EXCLUSIVE | Uday Chawla, Secretary-General – AROI: We survived and grew

image-1-Uday Chawla - AROI - on Radio and how it survived in 2020 - MediaBriefUday Chawla, Secretary General – Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI), has been a part and champion of AROI for the last 12 years, helping its wonderful leadership comprising of FM Radio CEOs shape government- and media policies.

Uday handles corporate affairs and a lot more at AROI, and as we move forward in the new year, he has shared exclusively MediaBrief.com, the story of how Radio resolutely faced up to the business challenges of the medium, how it stepped up to do its duty for the information asks of a beleagured administration and people of our pandemic-hit country in 2020. He also lists the problems and disadvantages the most trusted medium of India still has to face due to multiple reasons. So, from starting the year at a truly disadvantageous position from facing the brunt of the pandemic, to battling and overcoming the odds, Radio not only survived, but grew.

Uday’s words: 

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. 2020 has been a very tough year for Radio; so tough that we thought we may be finished, what with very little help coming in from the Government, which did not waive even a little of their very high fees. The year started with a lockdown and a 90 percent drop in revenues.

The industry was already in a critical state due to a near-lockdown also in Government advertising in 2019 – which reduced to about 15 percent of the erstwhile total revenues. The industry was looking at a total loss with no light on the horizon, and with the situation compounded with the need to arrange for funds for paying salaries, covering the high government infrastructure rentals, high license fees even over the revenue, music royalties, and more.

And then there was this national calamity that needed to be addressed. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting approached us for public communication for safety. Our wonderful Board comprising of some of the finest CEOs of radio operators readily stepped up and extended full cooperation. Coordination systems for communication outflows and guidance were raised almost instantly, and implementation started in a day.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting approached us for public communication for safety. Our wonderful Board comprising of  some of the finest CEOs of radio operators readily stepped up and extended full cooperation. Coordination systems for communication outflows and guidance were raised almost instantly, and implementation started in a day: Uday Chawla

It was also the first time the Government agreed to allow us full freedom of creativity to communicate within accepted guidelines, and we intensively involved all our RJs across 370 radio stations in India. The coordination system also ensured content monitoring and reverse flow of ideas and information to the Government, which was thankfully welcomed and well utilized by the government.

However, Radio’s financial problems intensified, and cost-cutting measures were not enough. We approached the Government for a package, including a waiver of license fees during the lockdown period, but all we were given was a 3-month interest-free delay in payment of 1st quarter fees. Many operators have been unable to pay all their fees, and have now been charged a penalty for the same.

The Nation appreciated our contribution. Listenership increased by about 30 percent. Radio became the most trusted medium
for information; above print and television, and
that, from a medium that has not been allowed to broadcast news and television. Advertisers started taking note, and by
September 2020, our revenue drop was 50% as against 90%
of the first quarter; not enough to cover all dues, b
ut there was light emerging: UDAY CHAWLA

What made it the more painful was that many other industries had been provided relief – ports, airports, and STPI units. and very recently, a license period extension to DTH. Though the Government knows the importance of Radio — albeit perhaps not as much as the United Nations, which know and deploys Radio regularly — Radio in India, unfortunately,  has become used to step-motherly treatment for more than two decades of our existence.

Still, the Nation appreciated our contribution. Listenership increased by about 30 percent. Radio became the most trusted medium for information; above print and television, and that, from a medium that has not been allowed to broadcast news and television. Advertisers started taking note, and by September 2020, our revenue drop was 50% as against 90% of the first quarter; not enough to cover all dues, but there was light emerging.

Private Radio survived and grew. In an environment where:

  • It is the only medium where content on news, current affairs (an undefined term that could cover almost all information), and even national sports is not allowed. This gives an unfair advantage to other media — print, television, and digital. And after years of persistent requests, what was offered was a re-broadcast of AIR bulletins with no changes in form and content. Thereby an attempt to share one set of views across the whole media. It is to be noted that India is the only democracy in the world that does not permit private radio to air news. Bangladesh and Nepal have vibrant radio.
  • AROI was asked to form and lead a South Asia Radio Confederation or national association, till it was realized that India has no content freedom. So the idea was dropped. We know Nepal Radio well and could have played an important role in national strategy and bilateral relationships. Remember — the first step of China when it builds inroads into the country, is the use of Radio.
  • Private Radio is the only medium for which the Government shares a license fee. Additionally, it charges a compulsory high rental rate for towers, etcetera; much higher than their market value.
  • Private Radio has a fixed license term and extensions thereof depend upon any policy that the government may deem fit to create at the time of an extension.
  • Private Radio has to face high national caps per operator, and that limits growth.
  • Private Radio in India is almost totally dependent upon music content — a content monopoly that has kept Radio at a disadvantage.
  • Private Radio also suffers due to technically inefficient spectrum usage, which has artificially limited the number of stations in the geographical space.
  • Private Radio also lacks news content, which leads to less value to lawmakers, so the step-motherly treatment continues.

Still, we survived and grew (in listeners – an investment into the near future), thanks to the highly effective combination of the leadership at AROI comprising of Private Radio CEOs, along with the AROI managers, professionals, and RJs. And, in the process, for the people of India, emerged as the most trustworthy medium.

Kudos and gratitude to the teams!

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