in the empowerment and social development of Indians.

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According to the Survey, the state-owned All India Radio and the public service broadcaster Prasar Bharati, which it said has embraced technology, reflected in the fact that over 240 radio services of All India Radio are live-streamed on NewsOnAir App, Prasar Bharati’s official App. These streams have many listeners not just in India, but globally, in more than 85 countries across the world, it added.

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