The Power of Radio

The Power of Radio

“This is Pakistan Broadcasting Service, Lahore. We now bring you a special programme on the dawn of Pakistan’s independence.”

This announcement in the voices of Zahur Azar and Mustafa Ali Hamadani from Lahore station of Pakistan Broadcasting Service (PBS) heralded the formal inception of radio in Pakistan. Similar announcements by Aftab Ahmad Khan from Peshawar and A.F. Kalimullah from Dhaka stations of PBC brought radio into an era of nationwide outreach and recognition, though radio stations were operational in Peshawar, Lahore and Dhaka before independence—in January 1935, the government of then North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) set up a radio station in Peshawar; radio broadcast from Lahore had started under the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in 1928, the government-owned radio channel had launched its broadcast in January 1937; and Dhaka radio station started had been working since December 1939. Before partition, they were working under the banner of All India Radio (AIR), and after the establishment of Pakistan, they went on air as PBS centres.

The website of Radio Pakistan also mentions that the first radio station in the Subcontinent was established on July 23, 1927, when Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) established a radio station in Bombay. In April 1930, the IBC was put under the direct control of the Government and given the name “Indian State Broadcasting Service”, which on June 08, 1936, became All India Radio. In fine, radio debuted in the Indian Subcontinent at a time when, as a medium of communication, it was going through an evolutionary process all over the world and governments, due to its huge efficacy, had started using it as a medium to disseminate and defend their propaganda—both within and outside their borders.

Since its inception, the potency of radio to broadcast propaganda has been a key factor in its growth because the invention of telegraph, the very first technology for electronic communication, had rendered the distances irrelevant through the facility of instant communication. But this technology could be used for establishing a contact between two places only. Later, the advent of telephone made person-to-person communication possible. But, the invention of radio—called wireless in its early days—offered this facility at a much wider level that was hitherto peculiar only to the printing press. The credit for the invention of radio cannot be given to one person as it is the result of strenuous efforts put in by scientists belonging to various countries. Ms Julia A. Spiker in her research article published in a French journal “Journalism and Communication (Vol-I) writes:

“Radio technology started in 1864 when James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish mathematician and physicist, theorized that when electricity passes through a wire, it gives off invisible waves under certain conditions. A young German named Heinrich Hertz proved this theory in 1887 and 1888. Professor Popov, a Russian scientist, experimented with wireless transmission around 1895. The Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, successfully transmitted wireless signals in his radiotelegraphy experiments, which began in 1895 and continued through 1899. Marconi’s wireless transmissions were first sent across distances of two miles on his father’s Italian estate, then increased to eight miles or more. He transmitted across the English Channel and then the Atlantic Ocean. This last experiment involved transmitting the letter ‘S’ in Morse code from Newfoundland to England.”

These initial experiments culminated in the very first transmission of human voice and music on December 24, 1906, at 9:00 p.m. The credit for this groundbreaking achievement goes to a brilliant Canadian inventor, Mr Reginald Aubrey Fessenden, who made the first long-range broadcast of voice on the Christmas Eve of 1906 from a Massachusetts station. This was the formal inauguration of radio as a medium of mass communication.

With the emergence of radio as a powerful medium to influence people’s ideologies, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes, a thinking gained ground in the West that this invention can help in creating Western hegemony over the world. This led to the establishment of two sorts of broadcasting: First, the Radio Act of 1927 in the United States of America propelled it as a commercial enterprise that could earn huge revenues through advertisements; the second was the not-for-profit, public broadcast enterprise that emerged in the form of government-owned British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In the United States, the first private commercial radio station went on air on 2nd November 1920 when a private channel KDKA started its transmission by broadcasting the results of the US presidential election. Then, the BBC was established on 18th October 1922 and started its regular broadcast from 14th November the same year.

Earliest radio sets provided listening facility only for one person as, instead of a central speaker, it used a headphone connected to the radio receiver. However, by 1926, radio had become an integral part of households as when speaker started replacing headphones, the number of audiences swelled considerably. In 1947, the use of newly-invented transistor enabled radio to overwhelm every sphere of human life to such an extent that battery-powered radio sets became omnipresent.

The paced development of radio was also due to the interests of governments and corporations; the former utilized it for its publicity and propaganda campaigns and the latter used it as a medium of disseminating entertainment and information in order to make full use of its commercial utility. These were the two objectives that brought radio to the Indian Subcontinent also. Since the British ruled this territory at that time, BBC brought in the phenomenon of public broadcasting that soon replaced private broadcasting and, in turn, gained considerable ground here.

