Why Tamil/Telugu music has no space in city FM?

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Who doesn’t love getting a chance to hear his/her own language, in a far-off place? Across the world today, niche radio market has found its own place, some of the channels choosing to serve 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 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’ and having seven FM channels, doesn’t have any space for the music of other south-Indian languages. Here’s Part I.

Be it Sudeep-starrer Bachchan’s Mysoorparkalli, the latest Bollywood item number, or even Lady Gaga, radios in Bengaluru blare out music in Kannada, Hindi and English. According to an industry estimate, about 50 lakh listeners tune into the radio every single day in the city, whether at home, in a BMTC bus or in cafes or restaurants.

Bangalore has seven private FM radio stations, three of which play Kannada music, three play Hindi and one English. Despite a fair population of people who speak other south Indian languages like Tamil and Telugu, the private FM stations here do not play music in these languages. However, the national broadcaster All India Radio’s FM Rainbow plays Tamil and Telugu music apart from Kannada, Hindi and English.

Some say that it is a minority who listen to Tamil and Telugu music in Bangalore, who can anyways access these songs via other means like the Internet. Yet others say that the radio industry is still in its infancy in Bangalore (and India) and therefore has its limitations. Radio stations also argue that Tamil/Telugu music will not attract potential advertisers. This, despite the fact that Tamil and Telugu movies are screened in the city’s theatres and do well.

Out of seven FM stations, none play non-Kannada southern languages. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

Geoffrey Thomas, former national programming director of Radio Indigo, says radio is primarily meant to be in the local language and is unsure if anyone would risk doing it in Tamil or Telugu. “Everyone wants to make money and that’s the bottomline, especially when licensing costs are high,” he says.

Former Radio Jockey (RJ) Pallavi Somaiah echoes this view when she says that it would be foolishness from a business point-of-view if a station plays Tamil or Telugu in Bangalore. “If you do it, it will be about doing it from your heart, not business-wise.”

Pallavi, who has worked with Red FM, Fever and Radio One, adds that other languages will not work in the city simply because it wouldn’t cater to the mass. “Radio is passive. People will quickly turn it off or change the station if they don’t like something,” she feels.

Programming Manager and Presenter at Radio One, Rakesh Kumar says no station will think of playing Tamil and Telugu music in Bangalore. “People are investing so much money, they will want to make money too. Why experiment? Why shoot in the dark?” he questions.

Tryst with Tamil, Telugu music

But it isn’t like no radio station has played music in these languages. In 2006, radio anchor and television journalist Vasanthi Hariprakash, then with Radio City as its breakfast show host, did a show commemorating music composer A R Rahman’s birthday.

Vasanthi Hariprakash, Radio anchor and TV journalist Pic: vasanthihariprakash.com

"With the usual Hindi stuff, we played the best of his Tamil and Telugu hits live back-to-back, along with extracts of his interview. Way back, it was huge – deluge of responses on the radio station sms and phone lines, people went berserk.” Vasanti isn’t sure if Tamil and Telugu were mentioned when the show was promoted in the run-up to its broadcast, but she does remember people calling her after the show suggesting she start a midnight Tamil music programme.

While that show in 2006 is probably the first time that the city got a taste of Tamil and Telugu music being played on a popular private FM radio station, attempts thereafter haven’t been so successful.

A former employee of the Sun Network-owned Red FM says that in 2008 when the station played Tamil and Telugu songs on one night, stones were pelted at the office the next day. “We did not get a friendly response. We got threatening calls”, says the former employee.

A similar incident is said to have happened with Big FM when they played Tamil and Telugu songs but eventually stopped after pressure from the Kannada film industry.

Citizen Matters was unable to officially confirm these incidents with Red FM and Big FM. 

Language police and politics

So while the common argument for the absence of Tamil or Telugu music on Bangalore’s private FM radio, is that of business, there is also the factor of politics and culture.

A popular RJ, on the condition of anonymity, says that about a year ago there were internal discussions at one or two radio stations about putting together a ‘Southern Spice’ concept which would be a weekend show of Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam music. “The local film industry objected to this saying they won’t give rights to their music, if this is done,” says the RJ, adding that there is pressure politically and from local activist groups like the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV).

