AIR has notched up 500,000 subscribers in the one month since it launched its free SMS news alerts September 9, said Archana Datta, AIR director general (news). The news alert, with usually three main news headlines of the day, including international and sports news, comes thrice a day along with a public utility message.

"The SMS service is very popular, we get requests everyday to increase frequency. Now it is three times a day. We will increase the frequency depending on revenue generation," Datta said in an interview. She said AIR, also known as Akashvani, is hoping to get more requests from ministries to carry service messages on the SMS alert.

"While the SMS service is free, every message costs some amount. We are not putting any burden on AIR's existing budget. We are earning and spending," added the top official. Datta said AIR is looking to rope in other government departments to run their service messages on the SMS alerts for revenue generation. The radio broadcaster puts out a staggering number of over 650 bulletins a day in about 90 languages or dialects.

AIR's Twitter account, launched earlier in 2013, comprises mostly of news headlines. It has over 50,000 followers, while its Facebook page has around 77,000 likes. "On Facebook and Twitter, we are a late entrant, but our popularity is on the rise," Datta said, adding that AIR's "core point" is its website.

"It is multi-lingual, dynamic. We put all our regional news bulletins on our site and FM Gold is live streamed, that means the whole world can listen to it. Our website has on an average nine lakh visitors a day on weekdays, while on holidays it is 14 lakhs," said Datta.

Our regional news bulletins are very popular among the Indian diaspora. "The language bulletins are hugely popular among the Indians abroad.  So there is no exaggeration when we say that our Tamil news bulletin people are household names and celebrities," she added. She said there is an in-principle approval to allow private FM channels to broadcast news, with AIR providing the content, but there has been no movement on that front so far.

"There is in-principle approval, but the ministry has to take a call," she said. "We want more news on FM channels," she added. Datta said AIR needed to "diversify its language bulletins" with the content enriched with more sound bytes. She is also keen that AIR's FM channels, which have extended reach across the country, touching more and more towns and cities every month, should have more hourly bulletins.

The language input should be more on FM channels, she said. The top official is also keen that the language bulletins should be put up for live streaming on the AIR website so that the diaspora can have access. In smaller towns, cities and rural areas, news bulletins contain a lot of local content. After the main national headlines, the rest is local content.

But AIR is facing a problem with a lack of local qualified people to provide content, said Datta. "If we get dialect knowing qualified people we can broadcast more bulletins," she said. Akashvani has a network of 42 Regional News Units working in tandem to produce news. To strengthen its reach in border areas efforts are on to install high power transmitters, she said.

With youth comprising most of India's population, AIR has some feature programmes focused specially on the younger people, like "Aaj Savere" and "Parikrama". The launch of AIR on Facebook and Twitter is aimed to reach the youth, Datta said. On October 1, AIR held an event to celebrate 75 years of its news transmission in Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati and Marathi languages when 13 veteran newscasters from the units were felicitated.


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