State (of) radio

Published: December 13, 2010
The writer is host of “The Drive Thru” on CityFM89 and a news anchor for PTV News

The writer is host of “The Drive Thru” on CityFM89 and a news anchor for PTV News

Being entertaining or informative, or both, on the radio require hours of preparation. It’s the homework that goes into a broadcast that creates a distinguishable product for listeners. But when it comes to public radio on AM and FM frequencies in our country, homework is a key missing ingredient.

When private radio channel FM100 came around some 15 years ago, the state mobilised its vast resources to challenge it. Armed with a new team of young broadcasters, state-owned FM101 tried to provide quality programming to an audience which would have accepted a new entrant at the time. Unfortunately, it failed because of archaic tube transistor modelled radio technology which spewed inferior sound quality and because it gave zero attention to branding and marketing. Radio Pakistan is capable of more — it is a powerhouse of broadcasting knowledge and experience. From news and information to intellectual discussions with the most brilliant minds in the country, from live music and poetry recitals to radio dramas, Radio Pakistan used to make their programmes to perfection.

Public radio around the world remains an important medium of information. But with the pathetic quality of programming in Pakistan, few rely on the state for entertainment or information. This hasn’t dissuaded the government to keep spending our tax money on running several FM station frequencies which rebroadcast AM programming, such as the hourly new bulletin. Originally, FM101 was supposed to break the monopoly of FM100, but with the forward thinking of Pemra and the issuance of 500 licenses, this need is diminished.

Why does the state continue to operate a failed unit? In the present situation of the devolution of federal power and the preference towards privatisation, all FM channels of Radio Pakistan should be sold to people who can transform these channels to something listenable. Otherwise, a public-private partnership being courted by the National Highway Authority’s new FM radio network could be a workable alternative to privatisation.

I used to think that AM radio should also be privatised, but on a recent trip down the motorway, I was pleasantly surprised to listen to a radio drama after decades! The drama was an intelligently crafted piece on promoting behavioural change with regards to women’s health in rural areas. Above all, the drama was entertaining. I also heard an interesting Punjabi show explaining when to sow crops, what fertiliser to use and which soil tests to carry. Rural areas can still benefit from AM Radio although that, too, will diminish as the reach of FM penetrates the smallest of cities.

The crumbling state of state radio can still be saved. With a proud history of a hardworking staff, Radio Pakistan could still be the source of information and entertainment it once was. I wouldn’t want anyone to say that a failing institution of a failing country is only to be expected. Vision and good leadership can bring back its lost glory.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • parvez
    Dec 13, 2010 - 1:43PM

    Could not agree with you more. The importance of radio in a country like ours is sadly fully understood and exploited by the extremest elements especially in the north and not by the state. Recommend

  • Saad Durrani
    Dec 13, 2010 - 2:56PM

    FM101 used to have better Radio DJs back in 2002. Their playlists were better and the DJs hired were of better education background. It used to run quiz shows in partnership Mobilink. It had a medical show and a separate 15-minutes programming for fishers. It was first one to have a Urdu Rock show. But then came that dreadful Telefun era.

    The author should have thought about other stations in Pakistan as well. None of them are giving any entertainment. Shows are more formula then ever.Recommend

  • moazzam
    Dec 13, 2010 - 5:48PM

    being a villger i completely i agree with you that radio could be great source of spreading valuable information. as radio is a low cost easily operatable device capable of reaching to the poor people in the villages.
    here in our village in centeral village,old people still prefer to listen BBC URDU service radio news because of their credibilty.
    Radio Pakistan can also have a positve impact on the crop growers and agriculture related business people to learn new methods of cultivating crops yielding higher output.

    and the biggest advantage of radio is that you can listen it even if u are working. thats makes it a prefer medium of mass media even in westren countries.

    In USA people listen radio telecastes more tha they watch tv.Recommend

  • irshad
    Dec 13, 2010 - 5:55PM

    absolutely true! i agree with yew on the radio pakistan part,
    and the private radio scene has gone stagnant and typical it just doest want to come out of the stagnancy… its a high time that we in pakistan should have radios on themes like they have it in the rest of the world. and in my opinion radio in pakistan is not doing what it should….Recommend

  • Fyza javed
    Dec 13, 2010 - 10:30PM

    i must say that radio has added memorable contribution in my life, especially FM. i always had my headphones on while doing mathematics. whatever technology may come radio has its own charm especially for youth.lRecommend

  • Saba Esam Khattak
    Dec 14, 2010 - 3:34PM

    Nicely written. Educate me please how many private radio stations are there authorized by PEMRA? and what’s their outreach? Do they really trickle down to the far flung masses? If yes then the established Radio Stations like the one you are associated with, can adopt one of a lesser God. Corporate giants can spend some of the R n D n help them formulate slots on peace, education, health n environment. The exchange of members (admin/program/technical) can be made as a part of professional growth. Anchors from Mandibahauddin can come n work n learn at CityFm 89 Lahore n likewise you can go share your gift n potential in small setup in Gowader. I wish it could been done on individual level, but it wont work this way. Those who have the power to make decisions should decide about having a vision beyond their own backyard…Recommend

  • Shakeel
    Dec 14, 2010 - 10:00PM

    Saba you actually got a smile out of me by mentioning Mandibahaudin in your text.
    Well Mr. Malik I must say that you have drawn a very good sketch of the whole situation. First and foremost, the radio job these days is a hell lot demanding. The audience has changed and radio has taken up to a different dimension. There is a huge fan following who wants to listen to some quality music coupled with right sort of information . In this scenario, anybody who comes on-air should be well-versed in the required fields. Apologetically saying, the state radio doesn’t fullfill the demands of a modern citizen.
    Moreover, with the addition of too many new channels on the dial, it has become quite difficult for state radio to get along with same programming. Either they should bring some radical changes in order to improve or they should stop investing the heavy amounts of money on it. The government has a lot of other things to do rather than radio entertainment. They should focus on those areas and let other people run this business who have the knack of this work. Recommend

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