Radio’s golden age is over, but stakeholders stress need to revive its popularity in Nepal

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Sangam Sharma still remembers the day she waited for the clock to strike 9:15 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday. It was to listen to his favorite radio show, Shruti Sambeg, in which the famous RJ Achyut Ghimire “Bulbul” recites various Nepalese novels and stories in his characteristic style.

“I was in 11th grade when my older brother introduced me to this program,” the 25-year-old says, “As a literature lover, I was in love with the programs. no turning back, until social media platforms like facebook took me over.

Now Sharma very rarely tunes into her once favorite program. There are many like Sharma, who left radio as social media popularity took over.

There was a different charm of radio programs in Nepal in the 1990s and 2000s. But, with the penetration of the internet and the wide use of social media and online portals, the audience shifted its attention to online platforms in general. As the importance of radio as a communication technology seems great, they emphasize the need to revive its popularity in Nepal.

Old days versus new days

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Nabaraj Budhathoki, the news coordinator of Radio Sagarmatha, South Asia’s first community radio station, recalls that the charm of radio programs was completely different 15 to 20 years ago. “As social media and internet facility have become accessible to many, the practice of waiting for programs has all but died out.”

Mainly, fans turned to YouTube channels and online portals, Budhathoki adds.

The famous RJ Achyut Ghimire observes the same thing. But he is not ready to accept that the number of listeners has decreased as the stations have also appropriated these new media to reach their audience. “After this change of media, we did not recognize them as radio listeners, but as Internet users. But, in fact, they listen to Internet radio.

Ghimire says he continues to receive several letters regarding his Shruti Sambeg program, but it is true that the medium has changed. In the past, they came through the postal services, but today they are sent by e-mail.

He says that within four to five days of downloading an episode, his station’s website sees over 6,000 downloads. Moreover, when broadcasting news on Facebook or on a website, 5,000 to 9,000 users join live at the same time. “So you can’t say that the number of listeners has gone down.”

Ghamaraj Luitel, a media educator at Tribhuvan University’s Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, agrees: “Now it’s not just about sound, but also something people can to look at.”

Ghimire expresses, “Maybe overall, 10% of listeners might have declined. This happened due to the emergence of different gadgets. But this does not only apply to radio listeners. There has been a drop in the number of people playing outdoor games and lots of them. But, I had seen a number of listeners during the 2015 earthquake.”

Since people can listen to the radio while working on something else, the presence has not been as visible as that of television or the newspaper, he argues.

The old technology in the new era

radio frequency
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Similarly, Luitel, who also worked as a station manager at Radio Sagarmatha from 2007 to 2014, shares that even in countries like the United States, around 90% of people still listen to the radio. While walking, working (manually) and driving, they cannot surf the Internet, read or watch anything. In this case, it is the most useful medium because they need something to listen to.

He observes that when radio was born it was a completely new technology as there was no television. But gradually the medium has embraced frequency modulation technology, satellite technology and now internet technology, he says. The radio has also reached social media platforms and also all mobile phones. “New technologies, including the Internet, have taken radio with them. From this point of view, we can say that there is always the importance of the radio”, says Luitel.

Corroborating Luitel, Nabaraj Budhathoki, the news coordinator of Radio Sagarmatha, says that one cannot say that radio in the modern age is not significant. Mainly, during natural disasters and political upheavals and in places where internet facilities are barely reached, it becomes the most heard medium. This was evident during the 2015 earthquake.

Madhu Acharya, CEO/Chairman of Sharecast Initiative Nepal shares data from a nationwide media survey conducted by his company in February-March 2020 that around 59% of people over the age of 16, or about 10 million people, regularly listen to the radio. In terms of provinces, Karnali has the highest number of listeners at 75% and Madhesh has the lowest at 50%.

A joint survey conducted by Sharecast and UNICEF in July 2021 among parents of approximately 6,500 households with children under the age of 18 in 77 districts across the country found that 77% of them were regular radio listeners. . The same survey revealed that 62% watched television, 48% watched online news portals and only 12% read newspapers.

The need for update

While Nepal’s geography and literacy rates have favored radio technology over other media, stakeholders also agree that the sector needs updates in terms of programs and technology.

Budhathoki says, “If we still depend on the transmitter or the FM system, reviving its popularity seems very difficult. The sector must update it according to the evolution of time; he has to use social media platforms and go online. Only then can he survive for a long time.

new radio
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There have been massive changes in the modes of entertainment and information; by analyzing this trend, the radio should be able to adapt to this change. He now has to focus on specific issues, be it health or sports or any other genre, says Luitel.

Acharya also shares similar opinions: “Since there are many alternatives, listeners don’t have to listen to it at this time. With mobile and internet access for music, social media access for news as well as online portals soaring, it is important to invest in the strengths of the medium, which has not not produced much in the last 10-12 years.

He further adds that stations, producers and enthusiasts should invest in creative programming other than songs, music, phone calls or news that cannot be accessed by other means.

Need a strong support system

In the 1990s and 2000s, radio stations sprang up across Nepal, but there was not as much publicity or support yet. Additionally, there has been a lack of expertise and skilled human resources to run the programs in many formats these days. “There was a lack of journalistic practice. There are not enough facilities and salaries for journalists. It has made the industry unstable,” Luitel lists the problems.

Luitel says the newsroom and production room have become weak. Gradually, the economic sources of the radio weakened.

There are over 800 registered radio stations across the country. However, only a few of them leak ads. The majority of these stations operate on the part of shifting investors.

Stakeholders accuse the government of randomly distributing licenses, leading to a series of problems. Moreover, the existing policies are not clear enough to operate the stations, according to them.

The recently amended National Broadcasting Guidelines contain some provisions regarding taxation, and this may be a relief for the sector from now on, according to Luitel. He says the government needs to clarify all these confusions.

“Local governments can issue radio licenses now, but I don’t think local bodies have that ability/expertise to issue licenses. This type of provision should be amended”, he believes, “Operators should also understand that there is a need for refinement in them.

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