Clearance granted, race on among FM players to kick-start services in Mumbai

It's been a fairly quiet ride in the FM radio arena till now but the slugfest looks about to begin in real earnest. After having to make do with All India Radio's FM service for a long while, April looks like seeing listeners inundated with variety as to which stations they can tune into.

The Interim Tower Clearance order that allows private players to set up radio towers in Mumbai was issued early this week, industry sources have confirmed. And the clock is already ticking to beat the four month extended deadline given by the government for private players who had secured licences for the Mumbai circle to get on air. The original deadline for starting operations in Mumbai was 29 December.

In the metro cities of Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, however, the private players have eight months to start operations (August 29, 2002) and unlike in Mumbai they will be using All India Radio towers for broadcast.

The players fighting for a slice of the Mumbai pie are the Times Group's Radio Mirchi, the India Today group's Radio Today, the Star India-PK Mittal promoted Music Broadcast's Radio City (Radio City), Millennium Broadcast, and Radio Mid-Day (promoted by Inquilab, publishers of the Mumbai afternoon tabloid "Mid-Day").

Till date 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.

Sumantra Dutta, Star India's head of FM operations, while declining to give details as to which area in Mumbai had been earmarked for setting up the tower, said a four month time frame for getting on air was how it looked at this stage.

AP Parigi, managing director, Radio Mirchi, also would said he expected to just about be within the deadline as far as starting station broadcast was concerned.

When queried as to who he saw as the most serious competition, Parigi said all the players who had secured licences brought to the table their own individual skill sets and that included the relatively less talked about Millennium Broadcast which has tasted success in Sri Lanka in the radio arena. Parigi however, said Radio Mirchi had the Times brand, a great team, cutting edge technology and networking built over years backing it.

Parigi said the success of Radio Mirchi in Indore and Ahmedabad had given him enough confidence to declare he would be putting in bids during the next round of FM licence offers as well. This is in stark contrast to Music Broadcast's stand that in the current scenario only the metros are viable propositions for FM operations which led to it dropping plans for FM stations in Patna and Nagpur, two of the six cities (Bangalore, Lucknow, Mumbai and Delhi being the others) for which it had secured licenses. This despite the fact that it stands to forfeit the bank guarantees it gave for securing the licenses which are equivalent to one year's licence fees for each city - Rs 47.5 million for Patna and Rs 74 million for Nagpur.

With all these stations expected to be blaring their wares soon it remains to be seen whether the fare on offer will be more of the same (as is the case across TV entertainment channels) or if there will be variety as far as content is concerned.

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