After independence, radio remained exclusively a government domain in Pakistan for almost half a century. During this period, the number of radio channels rose from 3 to 21—an increase of 600%. Its coverage also expanded from only 6.6% of country’s total area in 1947 to 75% of the territory in 1995.

Radio overwhelmingly ruled the arena of electronic media in Pakistan for nearly 17 years but its rule waned with the advent of television in Pakistan on 26th November 1964. By the end of the twentieth century, TV became dominant to such an extent that everyone developed a perception that radio is only for rural areas, where TV had a lesser presence. This impression largely diluted with the inception of Frequency Modulation (FM) radio in Pakistan. On the momentous day of 23rd March 1995, private sector entered the radio industry and Pakistan’s first private FM channel started its broadcast.

Although Radio Pakistan had started its FM broadcast in 1993 from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, its first FM channel was formally launched on 1st October 1998. Within no time, it gained huge popularity and people soon became used to listening to it in offices, homes and markets; in short, everywhere. At that time, a pressing need was felt to expand its outreach to other cities as well. A window of opportunity to fulfil this need opened with the establishment of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) in March 2002 which opened the doors of electronic media industry for private sector. PEMRA issued as many as 22 licences for radio channels within the very first year of its establishment. From this point, radio broadcast kept on becoming more and more popular and PEMRA, during the past decade only, issued 138 FM licences and 115 licence-holders formally started their broadcast. The state radio too expanded its FM network by establishing 29 stations during this period.

But despite these marvellous achievements, a sheer lack of reliable data has given rise to a lot of rhetoric to counter which it is highly important that these facts and figures as well as the trends of radio listening be brought to the public view in an organized manner. It will effect a change in people’s attitudes toward this important medium of communication.

Some efforts in this regard have been made in the past, though. The first formal attempt to collect data on radio at a nationwide wide level was made through the fifth population census, in 1998. It was found that 4,599,290 Pakistani households—or 23.94% of country’s total—used radio as a source of information. Since an average household in Pakistan comprised 6.8 persons, the number of radio audiences was nearly at 31,275,000 i.e. 23.63% of the total population of Pakistan. Almost a decade later, Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PD&HS) 2006-07 also reported that nearly 32.7% of Pakistan’s total households had access to radio broadcast, with higher ratio in rural areas (33.2%) than the urban ones (28.8%). Nearly 35.6% of country’s rural and 29.5% urban population had radio sets. The BBC also conducted a survey to analyze the trends of radio-listening in Pakistan which revealed that 28% of adults living in urban areas and 31% of those in rural areas listened to radio regularly.

Importance of radio, its countrywide presence as well as the interest of its listeners can be understood from another perspective; the illegal FM radio stations that were functioning in the country in the recent past as their presence highlighted that radio is still listened to with fondness. Their presence, and later their closure by PEMRA, brought forth the need to establish a strong network of legal radio stations in the country. For that purpose, both public and private sectors were encouraged and they increased the number of radio stations with the private sector having played a bigger role.

The mushrooming growth of FM channels is spurred by the huge advertisement market in this industry. As per data published by Gallup Pakistan, during FY2013-14, radio industry earned 1.57 billion rupees from advertisements—nearly 4% of country’s total advertisement revenues generated during that period. This share is expected to increase further in the coming years because at present there are 62 functional radio stations in public sector, 143 commercial licences have been issued to private sector and 45 to educational institutions. Thus, the share of private sector in this arena is 57% while 25% radio stations belong to the public sector and 18% are working as non-commercial enterprises.

Currently, radio stations are either functioning in 100 cities, big and small, of Pakistan or Pemra had already issued licences for those. The federal capital Islamabad with 26 private, public and institutional radio stations is at the top of the list followed by Karachi with 23 and Lahore with 22. The highest number of private sector FM radio channels is in Karachi where 10 stations relay their transmissions. Islamabad is at second place with 8 and Lahore is at third with 7. As regards the number of educational radio channels, Islamabad is again at the top with 12 stations having licenses in this regard. Lahore and Karachi are at second and third place with this number at 9 and 6, respectively.

Modern technology (the internet, satellite and mobile) has not only made people’s access to the medium of radio easier but has also resulted in a huge increase in the number of its audiences as it is a low-cost source of communication. As per the Encyclopaedia of Nations, the number of functional radio stations in the world is 66,531. That is one radio station for 110,000 individuals. Besides, there are countless web radio stations. In all, radio now reaches to almost 95% of the world’s population.