While this RJ feels that the concept will get a lot of listenership, he is unsure of whether it will be financially viable, as "high listenership does not mean high revenue in radio."

Take the case of a radio station such as Red FM run by the Tamil Nadu-headquartered Sun Network. The station plays Hindi music in Bangalore while its stations in Mangalore, Mysore and Gulbarga play Kannada music. Red FM Kerala plays Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi music. For a station that has access to Tamil music, it is interesting that it isn’t played in the city. (The Sun Network also happens to run the ‘Udaya’ chain of Kannada channels in Karnataka.)

Filmmaker and convenor of the Karnataka Television Workers Association B Suresh says that if a radio station like Red FM decides to play Tamil music, it won’t be a market-driven decision. “It’ll be because they have that investment already, they have the music, they will only be trying to push the material they have.” Suresh feels other south Indian languages will not work in Bangalore because the majority population is Kannada-speaking.

And then there is also the argument that when Kannada music is not played in Chennai, why play Tamil music here. Similarly with Andhra Pradesh. Senior Kannada Journalist S C Dinesh Kumar cites this reasoning and says since states in India have been formed on the basis of language, each state should stick to that.

Music composer and member of the Congress party Milind Dharmasena says the issue is completely political, attributing it to the border and Cauvery issue.

Journalist and theatre personality Prakash Belawadi says that if one decides to start playing Tamil and Telugu music, it will have to be a pro-bono effort. “Who will advertise on it?” he asks, explaining that FM radio is local. “You are targeting the cab driver or the bus conductor who is most likely to be local.” Belawadi also feels that it would not be practical to do radio in Tamil or Telugu in a city like Bangalore. “If you are talking about traffic in a certain part of Bangalore, it won’t have the same effect as it does in the local language. Beyond film songs it will become difficult.”

Kannada film director and actor Pawan Kumar feels that while the option of being able to listen to other languages should be available, listening to the radio in the local language helps you connect to the city. On a recent trip to Chennai, Kumar says he was listening to the radio in a cab and quite enjoyed it despite not understanding Tamil. “I think radio is an opportunity to teach someone the local language, so Kannada would be good.”

Is there a niché radio market in Bangalore?

In November 2011, when the song ‘Why this Kolaveri di’ from the Tamil film ‘3’ was released, it became an instant hit. While the lyrics of the song are almost entirely in English, it still holds the record for the only song from a Tamil feature film to be played across radio stations in Bangalore. It may appear unlikely that Tamil (or Telugu) music will be broadcast on the city’s private FM stations anytime soon, but there are voices that say the option should be available or an alternative solution needs to be looked at.

Radio listener Sudha Gaurishankar, 26, says there should be channels for other languages catering to those who have moved to the city from other states. If other regional languages aren’t allowed here, why is Hindi allowed, she asks.

Another radio listener John Thomas, who is also a senior journalist, feels radio should allow a fair mix of languages and set time slots for each, which will result in a wider listener base. “The way to pull in listeners and retain them is by actively encouraging listeners’ choice in whatever language it is.”

Dharmasena, who has composed music for Kannada films like Gowriputhra, suggests that the south Indian film industry should come together and reach an agreement wherein all the stations in the south have a weekend show playing a mix of music from all south Indian languages.

Geoffrey Thomas says a possible way of bringing in other languages is after Phase 3 of radio license auctioning wherein there may be an option for one station to have more than one license. Belawadi also suggests something similar. “When the bandwidths are opened up, maybe you can get a place for niche operators, like Classical Carnatic music on one, Ilaiyaraja on another… In my opinion, niche content works when there is a quality market”, says Belawadi. Unlike in the West, where more number of licenses have been given allowing more kinds of radio stations to emerge, the radio market in India is still nascent.

Vasanthi feels there is a huge market in Bangalore for Tamil and Telugu. “…and I don’t mean only native speakers of these languages – even Kannadigas appreciate music from all over the South, besides of course Hindi,” she says.

