FM Radio's

Janakpur - Jaynagar Railway , March 2011

Janakpur has the one and only railway system in Nepal which connects Janakpur to Jaynagar. The rail runs at a maximum speed of 20 kilometers per hour taking approx 2.3 hours to cross 29 kilometers distance connecting seven local junctions. Life is slow and beautiful to those who enjoy the pace of this train. I see a striking similarity between Janakpur railway and the FM stations in Janakpur. Without broadcast vision and proper management, FM’s scenario does not look  very promising, akin to the railway system here in Janakpur.  

Janakpur has remained the core city for Maithili speaking communities. I grew up in a small town in Jhapa district, eastern Terai ( terai more used as  Madhesh nowadays) . Most of my immediate neighbors were from Maithali speaking community.  Many of them had their origin as Janakpur or had some connection to this place. My Maithali Speaking neighbor termed this place as DESH which means home country in English. 

Local from Janakpur and periphery ( Dhanusa, Mahottari, Saptari ,Siraha districts and few ) speak Theth Maithali language which is a mixture of Maithali and Nepali language while there is another type as well called Manak Maithali which is more sophisticated and considered to be elite. Manak Maithali is  spoken by upper caste within Maithali communities . There might be some other sub groups or types within, but my focus would be to know about local FM broadcasting in particular.  

The local FM stations in Janakpur mainly targets the audiences of Dhanusa, Mohattari, Siraha and Sarlahi districts  of Nepal also said by  some people as  Mithilanchal . Mithilanchal covers both Nepal and India where the local language spoken is Maithali and stretches from  Saptari in the east and Sarlahi in the west and also upto Ayodhya in India. A large chunk of the FM stations antenna is faced towards India on the south. 

During Madhesh Andolan, the language, geographical location, color and ethnicity played a critical role to unite the whole southern belt of Nepal.  When I look back, I find the intensity of Madhesh Andolan  aggressive in places where there were local FM broadcast eg, Janakpur, Birgunj, Nepalgunj than compared to places where there was  no local FM stations eg  Saptari , Siraha districts . After Madhesh Andolan, there are FM stations set up particularly to support the EK Madhesh EK Pradesh movement. This can be very dangerous, if  used for ethnicity based politics.
Radio Madhesh 106.6 Mhz which plans to set up radio network through out eastern terai 

Currently, FM stations in Nepal are not determined legally by state policy as community or commercial stations. Instead the FM station are categorized based on registration and affiliations as either community or commercial.  In general FM station registered, operated and managed by not for profit organization, cooperative or local government bodies are known as Community FM station. These stations also have affiliation with Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal (ACORAB) with the exceptions of a few. On the other hand, Commercial stations as seen are those established by companies with limited promoters and operates on a profit sharing basis. These stations have affiliation with the Broadcasters Association of Nepal (BAN).

Nepal has more community than commercial stations. With the increasing number of community stations, 181 community stations on air now, ACORAB has started to become as a power hub in many terms.  Active political affiliations are also visible. People categorize stations under the labels of different political parties. In many FM stations, the political affiliation is silent but there are also more pronounced and visible stations in equal measure. Some stations are lead, supported  or owned by active political leaders.  

My experience about local FM stations broadcasting in Janakpur has made me write about the major issues of local broadcasting.  I visited stations in Janakpur to know about FM broadcasting. 7 out of 8 stations are in operation. According to ownership type, there are 4 FM community and 4 commercially operated. One such station - “Radio Today” according to FM broadcast registration is community owned but since it has affiliation to commercial radio’s association, it is recognized as a commercial station. 

It is also interesting to note that FM stations in Janakpur have similar name” USTAI USTAI”. One gets confused with the name of the station. let me give an example 1) Radio Janakpur and Janakpur FM 2) Janakpur FM and Janki FM, 3) Radio Mithila and Mithilanchal  FM . It sounds similar, so it’s very confusing to listener to identify the radio and their programmes. The loyal listeners of the radio might identify but the general mass remains confused.

List of FM stations in Janakpur 

FM Station
Radio Janakpur 97 Mhz
Janakpur FM 101.8 Mhz
Radio Today 91 Mhz
Registered as community but affiliated to commercial stations association
Radio Madhesh
Radio City
Not in operation, registered by Cooperative
Mithilanchal FM

In few years time when Indian border town will have its own FM stations, Nepali FM stations currently receiving major sponsors based on advertisements from Indian   hospital, school, colleges, stores etc might cease to exist. Local market looks very limited and competitive. In this scenario, there will be opportunities for influence (politics) in FM broadcasting. Stations in Janakpur have received direct funding from politically active members. This might be used for vested political interest which can be very dangerous as it could lead to political instability. Early signs and symptoms of this nature can be seen. Mechanism to monitor the content on air for balanced and fair information is required immediately. The unstable political environment has also created opportunities  for those interested to  manipulate the  broadcasting content. 

The increasing number of FM station establishment has provided listeners and sponsors options to meet their taste and need. This has also increased the competition amongst the radio stations to broadcast with higher broadcast capacity and longer broadcasting hours. Higher the broadcast watt and duration, more expensive is the operational cost. 

There is no fixed schedule for power outage, though the load shedding schedule is 14 hours(National Standard). Radio stations operates with generator and invertors.  The minimum monthly operating  cost  has hiked to Rs. 40-50 thousands.  On the contrary, the stations bid for a lower price to get sponsors and commercials from agencies. The competition to get sponsors programme and commercial is so high that they bid with a price that does not even cover the cost of radio broadcast to remain operational. The rate for 1 min air time for advertisement broadcast is Rs 60, which is far below what BAN and ACORAB has set up (Rs 200 per min) for normal time. Consequently, the FM stations are unable to retain or hire competent radio professionals. Hence,  the quality of the content is compromised.
Female FM Technician which is very rare in Nepal , She works at Radio Janakpur 

Radio is all about sound and interesting stories with information that is fair and balanced. Initially,  radio broadcasting in Janakpur started with the interest to broadcast local programmes produced by the stations itself. However, over these past seven years due to management issues, unhealthy market competition, and growing political affiliation and influence, it has succumbed to  broadcast a major part of the air time using musical programmes ,other similar fillers and tailor made programmes supplied by production houses in Kathmandu which requires lesser field reporting, effort and cost.  As a result,  all the FM stations programmes sounds similar. On the other hand this might have a positive effect by creating  opportunities for those stations who work on establishing and producing theme based or clear target based programmes. Those radios who make this kind of affirmative action might sustain in the long run in the local market.

There are similar kinds of issues faced by local FM broadcasters. Emerging FM stations have to understand their market, develop business model to excel in such situation. Major cities like Biratnagar, Birgunj, Narayanghat, Kathmandu, Pokhara, Butwal , Nepalgunj, Surkeht, Palpa are not in the condition to take new FM stations where there are more than 5 FM stations .  More or less all stations have similar problems, with a few exceptions. The new  stations have the opportunity to learn from the existing radio station’s experience. The radio management must know their market, their audience, human resource in the local market, operational cost and above all maintain balance  and accurate information.