The language battle on Bengaluru’s airwaves

Who doesn’t love getting a chance to hear his/her own language, in a far-off place? Across the world today, niche radio markets have found a place, with some channels choosing to cater to non-native residents. Mauritius has Radio Plus Indiz that broadcasts in Hindi, Bhojpuri, Tamil and Telugu from 1 pm to 3 pm every day. Radio Punjab focusses on the South-Asian population in Canada. There are Italian and Spanish radio stations in the USA.

Citizen Matters, through this two-part series, tries to explore why Bangalore, though tagged as being ‘cosmopolitan,’ doesn’t have any space for the music of other south-Indian languages, despite having seven FM channels. Part I tried to feel the pulse of both radio channels and the Kannada film industry on the issue. Here’s Part II. 

-Editor’s introduction.

Bitti ticket. Sakkath hot magaa. Chill maadi. Bombaat – these terms are today a part of the everyday lingo of the average Bangalorean, thanks to the advent of private FM radio stations that have made speaking Kannada and its anglicized version ‘cool.’

Some FM channels have tried shifting to Hindi and English, but none of them play other languages. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

For a bustling metropolis that enjoys the tag of being cosmopolitan, ‘swalpa adjust maadi’ is not just a phrase to initiate the non-Kannadiga to learn the language, but has become a way of life here. Private FM radio stations in Bangalore have played a significant role in bringing Kannada content to listeners in the city, many of who may not understand the language.

While today listeners can choose from stations that play Kannada, Hindi and English music, there is a section that is demanding that radio stations stick to the local language, in order to promote it.

In October last year, the Karnataka Audio and Video Owners Association (KAVOA) made a public statement asking all non-Kannada radio stations to play only Kannada music. This effort was led by Kannada music producer Lahari Velu. The Association along with the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) organised a meeting in December 2012 at the KFCC office inviting these radio stations to participate. The meeting saw representatives from these stations in attendance wherein they were urged to promote local content and play Kannada music.

‘Policy on Expansion of FM Radio Broadcasting Services through Private Agencies (Phase-II)’ issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in September 2008, says, "…As in the Phase-I policy, the objectives of Phase-II shall be to attract private agencies… that provide programme with local content and relevance… encouraging participation by local talent and generating employment…"

Managing Director of English music-playing Radio Indigo, Sanjay Prabhu says that they attended the meeting and informed the organisers that they cater to the market that wants to listen to English music. “We told them we have Kannada television channels in the city,” referring to the Suvarna group of channels.

Programming Manager and Presenter at Radio One (which plays Hindi music) Rakesh Kumar says that at the meeting they were asked to promote regional content on-air. “We said we will inform our management. If it is about promoting regional content we do that anyway. We have our RJs speaking in Kannada,” he says.

Velu says the radio station representatives said they would pass on the information to their higher-ups but that nothing happened after that. “Why is prominence not given to Kannada? If these radio stations want to come here and make money but do not want to play Kannada music, that isn’t fair, is it?”, Velu asks.

The contention of music producers like Velu is that while they invest a lot of money in the music industry, the non-Kannada radio stations do not broadcast them, which therefore results in a loss to the industry that would otherwise accrue in the form of royalties.

PIL against non-Kannada radio stations

One individual has even taken the matter to court in the form of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). In February this year, lyricist Golahalli Shivaprasad filed a PIL in the Karnataka High Court, against the non-Kannada radio stations in Bangalore (Radio Indigo 91.9, Red FM 93.5, Radio One 94.3 and Fever 104). The other parties named in the PIL include the Government of India, Department of Telecommunications, and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Shivaprasad’s counsel H S Vivekananda says that the premise of the PIL is that local content is not being played on these radio channels, which is against the guidelines issued by the central government in the Phase 2 auctioning of licenses.

The ‘Policy on Expansion of FM Radio Broadcasting Services through Private Agencies (Phase-II)’ issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in September 2008, says, “…As in the Phase-I policy, the objectives of Phase-II shall be to attract private agencies to supplement and complement the efforts of All India Radio by operationalizing radio stations that provide programme with local content and relevance…encouraging participation by local talent and generating employment…

Former Karnataka Advocate General B V Acharya says guidelines are not meant to be strictly followed as in the case of laws. "You cannot put a condition that offends either the citizen’s or licensee’s fundamental right", he says.

