Radio offers perhaps the cheapest form of entertainment for the masses. A Rs 200 device offers news, music and other programming from across the world. Medium-wave and Short-wave listening were the only options in India until a few years ago. FM radio stations in India are a relatively new phenomenon, with availability limited to a single radio station in few cities. This is expected to increase in the coming years following an auction of the frequencies last year. But the bidding frenzy saw prices which were seemingly too high, leading many of the winners to rethink their plans.
Technology is also changing Radio broadcasting and listening. The two biggest drivers of change have been the Internet and Satellites. Streaming allows for radio stations to deliver their content beyond a limited geography. The downside of course is that to listen one still needs a computer. Satellite Radio intends to take this one step further. Companies like XM and Sirius in the US, and Worldspace globally are offering satellite radio services, promising CD-like quality from an array of radio stations worldwide. These services need a new receiver. Also, some of the services may need a monthly subscription. This may limit their use to truckers, commuters (primarily in cars, a limited breed in India) and connoisseurs.
Writes Peter Lewis in Fortune (October 15, 2001) on the service offerings by one of the satellite radio services:
XM’s 100 channels are divided into “neighborhoods,” including 15 pop music channels, ten channels of rock, six channels of jazz and blues, six of country and bluegrass, seven hip-hop and soul channels, six varieties of world music, five Latin channels, four classical, and even individual channels for music from each decade from the ’40s to the ’90s. There are a dozen news channels, five sports channels, three comedy channels, two kids’ channels, and a bunch of special-interest channels spanning African-American topics to Christian talk radio to a channel especially for truckers.
XM costs about USD 10 a month and needs receivers costing about USD 300. Satellite radio may definitely offer variety but is likely to be out of the reach of the mass market in countries like India.
The biggest impact on Radio has come from the growth of Television and to a much smaller extent in India, the Internet. I remember the days surreptitiously listening to radio in school and college to get the latest cricket scores. (Come to think of it, this must still be happening – there isn’t much of a choice in the classroom!!) Now, more often that not, one gets the latest scores and news updates either on TV or through the Internet.
The Radio, though, will always have its niche – its low cost, near-universal reach, portability and variety in terms of options (especially languages) is unmatched by any other entertainment device. For many, the Radio will continue to be the “window to the world.”