The fate of Kannada music

The bigger fear however seems to be that if other languages are given prominence, Kannada music may end up being the loser. Vasanthi says, “There is a lot of good Kannada music. But let’s face it – if Tamil music is given air time, Kannada music may lose out.”

Singer, songwriter and music composer Raghupathy Dixit says the Tamil and Telugu film industries are bigger than the Kannada industry. “They will pump in a lot of money. So yes, Kannada music labels may complain because radio is one of the best ways to promote music.”

However, it’s not just about Tamil or Telugu music versus Kannada. It’s not like Hindi and English music have a free ride here. There is a section in Bangalore today that is protesting against radio stations that play Hindi and English music and not Kannada music. It has also led to the filing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Karnataka High Court. The Karnataka Audio and Video Owners Association has publicly requested all radio stations in Bangalore to promote Kannada and play Kannada music.

In Part II of this series, Citizen Matters will explore the reasons for the protests against non-Kannada content on radio, the angst of a certain section in the Kannada film industry, the history of private FM radio in Bangalore and what FM guidelines say about the language of content.

Updated:30 May 2013

About Vaishnavi Vittal 140 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

25 Comments

  1. My sincere appreciation for the post.

    The Indian Govt should start FM channels in all languages in all cities.
    Instead the govt is focusing only on Hindi.
    Every one living in India should be able to listen/ watch programmes/ music in their own language.

    We the south indians should fight for this cause. But we will never come together.
    We call our languages are sisters but we will not support our sisters.
    We need to change our attitude.

    We should fight for equality for all languages. We will learn Hindi and English but will never learn our sister languages.

    A North Indian from Hindi state can study his language in any part of India, whereas the others have to learn his language only in his state.

    The govt preaches us to leave and forget your mother tongue for the daily bread.

    Is it not a crime on the part of Indian Govt and we are fighting amongst ourselves for which language music to be played in our cities.

    Now tell me who to blame. Is it the govt of India or ourselves.

    It is time to wake up.

  2. Karnataka people stand high since they have warm attitude unlike any states in India. despite that it failed to regain the language and culture of it’s own. Karnataka people shameless welcomes Malayalam, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil to state than teaching kids Kannada language in schools and collages.
    Visit and speak in Kannada in Chennai Andhra Bengal. They give blank look.
    If we look at Hyderabad or Chennai. there are IT companies too but people never let down the language. They have integrity
    So what if bangalore is surrounded by all ethnic groups. state should bring up the kannada langauge in all sector. I have not seen in chennai, kerala and hyderabad cities providing kannada movies or songs in tv, radio or anywhere.

  3. No Tamil/Telugu channels in Bangalore and karnataka……. let them listen to kannada songs and learn our language. There are Lakhs of kannada people in Mumbai, Hyderabad and chennai……. that doesn’t mean that kannada music has to be played in these cities…

  4. A very good article!!!I guess music has no language!Honestly speaking the common man is least bothered about which language the song is in and controversies(atleast most of them) are politically motivated.

  5. Why are your worying so much about tamil/telugu/malyalam songs. Get the songs download from the website to your mobile and enjoy.. 😉

  6. I am a Telugu living in Bangalore, but honestly I don’t see the need for Telugu/Tamil/Malayalam radio here. One can just download the Telugu/Tamil/Malayalam songs from the internet and store them in their pen drive and can play it while driving or using the computer. In Andhra Pradesh, nobody plays other language music other than Telugu. Even in Tirupati which is my native, there are many Tamilians, but there is no Tamil radio station there exclusively for them. I am not a big fan of Kannada music and movies to be frank, but I speak Kannada fluently and find Kannadigas to be really friendly and accommodative of other people and cultures. Let us respect the sentiments of the majority Kannada and play Kannada music and not Tamil/Telugu/Malayalam music on the radio. Hindi and English can be played along with Kannada because they are the national languages, but not Tamil/Telugu/Malayalam.

