Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Insights into Editorial: Is radio relevant in the 21st century?

Insights into Editorial: Is radio relevant in the 21st century?


Radio has absorbed new technologies and emerged stronger over the decades.

In the decades since, radio has emerged as the ultimate survivor, adapting itself to the tastes of the newer generations of listeners and absorbing newer technologies.

In the 1980s and ’90s, it saw off threats posed by personal video recorders and digital compact discs through a greater emphasis on listener-driven programmes. By the late ‘90s and early 2000s, radio stations were reinventing themselves to cater to niche audiences: There were stations dedicated to specific genres of content — talk radio, punk rock stations.

Relevance of Radio in Today’s World

Radio continues to be useful in their daily life – informing, educating, entertaining and helping to build their capacities. Radio programmes reach people on site.

  • UN Radio has been broadcasting on international peace and security issues, and social, economic and health problems at large; these broadcasts are translated into different languages and aired by UN member nations.
  • The UN Radio played a useful role in educating people during the Ebola outbreak in Africa; it is now sensitising people about the Zika virus that is spreading Southern America.
  • All India Radio (AIR) is one of the largest broadcast networks in the world. Started as Indian State Broadcasting Service in 1930 by the British Government, today it has 415 stations educating and entertaining people in about 23 languages and 146 dialects. AIR’s transmission covers more than 92 percent of India’s landmass.
  • Besides disseminating information and educating people about government schemes and programmes, AIR plays a vital role in the fields of agriculture and health. Its contribution to the success of Green Revolution was phenomenal.
  • Radio has proved to be of tremendous help during natural calamities when the broadcasts go round the clock without a break.
  • During Tsunami in December 2004 that created havoc in Tamilnadu coast and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, it helped coordinate relief effort and guide police, and medical teams and those looking for their near and dear ones.
  • Radio dispels rumours and myths spread by anti-social elements during such calamities.
  • Audio programmes easily surmount barriers linked to literacy.
  • The cost of content production is lower than that incurred on producing visuals this allows cheaper broadcasting in a variety of languages, dialects and creative forms.

Radio is an audio medium and doesn’t have the advantage of visuals. Yet, it survived the onslaught and is flourishing with the advent of FM across the world, developing and developed countries alike such as the United States, Russia, Japan and India.

Community Radio as an Effective Tool in India

Community radio is a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting content that is popular to a local audience.

  • Community radio is confined to a small geographical area. It depends on low power transmission covering not more than 20-30 km. radius.
  • It serves a community which uses common resources for livelihood, has common development issues and concerns, which are relatively localized, nevertheless connected to national and regional development goals.
  • Today, there are more than 180 community radio stations across India, broadcasting in languages like Bundelkhandi, Garhwali, Awadhi and Santhali — tongues that typically find little or no space on television.


  1. Community radio for Agricultural development

Agriculture has always been a highly knowledge-intensive sector requiring continuous information flow. Farmers’ quest for authentic, credible and usable information from established systems and traditional practices is ever increasing in this fluctuating global environment, to operate efficiently and compete economically.

  • Effective extension, education and communication services are probably some of the key strategies for sustaining agricultural growth, strengthening food security and combating hunger and malnutrition. 
  • Agricultural extension is the vehicle or system for delivering useful information to farmers and assisting those farmers to develop requisite knowledge.
  • Experience with ruralradio has shown the potential for agricultural extension to benefit from both the reach and the relevance that local broadcasting can achieve through participatory communication approaches. 
  1. To Propel Rural Development

It provides a platform for the local people or groups to tell their own stories; share their experiences and thus become active contributors and participants of the media.

  • Social awareness programmes and health care measurescan also be articulated to the people by means of community media.
  • Sangham Radio, which broadcasts on 90.4 MHz, is licensed to Deccan Development Society(DDS), an NGO that works with women’s groups in about 75 villages of Telangana. 
  1. In empowering women

Community Radio is useful in empowering women through education, entrepreneurial training programs, mass communication and propaganda.

The Namma Dhwani (Our Voices) of Karnataka is India’s first cable CR station. The listeners of this CR are primarily illiterate women, who otherwise have little access to information.

Its programs not only created awareness among its listeners, but it enhanced the leadership qualities/behaviour in women.

It has much more impact on women when it comes to creating awareness about health and sanitation, education, savings, food habit and family system.

It played a catalytic role in changing the life of the rural people.

Thus, community radio acts a source of effective communication vis-a -vis various developmental works that are on and their implications for the local residents. 

Challenges to the Community Radio

Community Radio plays a central role in community development. To play this role they need to provide quality programmes to ensure continued audience, and support from the community. It has been a great success in developed nations but has lacked in developing countries because of illiteracy and lack of awareness among people. Community radio faces the challenges in effective and quality programme production in terms of content, production quality and community involvement:

  • Lack of journalistic and technical skills and thus a consistent demand for training.
  • Community Radio derives its strength and popularity from community participation. In practise participation is harder than it seems, because it is labour intensive, requires the right attitude, skills and mobile equipment.
  • Without proper management skills, as well as some knowledge of financial management and income generation, it is very hard for Community Radio to survive without donor funding.
  • Community Radio is by definition relatively small and often situated in locations where basic services, like a constant supply of electricity, are lacking. Due to these conditions equipment suffers and needs to be vigorously maintained and/or regularly replaced.
  • A clear regulatory framework in which Community Radio operates is needed.

Drawbacks for the radio industry

  • Monopoly of government and the fee charged by the Prasar Bharati Corporation is exorbitant.
  • The huge licensing fee acts as a deterrent. A single frequency for a single city, dished out for a 15-year period, can cost more than ₹100 crore in large metros.
  • Radio has stiff competition from the new media. One of the challenges it faces is that it lacks proper measurement tool. 

Way Forward

Despite its popularity, Television connectivity is not available across the entire country but radio reaches over 99 percent of population. This is why Prime Minister has opted for radio to reach out to the masses. Prime Minister has spoken on subjects like drug abuse, unity in diversity, skill development and problems facing the disadvantaged sections and minorities in his Mann ki Baat programme.

Diversifying and creating different revenue streams is extremely critical. They include channels specialising in diverse genres — like news devotional music and rural development programmes.

The time has come for the government to reconsider its licensing model. The fee can be determined by the content being offered. There could be content aimed at children or women or sports and the fees can be worked out accordingly. This could also act as a check on the current auctioning process which has led to a lot of speculation.