Vivekananda says the objective of this is to promote local content and provide job opportunities. “All these channels were given a license on the basis of a sworn affidavit that they will follow these guidelines,” he claims.

He says the PIL also talks about the failure of the enforcement mechanism in implementing these guidelines. “When local music is not being played, then there is a loss for the manufacturers because they don’t get royalty.”

The court ordered a notice to be issued to all parties to respond within four weeks. The case will resume once the court opens after summer vacation.

Radio has come a long way, and has enabled listeners to get more community-based, localised content.

Bangalore’s unique radio music history

What also makes this entire issue more interesting is that when the first private FM radio station in the country, Radio City, was set up in Bangalore way back in 2001, it was entirely in English. There was no Kannada music at all. Former employees say there were several people who wrote to them asking why they didn’t play Kannada music.

Even when Radio Mirchi was launched in 2006, it wasn’t playing Kannada music.

These radio stations were even petitioned for not catering to the Kannada-speaking people in Bangalore. “The intention of these channels is to expand and establish market for Hindi films and Hindi music in Bangalore. Hence there is a deliberate attempt to deny entertainment in Kannada and diminish the market for Kannada film and music industry,” the petition says. It goes on to say that this “goes against the federal structure of Indian Union and denies Kannadigas the right to protect their language and culture in their native.” The petition, which received 4369 signatures, concluded by demanding that all the FM channels operating in the city should “provide entertainment and information…in the language of the land, Kannada”. At the time this article went into publication, it was not clear who started this petition.

Former employees of Radio City say there were several instances of people protesting against them for not playing Kannada music. Language enthusiast and software professional Vasant Shetty, also an avid radio listener, says he sent in messages to Radio City asking why they don’t play Kannada music. “They replied saying they weren’t language-based and that they cater to the young Bangalore,” says Shetty.

Citizen Matters was unable to get a response from Radio City and Radio Mirchi.

In 2006, a petition was filed against Radio City and Radio Mirchi for not playing Kannada music. It said, "…there is a deliberate attempt to deny entertainment in Kannada and diminish the market for Kannada film and music industry."

The Mungaru Male-effect?

When Radio One launched in August 2006, they did play Kannada music alongside Hindi.

But it was in October 2006, when Big FM launched with 100 per cent Kannada programming, that things changed.

It was also in that year that the Ganesh and Pooja Gandhi-starrer Mungaru Male was released, with its music becoming a massive hit, not just among Kannadigas but also among non-Kannadigas. The film’s music was played extensively on radio stations. It was a turning point for the Kannada film and music industry.

Radio Mirchi eventually converted to Kannada, followed by Radio City. Even Red FM, which launched in November 2006, played Kannada music.

The Mungaru Male-effect was clearly visible. The market for Kannada music was now wide open.

Of the seven private FM radio stations in Bangalore, all were playing Kannada music except for Radio Indigo that played English music right from its launch in September 2006.

It was Radio One in 2008 that made the significant move to play only Hindi songs. “When everyone changed to Kannada, we changed to Hindi because we wanted to be different and we wanted to offer a choice to the listener”, says Kumar.

This was followed by Fever 104 FM changing to Hindi and in November last year Red FM too joined the Bollywood bandwagon. The reason for this, stations claim, was because of the city’s growing preference to listen to Hindi music.

The language of music

Prabhu of Radio Indigo feels that it is probably the angst against the stations that switched from Kannada to Hindi that today has the Kannada music industry up in arms. “It’s a loss of revenue for them”, he admits.

It’s also one of the reasons why the PIL was filed. Shivaprasad’s counsel Vivekananda says that one of their contentions is that the stations adhered to the policy of promoting local content only for about six to eight months but then switched languages.

Prabhu says there is no law that says radio stations have to play in the local language. “If they are using that argument, then how do we have English publications in Bangalore publishing local content?” he asks.

