The Power of FM Radio Stations

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One of the delights of retirement is being the boss of one’s time, and one of its adversities  is having to think of how to put to use all the extra time one owns after devoting some of it to prayer, meditation and religious studies. With so many TV channels now available, the easiest way to keep occupied is to watch TV, but having to use one’s eyes and ears both at the same time, and to remain immobile for long stretches of time can become quite taxing for an aged person. A better alternative I found is listening to the radio. It requires only one sense – one’s hearing, and if one wishes, one can ignore the sound and can do some other tasks, or let one’s mind wander. Moreover, unlike a TV set, with the emergence of better quality  and smaller sized transistors that provide high fidelity sound, one can take it along like a book to wherever one moves to, or goes to – from the sitting room to the bedroom, or to the garden, and in the countryside, even take it to the paddy fields and plantations. The radio broadcasting service also rivals TV stations in the offer of a wide choice of programmes and stations. In addition to Myanmar Radio with its four services, Yangon Service, National Service, National Races Service, and Distance Learning, there is a wide choice of Myanmar FM radio stations to choose from, if you are living in Nay Pyi Taw or Yangon.
FM broadcasting was patented in 1933 and the first commercial FM broadcasting began in the late 1930s in the United States. The BBC began FM broadcasting in the United Kingdom about two decades later in 1955. Today, nearly every country has FM stations, but most stations tend to focus on certain regions as their outreach can be limited.  In Myanmar, the first FM radio station, City FM, was established in 2001.  It was followed by Mandalay FM in 2008 and Pyinsawaddy FM in 2009.  Today, according to the information available on the Internet, there are altogether 8 stations in the country with each focusing on certain regions or states. For instance, Mandalay FM covers such areas as Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay, Yangon, Toungoo, and Magway; Cherry FM covers such places as Nay Pyi Taw, Taunggyi, Pyinmana, Tachilek, Yangon, and Loikaw, and Padamya FM covers such towns and cities as Nay Pyi Taw, Bago, Bhamo, Kantbalu, Katha, Mandalay, Monywa, Myitkyina, Nanmar, Popa, Pyay, and Yangon. While the national broadcasting station is more formal in its presentations,  even though it is trying to lose its staidness, FM stations tend to be more informal and try to attract a younger audience by hiring young dynamic presenters and offering a medley of pop songs, interviews with celebrities, sports news and listener phone-in programmes.
Despite its apparent slant towards younger listeners, since my retirement, I have become addicted to FM radios due to the large choice available in terms of station and programme.  This means that if the music is too rock sounding, I can always switch to a station offering tamer music and if there are too many songs being played successively on a station, I can always switch to a station which is interviewing a celebrity, or one that is offering sports news. While all FM stations apparently seek to entertain, inform, educate, amuse and sell, their composition of programmes and focus vary. Most broadcast standard programmes that inform, like local, international, sports and weather news, programmes that educate such as talks by specialists on health matters, or promotion of English language skills, programmes that entertain, such as, songs and radio plays, and programmes that amuse, such as, inviting people to phone in to talk about funny incidents in one’s life, or take part in quizzes. However, there are also some stations that offer innovative programmes. One FM station provides traffic news during rush hours through their programme called Traffic Hotline to which taxi drivers and others phone to provide reports on traffic conditions voluntarily.  Another station provides information on job vacancies. Still another gives knowledge on improving business management skills. One programme I thought most useful is the lost and found programme which brings together finders and people who have lost things.  Some FM stations also have programmes devoted to literature such as poetry recitation, and book introduction by authors. Some stations include programmes of discussions of controversial, or topical interests such as, “Living together”, “How parents should not behave in front of their children”, “Use and abuse of Facebook”, etc. by two, or three regular discussants or invited guests, some of which are moderated by the programme hosts.  Programmes of interviews, either conducted at the studio, or by phone, are made more attractive by not just interviewing celebrities like film stars, directors, writers, and artists but also ordinary people with unusual careers like women taxi drivers. Presenters try to make their programmes more interesting by  interspersing their programmes with tidbits of international film, the local music scene, information on local music and art events, etc. In addition, with the intention to draw a larger audience, some stations have programmes in national languages and some are collaborating with foreign radio stations and accepting programmes from them. One station even has a DJ presenter of international music who regularly sends programmes of songs that have reached the top of the chart presented in English and sent from abroad. Programmes of most TV stations are interrupted by advertisements which no doubt generate much needed income for the radio station concerned but can sometimes be an annoyance for those listeners to whom the ads have no relevance.
True to their mission, Myanmar FM stations entertain, inform, educate, engage with audience, promote product sales and provide companionship to lonely listeners.  But in order to do so, they should not just be focusing on the latest COUNTRY, HIP-HOP, ROCK, ROT, etc. music, the singers and the song writers to sell their programmes.  They need to realize that in a country where about 70 percent of the population live in rural areas, they, as regional stations, know the need of their regional and can cater to local needs. Therefore, they play a vital role in society in reaching out to regional audiences and disseminating knowledge, information and skills they need, especially, at an important time when the nation is trying to narrow development gaps among different regions and striving to catch up with fast-paced developments taking place in its neighbouring countries. They need to broaden audience appeal by taking into account the interest of other age groups in addition to young people. There are so much knowledge and information that need to be delivered to the people. They need to think of not just what their listeners want, but also what their listeners really need for them to become more competitive and successful in this world. They need to provide the kind of social knowledge that will make them more responsible and less self-centred citizens who are capable of taking care of their environment. All citizens, both young and old, need to vastly improve their health knowledge, from simple matter of keeping their surroundings clean to more complex one of improving the quality of life of their family.  They need to contribute to build a more united, harmonious, peaceful and inclusive nation. They need to inform their listeners about the many developments taking place in other parts of the world so that they will want to work harder.  On the other hand, farmers need better knowledge about modern agricultural practices and what facilities are available to them. Managers need to be informed about better management practices. Teachers need to be updated with new teaching techniques. People need to be reminded about the need to take pride in their rich cultural heritage and also individually and nationally work to preserve it. Special attention need to be paid to the next generation. Young people need to be constantly reminded that life is not just fun, frolic and falling in and falling out of love. Young people need to be awakened to become more ambitious and dynamic and to be provided with information on what needs to be improved and how they can be improve. They need to be reminded that they are the future leaders, protectors, movers, changers and innovators of the country.  I believe that only when the Myanmar FM stations also fulfil such responsibilities in addition to entertaining people with music, will they reach the goal of becoming truly the media of the people, about the people and that is working on behalf of the people.

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