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Dr Abhijit Bora
Date of Publish: 2015-12-29

Let it play

Even though the use of radio in the North East has declined in the last decade, the medium still has a huge potential in the region


A recent survey carried out in the United Kingdom, titled Media and the Mood of the Nation, concludes that the simple pleasure of listening to the radio is what makes Britons the happiest. According to listeners, radio has the most mood-enhancing effect, having lifted their happiness levels 100 per cent and their energy levels by 300 per cent, compared to those not using any media at all. The survey says radio has been chosen as a lifestyle support system to help people feel better as they go about their daily lives.

Having grown up listening to the radio, many in India, particularly those belonging till the 1980s,may agree with the survey report. For many among them, radio was an integral part of their everyday life, the only bridge with the rest of the world, a provider of wholesome entertainment and a platform for imagination with words, till of course televisions trooped in homes.

With the growing popularity of the audio-visual medium, radio understandably dropped down people’s list of possessions of daily use. However, till a decade ago, radios didn’t completely vanish from Indian households, as expected. As per theCensus 2001,even though televisions made inroads into people’s homes, radios too were present. The Census report found the gadget in 36.1 per cent of Indian households. 

A shift of thought seems to have taken place in the last 10 years though as the 2011 Census shows a decline in that statistics. In the last decade, the percentage of households owning radio or transistor sets has gone down. Compared to 2001, the national average in 2011 shows a decline of 16 per cent (from 36.1 in 2001 to 19.9 in 2011.)

For the States in the north-eastern region,the decline is considerable. In case of Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Sikkim, the 2001-2011 difference is in double digits ranging between 17 and 13 per cent. With regard to Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, this rate is,however,in single digit – between 7and 9per cent.

Manipur is the only State that has gone against the trend though. It has shown an increase of nine per cent during the period – from 43 to 51.8 per cent.

For a popular medium that made its debut in the remote region way back in 1948 (through AIR Shillong-Guwahati) with the second station of the region set up in 1967 (in Dibrugarh, Assam), the trend is noteworthy. The Census shows that the ‘dear old radio’ has given in to television in the region, like the rest of India. While the number of households that opted for the television is quite high in Mizoram (35 per cent), it is only 10 per cent in Assam. Sikkim, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland have recorded a minimum of 20 per cent increase in favour of television.Manipur is the only State in the region which reflects a comfortable increase in both radio and television households between the two Censuses. 

Nationwide, in 2011, the number of households having television sets has shot up by 15 per cent(from 32 per centin 2001 to 47 per centin 2011).

Whatever may be the cause for this considerable decline in radio households in the North East, the convenience and utility points of the radio -- often termed the medium of the masses -- can never be underestimated.Especially for regions with difficult terrains like the NE where connectivity is a major issue, both in normal times as well as during disasters like floods, landslides, etc.

A reason which may be responsible for decline in the use of radio nationally is the Government’s policy of not allowing the radio sector to have an independent programme broadcasting facility like television channels in the private sector do. Radio, in India, is still under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting with no private participation allowed except in the FM sector. There too, only entertainment items, and not news and current affairs items, can be aired. Of course, they can relay / re-broadcast news from the All India Radio but not of their own.

This, in some way, may have affected the growth of the radio alongside that of the television.

However, solace may be taken from the fact that with the third phase of FM licensing kicking in, there will be about 900 new channels available in the private FM sector across the country. This is expected to give a major boost to the medium of radio in the country in coming days, including in the North East.

From the national bouquet, the north-eastern region is likely to get 55 channels, of which 10 are functioning presently. Here too, it is important to point out discrepancies in terms of their distribution. While three States of the region – Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya – do not have even a single functioning private FM station presently, a small State like Sikkim has three functioning FM channels. Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tripura have one each presently. Out of the total proposed channels in the third phase, Assam will get the major share of 22 channels, four of which are functioning.

The Government’s much-talked-about community radio (CR) station scheme too has not taken off successfully in the region. There are only three such stations fully operational in the region. While two of them are with educational institutions (with universities) only one is being operated in the proper sense of a community radio. The website of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, however, mentions that several institutions and organisations of Assam have been granted license for community radio stations,with one or two of them even being cancelled because of non-compliance of the regulations.

On the other hand, till June, 2015, States like Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have more than 20 CRs each, out of the total 188 functioning across the country.

It seems a long way before the full implementation of both the schemes in the North East. One, however,hopes that when they do, they bring back the charm of the radio to people’s homes. Because radio, asthe UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova underlined on this World Radio Day, “provides the means for change. It is a vector of cohesion, education and culture. It also helps to create a sense of community through the dissemination of information.”

 Dr Abhijit Bora

(The author is Head, Mass Communications and Journalism Department, Tezpur University )


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