  7. @Mayura, kannadigara anisikegalu yeshte keraliddaroo saha, dayavittu ketta padagalannu upayOgisabEdi. indina suddi prakaara, Ramya avarannu Loka sabhaa chunaavanege aayke maadiddare. Kannadigaru gutless alla, karunaadannu aaluttiruva raajakeeya vyaktigalu aa taraha nadeyuttiddare. 2004 ralli ondu sameekshe nadesiddevu namma bengaluruinalli, railu, raste mattu vimaanagala moolaka prati dina sumaaru 500 kkoo hechchu mandi gantu moote kattikondu nelesalu baruttiruvudu gamanakke bantu. aagalE ondalla ondu reetiya dange yeddiddare, indina bengaluru yaarado bengaluru aaguttiralilla. namma namra swabhaavavE namage kuttagiruvudu ondu dodda duranta. ee postannu Engannadadalli barediddEne – yellaroo heege baredare, kannada baralla annuvavaru kannada barutte annuva haage maadabahudu.

  8. On a SEPARATE note::
    When it comes to movies, there is not much difference between Kannada and other non-Kannada but Indian. Meaning they are almost crap compared to Hollywood in almost every respect. So, don’t say Kannada movies are below-par. Kannada music is definitely far superior compared to all Indian languages. They just don’t know how to market it. Just listen to “Pyarge Aagbittythe” song. It is million times superior to recent non-Kannada hit. Again, it all boils down to Kannadigas being the worst when it comes to loving their mother tongue.

  9. @Mahadeva Swamy Chandra avare, dayavittu cool aagiri. Naanu ee barahavannu namma accha kannadadalli bareyuttiddene, yekendare, illiyavaregoo namma mitrarellaroo uncle tongue englishinalli tamma anisikegalannu bareyuttiddaare. innu mEle taavoo saha achcha kannadadalli ee taraha bareyiri. idannu Odiyaadaroo kannadavannu ee janaru kalitukollali.

  10. I am a Kannadiga and I dont speak anything but for Kannada, and good English. I don’t care about Hindi, the less said about tamil or telugu. And i am born, bought up in Bengaluru.
    There are so many points to ponder here:
    > non-Kannadigas, living in Bengaluru don’t ever try to learn Kannada. they insist on speaking in their language even with a Kannadiga, which is not only disrespectful, but also outrageously arrogant. All this coz, we localites have a demure personality.
    > Radio is the only available medium to catch up with some local Kannada songs with no mixture. As such every other medium is just too mixed up. So, why sneak into Radio as well?
    > People like Vasanathi, whose opinions are widely published here, am sure is a tamilan living here, trying her best to disregard, put down every thing that stand for Kannada. There are lots of gratitude-less morons like her living in our city. I mean how dare she says, tamil/telugu music if played will overtake the Kannada airtime?? atleast i for one don’t listen to the rip-offf, stolen music of ar rehman simply because I have access to great, genuine western music, and our own Carnatic.
    > and defintely stand by the argument, when Kannada music are not played in a chennai or hyderabad, why give them an un-deserved respect for such people in Bengaluru? There are lots of Kannadigas living in chennai, and also quite a lot living in AP (if not Hyderabad per se).
    > non-Kannadigas in Bengaluru, either learn our lingo, or you can go back to the places you came from. Don’t try to play your BS on our channels!!

  11. Request to Webmaster, Citizen Matters.in – Please close this post once and for all. Namma Bengaluru should be Namma Bengaluru for everybody who has made it their place of survival; it is better if all those who do not know the local language adapt themselves with the native language, its culture, tradition and practices. Even if those rank outsiders who are using local resources, fabulous salaries, comfy living, pubs, discotheque, namma metro, duplex apartments on Karnataka soil, do not want to respect and learn Kannada, it unabashedly shows their background, upbringing and culture etc.. But they should not create bad blood by demanding creation of their traditions, culture etc, in Bengaluru. Better learn to give respect and take respect and live like a Roman while in Rome. Enough of this argument which is not in good purport. Please close this thread.

