Racy, jazzy and tangy private radios blast New Delhi airwaves.

by AFP, May 7, 2003 | Destinations: India / New Delhi

New Delhi, May 4, 2003 - Three top domestic media groups have kept their word and switched on private radio stations in New Delhi, replacing off-tune programmes played by India's antiquated national broadcasters. "We offer racy, jazzy and tangy entertainment to keep in tune with today's times," said a senior executive from Radio Mirchi, or Hot Chillies, of India's Bennet and Coleman newspaper group.

Radio Mirchi moved up its launch to April 29 to compete with its bitter rival RadioCity FM91, which is promoted by Ruport Murdoch's STAR media group in a grim battle to grab the ears of 14 million potential listeners. "We think Delhi will soon be listening to Radio Mirchi wherever they go," company managing director Vineet Jain was quoted by newspapers as saying.

India Today, a magazine publishing house, also kicked off its broadcasts April 29, promoting its "spunky" station RED with the help of veteran disc jockeys who hope to give rival stations a spin for their money in the Indian capital of tens of thousands of radio sets.

RadioCity FM91, in a massive publicity drive, distributed tens of thousands of bumper stickers, cajoling New Delhi's two million traditionally undisciplined motorists to tune in instead of blowing their horns. New Delhi airwaves now reverberate with foot-tapping music, online quiz programmes and interactive shows, offering listeners the chance, for the first time in more than a decade, to surf FM radio channels.

The airwaves battle has prompted state-run All India Radio (AIR) to rename its two New Delhi-based FM stations, but analysts say the national broadcaster lost the war before it even began. And the private ether mauradors promised more airshocks to over-awe New Delhi's "underfed" listeners.

"If these new television networks are showing more skin and anchors are getting younger, than we too can get a bit naughty. After all the listeners have been underfed," said a RED official, who did not want to be named.

RED also has plans to broadcast in Bombay and Calcutta.

RadioCity FM91 chief operating officer Sumantra Dutta said his station was ready to stand its ground in the battle for listeners.

STAR launched the first RadioCity station in India's software hub of Bangalore in July 2001. Encouraged by its overwhelming success, it floated a second station in the northern Indian city of Lucknow in December the same year. "We are very excited about New Delhi," Dutta said.

The media groups hope the burgeoning advertisement market in New Delhi will provide them with juicy profits. Eleven players jumped on the bandwagon in July 1999 when India opened its skies to FM signals, but only four remained serious players as stiff licence fees and a ban on news broadcasts throttled the foetal private radio industry.

Up for grabs is the current one percent slice of India's 80-billion rupee (1.66-billion dollar) annual ad-spending pie, which the stations hope would bloat up to five percent within two years. Private operators have to pay 55 percent of their operating cost in licence fees to the government, which the groups say is a protectionist measure to keep gasping AIR on the air.

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