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Extending AIR coverage to radio-deprived hilly regions and fringe zones across India

Pune City is surrounded by hilly tracts, mostly to the west. It was in these tracts, there was radio-darkness. Raising the digital radio carrier power made sure that several MW digital radio stations of AIR are now received in many of these hilly areas.

A note by media specialist Sharad Sadhu

I have discovered that there are many radio-deprived citizens living in hilly areas near All India Radio’s (AIR) medium wave transmitting stations and in fringe areas. I have been to a few and I noticed that they had never heard any radio broadcasts in their lives. These vast tracts of our country are totally radio-dark. Here is a brief note on my experience and how AIR rose to the occasion to resolve this to an extent.

It was a fortuitous experience.  While driving to the hill town of Lavasa (50 KMs by road from Pune, Maharashtra, India) in September 2020, it was observed that AIR’s Pune MW radio station (with DRM digital radio transmission) was available in some parts of the Lavasa Township and nearby places. But there were many pockets where the radio station was not available due to low signal. While the full bandwidth DRM MW radio transmission from Pune was available along the driving route, it got cut-off in the hills in many places.

To me this was a great piece of news, mostly because Pune DRM MW radio became the only radio station received in Lavasa, which is otherwise totally in radio-darkness.

To enable usable radio the reception in Lavasa and similar populated hilly areas around Pune, I made a personal suggestion to Radio Pune that if they could consider increasing the DRM MW power by 10%, all Lavasa and most of the hill areas around Pune (and there are many) would receive broadcasts from the Pune DRM MW  radio station. I pointed out that if this is done, this may be the only radio station people in these areas would have, ever since the Independence of India.

And this is now a very important matter to me, that even after so long there is no radio in some parts of the country. And we have a good chance of setting it right.

Frankly, and personally, I cannot comprehend how we could leave so many people in radio-darkness, those who need radio more for life improvement. In my view, the first condition for the FM frequency assignment in India should have been that the FM operators also provide FM radio to such areas while getting into big cities.

I also approached AIR HQ informally with this suggestion, pointing out similar areas that may need a similar dispensation, like those in all the southern states of India where a lot of area is hilly and away from cities.

I understand that AIR HQ considered this matter and asked all its DRM MW stations to enhance their DRM radio power marginally.

Radio Darkness Goes Away for Some
As a result of the power enhancement, several DRM radio services are now being received in the Lavasa hill town.

AIR Pune is now received loud and clear, sometimes even two channels from the same station. There is also the AIR 24 News station received (I presume from Pune).

Going forward, from Mumbai two radio stations were received, Ragam from Malad and main radio service from AIR Mumbai.

Reception of AIR transmitter in Rajkot was checked in Lavasa hills in a car when the receiver automatically tuned to the Rajkot frequency and provided good reception while driving. AIR Rajkot is (I presume a 2 x 500 KW MW transmitter installation) is around 500 KM away.

Reception of AIR transmitter in Dharwad (which is also far away) was tested in Lavasa hills in a car receiver which automatically tuned to the Dharwad frequency around 815 kHz at night.

There are other DRM services available, with screen names such as “DTH Marathi”, Samvadita and a few others.

In brief, raising the DRM MW transmission power marginally effected a significant extension is the useful coverage areas of AIR MW transmitters. Most importantly, this step provided radio services to people in areas where they had never heard radio all their lives. I do hope that this step has brought in new joy in the lives of our fellow citizens through radio programming. This subject is quite fascinating for me personally. I am so happy that radio is now available to many radio-disconnected citizens.

Survey by Local AIR Stations
With this development of enhanced coverage, I hope that various AIR stations will test for DRM radio reception in fringe (including hilly) areas to see whether so far radio-deprived areas have now been covered, at least some of those. And if that be the case, this will become a very interesting story that AIR has been able to cover areas where no radio services were available even after 70 years of independence.

Reviving Community Radio Service in Fringe Areas
I wish that AIR revives its community radio scheme, on a local level. And that would mean providing DRM radio receivers to such Panchayats (Village Councils) which are now covered under the enhanced power scheme. My estimate is that there are many such villages and Panchayats which will benefit by receiving radio services for the first time ever. Asia Radio Today

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