  12. A very good article which calls for an healthy debate. Surely Bangalore lacks tamil/telugu/malayalam FM stations with so many ppl speaking or knowing that language. It is also a pleasant fact that many Kannadigas can talk their mother language and also tamil/telugu/hindi. FMs are a great way to enjoy cross-culture music and gives the average bangalorean with options. Its unforunate certain sections have allergy for other southern languages here while they are cool with hindi/english.

  13. I guess the writer was an intern and had a deadline for an article to be in! Seriously. Why don’t you guys do some proactive work? There are lot more issues to be addressed and of all, this lady picks non-kannada radio shows! How silly might one can get? You’d have been threatened if the same article were to be published in a TN news paper, the way round. A small question to the writer – “In your home you respect your mother and obey your mother and SHE is your father’s wife. You can’t give the same status to your mother’s sisters, f you know what I mean, even if you revere them a lot.” Understand and think wise henceforth while penning down anything.

  14. Music has no language barrier. Telugu and Kannada lyrics are sung by all Carnatic Musicians in Tamil Nadu & Kerala. Learning Kannada is not a problem for any non-kannada population in the City. Including Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam language programs will enrich the channels popularity.

  15. @purushottama

    Pls check facts. Kannada songs along with malayalam and telugu songs are played in chennai daily in private FM – 91.9 FM. Chennai never opposes these things. Can you justify hindi songs played in bangalore. Pls understand that India has no “national language” and hindi is one among the official languages along with kannada, tamil etc., Infact hindi is killing bangalore than anything.

  16. Before entering into this discussion, I am asking for all Non Kannada citizens in Bengaluru, Whay cant you people learn kannada ? If you people wants only food and sheltor here but not kannada means that is your fate. So No non kannada channels to be here. We strictly condemn about other language channels. If the same case, can you people try Kannada FM channels in Chennai and Hyderabad?

  17. Nothing is wrong. It is wrong to say that there are no kannada people in other state, but only thing is they keep a low profile. Do you get kannada music in Chennai or Hyderabad ? Principles of Cosmopolitan living need not be taught to Kannadigas.
    It would have been better if Citizen Matters had concentrated on citizen problems and not on non-issues.

  18. Excuse me CC. Please do not publish such articles. There are enough IT gadgets through which anybody can listen to any language music etc., according to their liking. Why rake up an issue that may unnecessarily create bad blood. Kannadigas have become minorities in Bengaluru; it is not NAMMA Bengaluru – it is somebody else’s Bengaluru. Let us live with peace and harmony.

  19. A cosmopolitan city like Bangalore should definitely have more language music played on the air. It is sheer politics that is keeping it away!

  20. English and Hindi Songs are OK, but other regional languages songs need not be played in bengaluru. I don’t think it is valid.

  21. Very well researched and written article. I too feel that the Tamil and Telugu industries are much bigger with better resources, and if given air time on Bangalore FM they will more or less edge out Kannada songs. Not sure if i’d like that- as it is Kannadigas have few things left in Bangalore that they can call their own….

  22. An One Hour Weekend Program in Tamil / Telugu / Malayalam Should get Radio Lots of Interest and even Fair Bit of Advertisers. What about NOn kannadigas who now only Listens to either Hindi or English Music. Are these Stations not losing out on them. ?

    A very Intersting Article.. 🙂

  23. Thats a quite a question – I was wandering for long. Recently, when I was in chennai there are FM stations which play Telugu, not sure kanada/malayalam played. Its timely article. We need to have south broadcasting org’s come togother for sometype of understanding, lets put pity politics apart. Listening to good music certainly helps stress reduction from hectic city life.

    Looking forward to multiple lingustic song FM play. One catch is most smartphones are not coming with FM’s/tablets Unfortunately, hence people are compelled togo for internet based stations.

  24. Other states would not play Kannada music because there is hardly any Kannada speaking populace in metros such as chennai(very little), Hyderabad(none), or even trivandrum with the exception being Mumbai(costal kannadigas only).

    So the same argument is used to it’s logical end here in Bangalore that majority of the speakers are Kannadiga’s, regardless of the fact that the next highest speakers speak Telugu, Tamil.

    Internet radio will shortly take route what with every home in urban areas having broadband. Then a plethora of channels will be available in all regional languages.

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