Sunday, August 16, 2015

In Nepal, FM Radio Stations Still Rule the Airwaves

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Given the fact that Radio Colombo started regular broadcasting in 1925, All India Radio launched its broadcasting in 1930 and given the fact that even in conservative Afghanistan, Radio Kabul initiated broadcasting in 1925, radio broadcasting's late arrival in Nepal was somehow intriguing. Except for some other irregular broadcasting, Radio Nepal started its broadcasting service only in 1951. However, Nepal's late jumping on the radio broadcasting bandwagon can be attributed to the politics of isolationism of the Rana autocracy.

Radio Nepal's initial transmission lasted for 4 hours and 30 minutes, but today it is the powerhouse of radio broadcasting in Nepal. Radio Nepal over the last 65 years has mirrored the country's social and political turbulence. During the years of Panchayat regime (1960-1990), state controlled broadcasting behemoth deliberately spread messages of Panchayat regime's tenets, such as, stability, partylessness, class coordination, decentralization and supremacy of monarchy.

During the Panchayat regime,  Radio Nepal was effectively used as a powerful medium of state propaganda and publicity, although some of the radio programs gave the ordinary Nepalese radio listeners  a chance to make their voices heard.

Radio Nepal is the state owned radio broadcasting behemoth with maximum geographic and demographic reach. Radio Nepal is the only broadcasting juggernaut in Nepal which airs its transmission in short wave, medium wave and frequency modulation (FM) as well. The state controlled radio broadcasting monopoly ended only in 1997 with the launching of Radio Sagarmatha FM, the first independent community radio broadcasting station in South Asia.

By the time, my article "FM Rules the Airwaves" was published in The Rising Nepal on May 25, 1999, about a dozen FM radio stations were operating in Nepal, most of them in the Kathmandu valley.

FM radio stations have been mushrooming in Nepal since early 2000s. According to the data issued by the Ministry of Information and Communication of Nepal recently, the number of FM radio stations has reached 638 in Nepal. Among them, 547 FM radio stations are operating across Nepal while remaining 91 FMs  are not resuming their services due to various factors. Out of 547 FMs, more than 100 FMs are operating from the Kathmandu valley alone.

In a country plagued by constant load shedding of 12-13 hours a day, there is just no need for so many FM stations. Additionally, Nepal's FM radio stations and TV channels have been hit hard by a weak market of advertising.

The study conducted by the Broadcasting Audience Survey (BAS 2006-2007) found that radio is available and accessible in 82 per cent of Nepalese household while 59 per cent of Nepalese household has television, newspaper 13 per cent, magazines 5 per cent and Internet 1 percent.

In what could be a turning point in today's TV and Internet-dominated world, the percentage of the Nepalese people who said "radio is the most preferred source of information and entertainment is 64 per cent followed by television - 35 percent, newspapers 0.8 percent and Internet 0.1 percent.

The BAS study also compared the popularity of different radio bands and noted  that FM radio is the most preferred (84.7 percent) frequency band among the radio bands followed by medium wave  (44.6 percent) and short wave (16.5 percent).

The BAS study reveals some startling statistics and shows the pattern of radio listenership stating that housewives and shop owners are the most radio listening group in Nepal (32 percent each) while students  (13 percent) are found to be the next most listening group in the country.

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