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There is a talk about India having over 1000 private FM radio stations by 2008. The emphasis in the forthcoming phases, probably to be named Phase III and Phase IV, would be on giving licences for stations in cities even smaller than the likes of Aligarh, Gangtok, Rourkela, Tirunelveli and Dhule, the cities for which the licences were offered in Phase II.

Does this level of localisation make sense in the times of proliferation of such global phenomena as DTH, Satellite Radio (WorldSpace), IPTV, VOD and iTunes, which meet the entertainment and information needs of people from anywhere to everywhere? Surprisingly, yes.

People all over the world are getting more and more local, concerned and involved with the things around them. They need to know first about issues that affect them directly rather than anything that’s remote, national or international. The changing content of newspapers anywhere in the world is a reflection of that. A change in the admission policy of high schools in a city is likely to feature more prominently on the front pages of the local newspapers than would, say, the nuclear explosion by North Korea.

Radio works pretty much the same way in any city, any language, any community, anywhere in the world. India is going to be no exception.

So there are always reasons to check if syndicated programmes broadcast over a network of stations (no matter how big a celebrity presents them), programmes voicetracked from a remote location, programmes sponsored by a brand to be broadcast in all its markets have chance of becoming popular.

Almost as a rule, a live, local station would enjoy better ratings and thus higher profit, than a station broadcasting from an unknown location.

Government of India’s Ministry of Information & Broadcasting perhaps appreciates this and perhaps that’s the reason why it offers licences for each city separately, rather than a couple of national licences, and restricts the number of licences owned by a broadcaster nationally to 15% of all licences in the country. That’s also a way of the government to address local aspirations and to promote local governance and micro economic activity.

How can station owners make this phenomenon of localisation work for them?

Big River Radio, the consulting firm that advises top managements of radio stations in India, has developed a structure for strategic thinking on localising an individual station or a group of stations. Here, in brief, are some of the aspects covered by this structure.

Get Involved in the community the station serves
A sure formula for success for any radio station. This involvement can take the form of public service campaigns of local interest, organising events or being present at local events, or featuring discussions about issues that are of concern to all members of the community. Even if these activities are sponsored by another company, they create a sense of local involvement. The key is to reveal the station identity and merge it with community events. Not only does it promote the station itself, but it also binds the station to the city.

Make On-Air References to the Community
The most obvious place for local on-air references comes from weather and traffic reports, which undoubtedly include mentions of areas of local interest, local roads, etc. Many stations have a list of local suburbs and other local places in the studio for quick reference when doing a weather report, but often the weather report is the only place that they are incorporated. In order to sound truly local, the entire station must be integrated with the community. Using phone-ins is a great way to involve the community in the station, by putting on "Anitha from Anna Nagar" on the radio, or letting someone dedicate a song to her. That blends the local element unobtrusively with the station. Any station in a medium size or a small size market is likely to have great success during evening dedication hours and the like, by having students mention their school name.

Speak as a Member of the Community
In a country that speaks 18 official languages, 325 recognized languages and over 1200 dialects, one of the major pitfalls of any attempt to network programming is going to be that the presenters would not sound local and may in fact sound “foreign”. This provides a readymade opportunity for station owners. In many cases, radio would be the only medium in that linguistic system. For example, in the North East, there are some languages which do not have a written script and have survived purely because people in an area speak that language.

Speaking the language of the community also involves speaking what matters to people: about their favorite pastime, their religion, their festivals, their community leaders.

Celebrate the Listener
Let him or her, rather than a film star or a sports person or a national celebrity say, “I’m so-n-so and I love this station”. That’s your best testimonial. BBC World Service has done a remarkable job of having listeners from their target areas read top of the show IDs like, “I’m Ram Lakhan Yadav from Begu Sarai and you are listening to the Hindi Service on of the BBC” in local dialect making a SW (long distance) broadcast sound like coming from within Bihar.

Make a Syndicated Format sound Local
Ensure that the producer provides enough windows/slots for station liners, local announcements, and local commercials. In fact it would be advisable to set specifications for all your stations and make all concerned be aware of the need for it.

Be Locally Visible
Besides sounding local, it also pays to create a local look and feel by locating your studios and offices in an area that’s considered the heart of city. An upcoming, satellite location may give the station, the look and feel of an outsider.

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