FM players fear community radio interference

MUMBAI:They may be as different as chalk and cheese in their outlook and content.

But the proposed entry of short range community radios is not being viewed too kindly by private FM operators in the country. The Indian government recently announced its plans to revolutionize radio broadcasting in the country by allowing low power radio stations in major localities. 5000 such stations will shortly spring up across the country, with educational institutions being given the first go ahead for the venture.

Star India Radio CEO John Catlett feels that while the government move is directed by good intentions, it will only add to the clutter of frequencies available in say, a city like Mumbai. The low cost community FM radio centers with a five kilometer range are to be set up without any license fee, as per a draft cabinet proposal currently doing the rounds. The stations can be set up with an initial investment of Rs 500,000 to 1000,000. India's spare spectrum capacity is to be utilized for allowing these stations to come up.

The catch however is that while these stations can provide entertainment, they cannot solicit commercials and have to be funded jointly by individuals or by organizations. Catlett says that while the community stations are not a threat to commercial stations who by their very nature are market oriented, the new entrants could add to the confusion about the identities of channels and frequencies - a problem that stations are trying hard to overcome. Catlett says the private FM operators are planning to come together on an industry platform to speak collectively to the government on the issue and to convince the powers that be of the practical difficulties of the proposal.

While private FM is available in four metros and 19 FM bands are being broadcast, community radio is expected to literally throw open the floodgates to at least 5,000 neighbourhood stations that will start airing niche content from early next year. As soon as the Union cabinet gives clearance, the wireless planning and coordination department of the telecom ministry will step in, allocating the frequencies for every neighbourhood radio centre.

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