| 29 Nov 2023
IRF -2013: Listen to how the world sounds..... Wrap up....

Tarachand Wanvari, South India Head, Indian Television Dot Com Pvt Ltd Group of Publications/

My last year’s summation or ‘wrap up’ as my good friend and IRF co-founder Darryl von Däniken calls it, highlighted the importance of people behind the scenes – the presenters and the producers of any radio station as well spoke of India, its numbers and its emergence as a FM radio station powerhouse in a world that is looking at bandwidth efficient radio deliverers such as internet radio, DAB, DRM, etc.,

“Zurich....... the very name brings to mind beauty….beautiful place, beautiful people. And suddenly that word ‘Beauty’ becomes a cliché. Everything in Zurich is beautiful and this fact has been endorsed by all my co-participants at the International Radio Festival…” This was how I started last year…I intend to be more direct this year...

When compared to last year, IRF 2013 threw pleasant surprises. Lunch and evening networking aperitifs’ at the IRF 2013 venue -the iconic Schloss Sihlberg, were a welcome addition that brought in participants closer and helped save a lot of time. Last year, I remember rushing to my hotel for my bit of victuals at lunchtime and then rushing back pronto to Schloss Sihlberg for the post lunch sessions. The evening networking aperitifs’ enabled exchange of notes, to understand how radio works in other areas of the world and a lot more. My kudos to Darryl, his partner and the other IRF co-founder Miguel Alvarez and the IRF team for bringing in that thoughtful innovation.

When I heard Normski last year, I felt that the man was irreplaceable as a mainstay jock at the IRF. He along with the very pretty and Irish Gabby Sanderson formed a great team as the mainstay IRF jocks last year. Guess what? The Irish lass was the mainstay jock this year too, and she and the other mainstay jock Nik von Frankenberg made an equally great combo. And the icing on the cake for me was listening to Normski perform his show too at IRF 2013! and with the magic voice of Robert Kraft, our own faceless Indian Jeeturaaj and so many other specialists who had won their ticket to IRF 2013 as the best jocks from their respective countries - my palette and my appetite was at least temporarily satisfied over the four days they performed. And yes there was a Chinese pair on this year at the IRF…..

The four day IRF 2013, had interesting day themes for the three B2B days – with the first day on Swiss Radio Forum in German; Social Media Saved the Radio Star on day two and New Breed Broadcasting on day three in English. Each B2B day had six interesting sessions with experts from the radio and music fraternity chipping in with their thoughts, ideas, sharing experiences and generally enriching the knowledge bank of listeners and participants.

One of the sessions that enlightened and appalled me was the one in which I along with a couple of radio professionals had to speak of radio broadcasters constraints, such as having to play a certain quota of national music, of government mandates about the kind of music that must be compulsorily played on each private FM music station in their countries. My co-panelists were a Frenchman and a very beautiful Lebanese diva who co-hosted a show on a radio station in Abu Dhabi.

This was too horrible I said.. I mean, how can politics and politicians tell someone how to run a business, dictate what it can do and not do? Do politicians have the right to interfere in a playlist just for the additional votes? -Or to save a dying music, or worse to have a band that couldn’t keep up with international offerings survive just because it originated in that nation? Protectionism can go only so far...

What happens to freedom of expression, to freedom of speech, to so many individual and collective rights that a such a government mandate treads and transgresses so very carelessly and crassly upon?One can understand a monarchy such as Abu Dhabi insist two out of every three songs being Arabic on a government owned and run radio station, but the reason for 'enlightened and supposedly far more progressive nations' of the world including Europe doing that is unfathomable.

Over eons since humans first created music, many cultures, art, languages have vanished as intelligent humans invented machines to work for them, to make things easier for them, to entertain, to sate the mind.

Overall, a radio system is a machine that enables a large number of people enjoy a sequence of sounds that are created by humans (vocal) and humans operating contraptions (instruments) or in today’s technologically advancing times, sounds created by microchips that are created and designed by humans to perform that role. That is one of the primary roles of radio or television from the music context- to entertain, to educate and the keep the mind occupied.