Former advocate general of Karnataka B V Acharya says while there is nothing wrong in issuing guidelines, they are not laws and are therefore not meant to be strictly followed. He also says that no one can impose that only a certain language of music should be played on radio stations. “You cannot put a condition that offends either the citizen’s or licensee’s fundamental right,” he explains.

Ask him about the very nature of how guidelines such as these are formulated and Acharya says they need to be specific, carefully worded, and not vague.

Will Kannada lose out?

However, the argument of playing Kannada music on radio stations is supported by many.

Music composer and singer Raghupathy Dixit says, “Coming from a Kannada-speaking perspective, and seeing the language being marginalised in a certain parts of the city, I can understand the requirement to speak the language of the land on radio, and I support that”.

Lahari Velu says that he does not understand why the non-Kannada radio stations refrain from playing the music despite the presence of a market for it. “I understand if there is no market or no content, but that’s not the case,” he says.

Filmmaker and member of the Karnataka Television Workers’ Association B Suresh, who has been very vocal with regard to the ban on dubbing in Karnataka, says that in a city like Bangalore, the space for Kannada to grow and sustain itself is small. “This language is not likely to be sustained outside Karnataka. There are Kannada-speaking people in Chennai and Hyderabad. But they can’t have a Kannada radio station there”, he explains, saying Bangalore (and Karnataka) is probably the only market for Kannada music.

Even as all of these arguments are made, the matter now rests with the court. Till then radio listeners can enjoy what’s on offer on Bangalore’s airwaves. Radio anchor and television journalist Vasanthi Hariprakash probably sums it up best. "Bangalore is such a unique city, unlike Chennai and Delhi where it is unthinkable to play other music. We Bangaloreans have a reputation of knowing our music and language doesn’t matter; let’s keep that alive!"⊕

About Vaishnavi Vittal 139 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

8 Comments

  1. The real problem is with the immigrats attitude towards Kannada which is making the situation like this. People who are staying since 4-5 years in Bangalore also don’t want to learn basic Kannada also. With this demanding attitude, they expect people such as bus conductor, auto drivers and shop keepers to speak thier language. All this is finally affecting the existence of Kannada in Bangalore. Compared to other cities like Chennai and Hyderabad, Bangalore is still the best place for Immigrants which is good thing.

  2. I am surprised that these channels play any music at all, forget Kannada or other languages. Every time I tune in I can only hear property, jewellery or apparel store ads!

    But on a more serious note, maybe the issue is with the huge cost of the licensing fees? Most countries as you have mentioned can manage with multiple channels mainly because the licensing costs are more affordable and won’t leave you gasping for advertising. Its also a bit sad that there are only 7 channels overall! When was the last time a channel was added? Time to ease some norms and rates so that more can come up? Surely, apart from film music there’s a market, niche at least, for others? It can also help reduce the huge dependency on advertising and actually let these channels play more music than ads!

  3. This article gives example of Mauritius, Canada, USA but none from INDIA.
    If Immigrants wants to listen to their native langauge.we will respect it, but before that, they should answer a question whether kannadigas in their land have access to kannada music.

    this cannot be one way. you cannot always have karnataka people compromise for everything.

    though there is quality in kannada content it is not getting its due share of market.
    Others are eating into its limited market share.

  4. No Immigrants are integrating into local. Most of the immigrants want to speak talk and communicate in their own language. They want even the locals to learn their language and talk to them. No other place in India or world this happens. This is Karnataka.
    Atleast now Kannadigas have to stand up to the land and language and our rich heritage and culture.
    even if you have a broken telugu/ tamil/malayalam no one in andra, tamil nadu, kerala ever turns towards you. They expect you to speak in their language. Then why Bias for Kannada in Karnataka
    Kannada Kali Ganchali bidi !!

    Jai karnataka Mathe !!

  5. I don’t feel there is anything wrong in playing other language stations in Bangalore, but looking at the way immigrants are integrating into local culture this argument needs to be thought.

    There is almost no policies/programs from the government to integrate immigrants into local population. The self will of immigrants to integrate with locals doesn’t seem to be so good either. This promoted the pro-kannada movements like KRV etc. It is fundamental right of every immigrant to integrate with locals, and government should do what all necessary.

    If that would have been the case this discussion/article wouldn’t have been here.

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