Television

Private FM players racing to launch in Mumbai by April-end

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Get set for the war of the FM airwaves in Mumbai. 

As the deadline of 29 April draws near, all the players in the FM fray are scrambling to launch the city's first private radio stations. Radio Today (from the Living Media group), Radio Mirchi (offspring of the Times of India Group) and Radio Mid Day (from the Mumbai eveninger's stable) all expect to be up and beaming on or around that date.

Radio Today, headed by G Krishnan (also CEO of top Hindi television news channel Aaj Tak) will take off by 29 April, official sources say. Nischint Chawla, till recently CEO of Radio Mid Day, is the COO. 

Radio Mirchi, which has already spiced up the airwaves in Indore and Ahmedabad, is racing against time for a simultaneous launch in Mumbai and Pune by 1 May, says AP Parigi, managing director Entertainment Network, the Times Group company behind Radio Mirchi. Queried as to where the FM station had located its transmission tower, Parigi mentioned two sites - one at Sterling Buildings in Tardeo in central Mumbai and another in suburban Malad. 

According to the information available, the first to get off the blocks in Mumbai may well be Radio Mid Day - likely to launch between 23 and 25 April.

RADIO CITY HITS A ROADBLOCK:

Radio City, the ambitious FM project from the Star stable, however, has come up against an unexpected hurdle. The company has still to get its tower and transmitter site clearance from the government. Music Broadcast Private Limited (MBPL), the company promoting Radio City, already has space earmarked for the radio tower atop the Shripati building at Nana Chowk, central Mumbai, but in the absence of government all clear, is caught in a bind. Says Sumantra Dutta, head of Star's FM operations: "We are very keen to launch but only if the government gives us clearance on the tower and the transmitter site. We, after all, launched India's first private FM station (in Bangalore on 3 July 2001) and were the first to demonstrate the true potential of FM in India."

Till date, FM operations have taken off in four centres - Radio City in Bangalore and Lucknow and Radio Mirchi in Indore and Ahmedabad. 

Mumbai will, however, witness the first real case where multiple players will be fighting it out for the listener's ear. Apart from Radio Mirchi, Radio Today, Radio Mid Day and Radio City, there is also Millennium Broadcast. It is not clear at this stage how far it has gone with its launch plans but it needs noting that Millennium Broadcast has experience behind it. It has already tasted a measure of FM success in Sri Lanka.

In the metro cities of Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, private players have some more time to start operations (August 29, 2002) and unlike in Mumbai they will be using All India Radio towers for broadcast. In Mumbai, where neither DD nor AIR have towers, private players have been exempted from the condition of co-location for a period of two years and have been allowed to make interim individual arrangements. Operators in Mumbai have till 29 February to start broadcast operations. After that, they will be required to start paying license fees, whether services start or not. 

One thing that the Private FM players will not be allowed to do, which will certainly restrict growth prospects, is broadcast news and current affairs programmes.

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