Can a government of a free nation force a free mind to like a particular sound or set of sounds? Is that mind that has stuff forced into it really free? When European countries took the lead and formed the European Union to eradicate geographical boundaries, that was great, why are some European and the other countries binding their citizens with mandates about the kind of music their favourite music radio stations must play?

Why not let the ordinary music loving human determine what kind of music he, she or it wants to hear? Why not let market forces determine popularity and choice? If something is not popular, I mean (well, horror of horrors to some puritans) even a language, let it’s use die out if it has to. We have sufficient technology today to be able to store and preserve enough information for the odd scholar or ten over time to research that particular dead piece of human innovation. It can always be on a database waiting for someone who wants to know about it.

Now, look at it from purely a business point of view.. If a French private music radio station is forced to include 35 per cent French songs into its playlist, well, does the government of France have some form of subsidy for forcing the radio business to play what it wants? Does it have a mechanism by which it pays maybe half of the revenues of the station so as to make good the loss that that business suffers because of the French government’s mandate?

Also, considering the small populations, which are on the decline in Europe, and large number of stations, including global internet radio stations fighting for the same business pie, in any case, a conventional radio business has very limited options for turning profits the way other businesses do in these nations.

I personally think that a government that charges license fees has no right to determine and interfere with the content that a radio station plays. As a part of its duties, the government can monitor content that is being aired, but government interference can be permissible only if something that is aired is seditious or infringes upon the rights of others, or is harmful.The government can, in special cases use the medium for public announcements for public benefit, provided it pays for using the services.

Let the government do what it is meant to-govern, and let a businesses do what they are supposed to.. earn profits... I am sure a celebrated but dead writer from the old world who moved to the new world to escape repression – Ayn Rand, would agree completely with me on this..The BUSINESS world, quite contrary to Columbus’s discovery and Galileo Galilei, and in line with Thomas Friedman, is flat and getting flatter as technology connects and makes life easier for all residents of Gaia.

In India, fortunately, we don’t have such restrictions in place and a station could change the language or the genre of music that it plays. However, radio stations in India can’t do news. The powers that be are considering allowing radio stations to air government feed from its own radio station for a few minutes each hour, but how fair is that? We have so many private television news channels in India, why not allow private radio news stations.. The only reason that comes to mind is the tremendous reach that private radio stations will have once many more licenses for many more places are tendered and the very very local nature of the most consumed medium in the world may make monitoring a challenge.

Fortunately also, the home country of IRF 2013, Switzerland, doesn’t have restrictions on radio content, or I was so informed. I wish European nations take the lead in doing away with such archaic mandates..

Now to the surprises -another pleasant surprise was a three day complimentary mini-tour organised for radio professionals by IRF 2013 partner - Swiss Tourism. So I packed up and travelled by train with a 4 day complimentary Swiss Pass to a really nice Alpine village - Riederalp by name along with a witty and intelligent American lass, three Brazilians, two Danes and two very pretty and clever Lebanese - (my fellow co-panellist from Abu Dhabi and her personal public relations assistant) and of course our Swiss guide.

That all of us enjoyed the hospitality at the Alpenrose Hotel there; the seven hour trek to and from the Aletsch Glacier along with a local professional mountaineer as a guide; the Alpine wine; the food would be an understatement and stating the obvious. Later on our return to Zurich, Swiss Tourism went one step further by wining and dining us at one of the best restaurants in the city with each of our individual food tastes being catered to professionally and efficiently, as shall we say a Swiss watch?

Swiss Tourism organised another tour for another set of radio professionals to another part of their country and I am sure that those participants also enjoyed Switzerland and Swiss hospitality as much as we did.

In conclusion, taking off again from last year’s wrap up, has the statusco changed any since IRF 2012 in India? Sadly no... the government periodically continues making noises about completing the tendering process for 839 new private FM radio stations that will expand radio services to 294 cities (Phase III), but the bureaucratic logjam seems to continue and with no definite action taken in that direction. Phase III of radio licensing will enrich the Indian government’s coffers by about Rs.1500 crores by way of licensing fees. Phases I and II had raked in Rs.1733 crores until May 31, 2011 from various fees.

Just a little after I filed this report, we've received news that the auctions for Phase III radio licences are happening in October this year. Lets’ hope that there is good news on this front when IRF 2014 happens…..