My dad enjoys telling me tales of his childhood, and one thing that always fascinates me is the way he tells his stories of how life was before the television came to India. He tells me about how he used to sit with his brother and listen to Sushil Doshi and Ravi Chaturvedi’s commentary on every India cricket match abroad. Every syllable and every exclamation he heard on the radio made him feel like the match was unfolding right before his eyes, even though his medium of communication was solely audio-based.
For me, a Gen Z who has grown up watching television with every meal of the day, and now has every show and stream available at the tip of his fingers, all these experiences are foreign, from a time I cannot imagine. What happened to the radio then? I can’t help but wonder, is the industry, and the radio as a medium of communication, extinct?
As it turns out, the radio industry even today is far from extinct. It is in fact, still thriving. People had ruled it out when television came into existence because naturally an object that stimulated your audio and visual senses appealed to them more. Radio managed to survive that very well. Now, with the digital space becoming bigger by the day, people call cable television obsolete, and yet, radio has survived.
Music Broadcast Limited, which hosts Radio City in India, had a revenue of 87 crore rupees in the first half of 2019, and Radio Mirchi reported a 36% annual growth in 2019. Broadcast Radio reached 99% of India’s population, even the most remote villages are connected by this medium. Rural India relies on this medium heavily for information. For a price-sensitive country like India, it still remains the cheapest and most reliable source for entertainment and information. A simple radio costs as less as Rs. 50, which makes it way cheaper than a mobile phone or a television.
This source of entertainment has a lot of advantages, especially when dealing with a country as diverse as India. Television and Films, usually air in few languages, which often reduces viewership. In India, there are over 180 local community radio stations, which operate in languages of most tribes and communities, for example, Bundelkhandi, Awadhi, Santhali and so on. For a country still struggling to achieve higher and better literacy, radio acts as a medium that is the easiest to operate, allowing even the illiterate to gain knowledge and information. Even in the most urban settings, 80% of commuters listen to the radio in their cars, which is why the industry gets a lot of revenue through advertising. Radio Mirchi in Mumbai and Delhi has a weekly listenership of about 7 million people.
Perhaps this is why even the current Prime Minister uses radio for his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ so that he can reach every part of the country, no matter how remote it is. One thing we cannot deny is that the radio has evolved with time. From All India Radio speakers with a steady tone, to playing the peppiest Bollywood numbers, the radio has learned to evolve with the people. News is not allowed to be broadcasted on the radio because of security risks, but there are a lot of knowledge gaining shows which still air.
The internet, according to me, will still manage to make this industry obsolete. With apps like Spotify coming into the market, which gives you the liberty to play your own music, create your own playlists, and access them whenever you want, the radio becomes very limited in its approach. The radio however has still managed to make its way into the internet. Not the technology, but the art of speaking and listening without seeing, in the form of podcasts. Several podcasts come up every day, with meaningful interviews, thoughtful discussions, and deliberations. A few I enjoy a lot are Anupama Chopra’s Film Reviews, All India Bakchod’s old podcasts, Cyrus Broacha’s Cyrus Says, and the reDiscovery podcasts by Hoshner Reporter and Ambika Vishwanath. There are a whole lot of podcasts available online, and while Netflix does appeal to me a lot, there is something really amazing in sometimes just taking a step back, closing my eyes, and listening to people talk about anything and everything.
Having said all this, the industry will still have to find better ways to adapt. It is thriving right now, but with cheap internet access reaching more parts of India every day, it needs to come up with better ways to keep itself alive. Perhaps by allowing private news channels to broadcast on the radio, distributing resources more equally among all channels instead of the top three, and bringing better content, the radio will manage to thrive.
The radio has always been an integral part of society, and even if we do someday outgrow it completely, there is no denying how large of an impact it has had in the development and progress of Indian, and the global community.