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Big FM Srinagar seeks licence fee waiver, sops to keep afloat
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New Delhi: Ramesh Kumar (name changed) and his friends are doing what perhaps no other media firm employee will do while operating out of the troubled capital city of Srinagar in J&K. Kumar’s job is to keep alive the lone private FM radio station in Srinagar—92.7 Big FM—a part of the 45-station network of Reliance Broadcast Network (RBNL) and oblige private FM licensing conditions that require stations to be up and running 24-hours, 365 days a year. The job also involves providing entertainment to the masses that virtually have no access to electronic media for the past couple of months owing to long power-cuts, bandhs and curfew.

For the past two months, shops, educational institutions, banks, post offices, public and private transport and other civic amenities have largely remained shut in Srinagar because of the continuous civil unrest leading to frequent curfews. However, the handful of Big FM employees in Srinagar are keeping the stations open by running back-to-back music using power generators, at a time when most cable television channels are off air.

Five days back, the J&K government launched a crackdown on local cable operators and barred them from airing news channels in order to restrict the flow of inflammatory information and restore peace and order in the state. However, the situation is getting out of hand for Big FM in Srinagar. Struggling to keep financially afloat amidst the tension in the city, Big FM has called for urgent financial support and backing from the government, since local advertisers have shut shops and don’t wish to advertise. National marketers who have held back their spending stare at the same fate, as there is are no audiences to woo.

According to senior RBNL executives, the Srinagar station is facing difficult times. “With over 30% of our expenses going into music royalty and another 15% into licence fee and other expenses, the Srinagar station is today, virtually running in losses,” a senior RBNL executive said. The company wants a waiver on license fees at the earliest. “Srinagar has been seeing turmoil for a long time but in keeping with our endeavor of providing entertainment that positively impacts the lives of listeners, we have the station up and running no matter what the situation is...we seek government support and intervention at a time when sustainability is becoming increasingly difficult,” Soumen G Choudhury, head, business, 92.7 Big FM told FE.

According to RBNL, a large chunk of its revenue comes from government advertisements. The country’s largest private FM operator, RBNL, recorded a revenue of Rs 180 crore for 2009-10, with 92% of the revenue coming in from the FM business. RBNL also saw a 70% inventory utilisation in the smaller towns like Srinagar in the last fiscal. However, in the second quarter of the current fiscal, keeping the operations in Srinagar alive is becoming very difficult, the company therefore wants immediate government intervention. Sources said top RBNL executives are already in touch with the information and broadcasting ministry over their Srinagar operations and are likely to meet I&B minister Ambika Soni soon.

Source: The Financial Express

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