In December 2015, a British organization EY published a report titled “Cultural Times: The first global map of cultural and creative industries” according to which radio generated a revenue of US$48 billion in 2012 and provided employment to 502,000 individuals. Most employment opportunities were created in Asia that accounted for 35% of the world’s total. In addition, a Unesco report “Reshaping Cultural Policies” reveals that nearly 43% of the population of developing countries and 56% of that of the developed ones listen to radio news daily. Similarly, as per Value 6 of World Values Survey, world’s 43.2% population stay informed to the latest happenings through radio.
This is a fleeting glimpse of the facts and figures related to radio from those countries where most developed forms of communication are not only present but the facilities to utilize those are also aplenty. One may ask that despite the ubiquity of all these facilities, why people still remain so glued to radio? The answer to this is that it’s the countless opportunities that radio offers as a medium of communication. And, perhaps, this was the recognition that inspired the President of the United States to revive and continue the tradition of weekly presidential radio address.

Since the dawn of the 21st century, common Pakistanis, too, have more and easier access to mobile phones that also provide the facility of listening FM radio on the go. As per a Pemra report, in the near future, ““[t]he concept of technological convergence between the telecommunication and the broadcasting facilities will be grasping roots in the country.” The facts and figures presented in a PD&HS survey further support this assertion as nearly 87% of Pakistani households have the facility of cell phones and own mobile sets. The number of mobile phone-holders was higher in urban areas (95%) than the rural centres (87%). On the number of radio sets, the survey suggested that only 10.9% of Pakistani households have radio sets; with this ratio at 10.7% in urban and 11% in rural areas. As per the survey, the trend of bearing radio sets is on the decline in Pakistan—mainly due to mobile phones. A report titled “WSIS Targets Review: Achievements, Challenges and the Way Forward,” published by “International Telecommunication Union,” mentions that the trend of bearing radio sets, especially in houses, is on the decline at a global level and the most important reason behind this is the spread of newer forms of communication devices and tools, with mobile phone being the most significant of them. People in a number of countries are increasingly getting attracted to radio-listening on mobile phones. For example, 76% of university students in Spain use mobile devices for listening to the radio. And, in case of Pakistan, as per a BBC survey, 39% adult males and 20 adult females do the same.

But still how conveniently would some people say: ‘who listens to radio nowadays; it’s a thing of bygone days.’ A big reason why this thinking has gained ground is the private sector that has ignored constructive aspects of radio transmission thus limiting its scope and making it popular for the purpose of entertainment (music) only. Almost all commercial FM radio stations in Pakistan dedicate nearly 70% of air time to music shows, while news broadcast gets only 5% of the air time. On the contrary, private TV channels give more time to news and shows on current affairs as well as to programmes on problems and issues of the masses and they have gained considerable public attention—to the detriment of radio. The other side of the picture is that the state radio i.e. Radio Pakistan, due to its chronic economic crisis, is facing insurmountable difficulties in improving the quality of its signals and ensuring their uninterrupted relay.

In Pakistan, not only the public friendliness of radio can be improved through community radio but it can also be used to fulfil the communication needs of the masses. This phenomenon is currently present only in the form of some non-commercial FM stations that are operational in 26 universities and colleges across Pakistan.

On-ground facts point to the efficacy of radio if used as a useful medium of communication because communication with nearly 55 million Pakistanis living below the poverty line is only possible through this medium. In addition, during the times of disasters and natural calamities, the role of radio can be of universal import because Pakistan is sixth among the countries that were more frequently hit by natural calamities during the past two decades and, the country is also among the most vulnerable to these calamitous events. All these facts, besides pointing out the pressing need of radio in Pakistan, serve as a harbinger of the bright future of radio here.

The holding of bids by Pemra under phase 9, in November 2016, for the issuance of licences for 67 new radio stations is but a glimpse into a future wherein it has been decided to establish at least one radio station in every district of the country. And, this effort can be utile only when radio gets as much priority in government policies as TV channels do.

It is high time that equal attention was paid on all three fundamental types of radio broadcast i.e. information, education and entertainment, so that radio may not become a medium of entertainment only, to the detriment of other two purposes.

In recognition of its multifarious benefits, the United Nations General Assembly, on 18th December 2012, approved to celebrate the day of 13th of February every year as the World Radio Day. This specific day was chosen as on this day in 1946, the UN Radio became operational. The objectives of celebrating the Day are to raise greater awareness among the public and the media on the importance of radio; to encourage decision makers to establish and provide access to information through radio, as well as to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters.

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