With private FM channels switching from Kannada to Hindi one after the other, audio rights owners suspect the stations are forming a cartel to thwart the southern language
The Kannada film music industry is up in arms against Bangalore FM radio channels switching to Hindi. Red FM, owned by the Chennai-based Sun group, is the latest to move from Kannada to Hindi. Their change in programming came into effect earlier this month.
The Kannada audio industry is planning a big protest in the first week of November to counter private FM channels dropping Kannada from their shows.
The industry is puzzled. The channels aren’t telling them why they are switching to Hindi. ‘They haven’t written to us, nor have they had a word with us,’ says Velu of Lahari Recording Company, south India’s biggest audio label.
When Talk contacted the Bangalore offices of Red FM and Fever 104, they said they were not authorised to respond. RadioOne said it wouldn’t comment either.
Over the last four years, three FM channels that used to play Kannada music have switched completely to Hindi. The first to change was RadioOne in 2008. The station, then owned by Mid- Day Multimedia, began with Kannada and Hindi, and then switched to Hindi. Fever 104, which used to play only Kannada, changed its format to Hindi in July 2011. It now calls itself the ‘Baap of Bollywood’.
There was some talk that the Kannada labels were demanding higher royalties, but that is not borne out by what the Kannada music industry says.
Velu says, ‘The royalties a label here receives are meagre, and in the range of Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a month, whereas we should be receiving a minimum of Rs 1 lakh.’
A highly placed source at a private radio station said Kannada songs end up being more expensive than Hindi. But Velu counters that claim, saying the royalty is fixed by the regulatory authorities, and can’t be determined by audio rights owners.
The Karnataka Audio and Video Owners’ Association (KAVOA), headed by Velu, suspects the channels are forming a cartel so that they can thwart the Kannada music industry. ‘The bosses at the radio channels have no clue about Kannada language or culture,’ says Velu. ‘They just want to impose their prejudices on the city.’
Plans are afoot to protest the change of language. Musicians, audio label owners and representatives of the film industry are talking about how to take on the ‘cartel’. Many are suggesting they should take to the streets and protest.
Neglecting Kannada is against licence norms, and private channels could be hauled up on that score.
‘FM stations in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh play their regional music. Why can’t we?’ Velu says. ‘This negative attitude is affecting not just our business but also our language.’
If channels in Bangalore start playing Hindi, what will happen to the Kannada music industry? That’s a question bothering labels, the film music industry, RJs and listeners.
FM radio has a history of 11 years in Bangalore. The first private channel to come to Bangalore was Radio City, launched in July, 2001. It started out playing only English pop numbers.
All India Radio launched Vividh Bharti and FM Rainbow in the same year in September. Gyanvani was launched in January 2004, followed by Amrutavarshini, the only channel in India to play classical music.
Next to join the league was Radio Mirchi, launched in April 2006. RadioOne followed in August, Radio Indigo in September, Big FM in October and Red FM in November. The next year saw Fever 104 making its presence felt in the city.
In the past, radio channels have run into trouble when they tried to keep Kannada out of their programming. Vasanthi Hariprakash, radio host and TV reporter, experienced the ire six years ago. ‘I happened to be the anchor of a breakfast show on Radio City, and I remember people protesting against Hindi music. They came in on a Saturday when I was in fact hosting my weekend Kannada show Bengaluru Talkies,’ she said.
The KAVOA says it has approached the channels, but nothing has come of it.
Sanjay Prabhu, MD, Radio Indigo, denies that anyone has approached his channel regarding this issue. ‘There is no rule that says the local language needs to be promoted, instead it is the local content—like local talent and shows—that need to be promoted on radio.’
That will be seen as clever hair-splitting, but, says N Raghu, programme executive in charge of Amrutavarshini, private FM channels are promoting neither the local language nor local talent. ‘Rarely do we see local bands being promoted on these channels. They are promoting recorded content.’
That is because private FM stations are not equipped to record original music. They have neither the space nor the equipment to invite musicians over and produce a professional recording. The only channel with such infrastructure is All India Radio.
‘In order to promote local talent and content, these channels need to change their attitude,’ Raghu says.
Prabhu of Indigo, which plays English pop, says he is willing to hear out any request for alternative programming. ‘We will react when we are approached,’ he said.
FM channels say they play only Hindi or English music because of the ‘cosmopolitan nature’ of Bangalore, and young audiences prefer Hindi and English to Kannada. V H Suresh, former vice president and secretary of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC), isn’t convincedHe says, ‘FM channels are misusing the term ‘cosmopolitan’. They are taking unfair advantage of the culture and generosity of the people of Bangalore.’
But defining audiences narrowly has its problems. Vasanthi says, ‘In my own experience as RJ, whether at Radio City or AIR’s FM Rainbow prior to that, I have seen how traditional Kannadigas have a fine grasp of not just Hindi film music, but also ghazals, retro numbers and even Western music.’
not open to Kannada music. Their excuse: they do not understand the lyrics. Ashwin, a software engineer, says he listens to Kannada songs at his gym or at wayside restaurants, that is, only when he has no other option. ‘I appreciate the music but listening to it won’t be my first choice,’ he says.
FM Rainbow, run by All India Radio, caters to everyone’s tastes by playing Kannada, Hindi and English music. Rajeshwari, transmission executive, FM Rainbow, says, ‘Even though we are a central government-run channel, we give preference to Kannada. A majority of our content and hosting is in Kannada. At the same time, we devote three hours to Hindi and one hour to Western music every day.’
The Kannada film industry says it will suffer if radio channels play more Hindi than Kannada. ‘Since the Kannada film industry has a small market, the FM channels should encourage us and not ignore us,’ Suresh said.
When a channel changes the language of its programmes, RJ careers are directly affected. Some are given non-RJ jobs within the station, while others go looking for alternative jobs, mostly outside radio. A Kannada RJ at Fever 104 was jobless for a while when the channel switched to Hindi. He now works for a Kannada TV channel.
Melodee Austin, RJ, Radio Indigo, considers a scenario where her channel, now exclusively English, plays Kannada. ‘We may have to learn the language and Kannada music. Those really passionate about music and the medium will go to the extent of learning both, but how comfortable they will be is a question,’ she says.
Channels like Radio Mirchi and Big FM still play only Kannada music, and, if industry insiders are to be believed, are doing well commercially.
As for the others, Suresh says, ‘Even if they play 50 per cent Kannada and 50 per cent Hindi and English, I think the issue will be resolved.’