Beyond the News - FACT Analysis

Reach of FM coverage in Punjab

Harjap Singh Aujla

December 29

When Marconi did his research on sound propagation, all his research was centered around amplitude modulation mode of propagation. The first wavelengths he worked on were in the present day medium and long wave spectrums. Later on, the urge to reach from nation to nation and from continent to continent propelled the physicists to explore the potential of
shortwave spectrum. As a result in the Second World War shortwave was extensively used.

More research was underway in Europe and the USA during the 1940s to explore possibilities of both sound and picture propagations. This research continued during and after the Second World War. This time the leaders of competing nations were the USA, the USSR and Germany.FM emerged as a bye-product out of the research for television technology.

FM started spreading its wings in late 1940s and early 1950s. Though shortwave was very popular all over the world, but seeing clear edge of the Soviet Union for locating shortwave transmitters, the USA discouraged its use for the domestic audiences. To be candid America encouraged the production of AM/FM radios, from AM I mean medium-wave.

TV came to India in 1959, at least twenty years after its spread in the USA and Europe and FM was introduced much later during 1990s. In Punjab FM came to Bathinda and Patiala in 1990s, followed by Chandigarh and Jalandhar. Ludhiana got FM in 2013. All these stations were owned by the government under the banner of All India Radio. Today even private sector FM is proliferating all over Punjab. The new high powered entrants are Fazilka and Amritsar in the public sector. But in the large cities private commercial radio stations are also mushrooming.

By far the largest number of radio stations are in the cities of Jalandhar and Chandigarh. Both cities have at least ten radio channels each. Some educational institutions have also entered the fray. Patiala comes at third spot with seven radio stations and Amritsar is trailing at number four with five radio stations. Other places have fewer number of radio stations.

Longest range is enjoyed by the 10 kilowatt Chandigarh and Jalandhar stations of All India radio, because of their highest elevation transmitting points located on the tower at Kasauli. Both of their high altitude hilltop transmitters cover the districts of Hoshiarpur, Ropar, Mohali, Chandigarh, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala, Ludhiana, Moga, Jalandhar, Kapurthala and Nawanshehar.

Transmitting from a 1005 foot high tower, the 20 kilowatt All India Radio Fazilka has a range of 100 kilometers and it covers the districts of Fazilka, Muktsar, Faridkot, Bathinda and Ferozepur.

Most of the areas it covers, overlap the range of 6 kilowatt Bathinda station.
The only area not properly covered by FM radio service of All India Radio in Punjab is the Majha region, which India got from Lahore division in 1947. According to the planning done in 2005, Amritsar was supposed to get a 300 meter high (984 feet tall) radio cum TV tower. Its designed range was 100 kilometers. It would have covered entire Majha region from Dalhousie and Pathankot up to Kasur from North to South and from Jalandhar city in Bist Doab to Gujjranwala in Rachna Doab from the East to West. Its construction started from May of 2007 without a formal function and was completed in 2013 again without a formal ceremony.

According to reliable information, when the final inspection was conducted by a team of expert engineers from IIT Roorkee, they found a bend in its vertical alignment in the upper portion of the tower.

According to the report the structure is not unsafe, but it looks clumsy. This structure has been standing undamaged for the past seven years and may remain so for several more years.

Somehow the authorities of Prasar Bharati are unprepared to accept the structure as it is. In the meanwhile in 2017, Prasar Bharati or All India Radio, fabricated another 100 meter high tower near the 300 meter high tower and they commissioned it on September 25, 2018. It carried the
Urdu Service of All India Radio for twelve hours and it relayed the Des Punjab Service of All India Radio Jalandhar and some local programming of All India Radio Jalandhar for six more hours, making it an eighteen hour station. Later on two hours of live religious music from the Golden Temple from 4:00 am to 6:00 am was added, making it a twenty hour station.

The problem with this radio station is that the range of a 100 meter high tower is barely 50 kilometers compared to 100 kilometer range of the 300 meter high tower. This means that it serves only 25% area and approximately 25% population of the coverage of the 300 meter high
tower. As a result coverage of entire Majha region by the Amritsar station remains a pipe dream. The present coverage area of the Amritsar tower includes entire Amritsar district minus the downtown area in the walled city around the Golden Temple. It does not cover entire city of Lahore too. Lahore’s interior is also poorly served. In Gurdaspur district, it covers a few miles beyond Batala, but does not cover Gurdaspur. It does not cover any part of Pathankot district.

On the Southern side, it does not cover Khemkaran, Bhikhiwind, Kasur and Ferozepore.

Amritsar Vikas March, an NGO, is fighting for the commissioning of the 300 meter high tower. In order to extract optimum utility out of the twenty kilowatt FM transmitter, the height of the tower should be at least 300 meters. Several other organizations in Amritsar, including the
Voice of Amritsar and some committed citizens are also fighting for the same. We are hoping that within a few months or even earlier, the tall tower will be commissioned and in India entire Majha region will be covered by All India Radio and in Pakistan, the Amritsar station will serve
as the voice of India for entire greater Lahore region. This will cover entire Punjab on FM.

On medium-wave entire Punjab is already covered by the primary service of All India Radio Jalandhar on 343.6 meters or 873 kilohertz, but hardly any Punjabi listens to medium-wave broadcasts. All India Radio Jalandhar is also available on 864 KHz on digital radio mondiale (DRM), but there are hardly any radio receivers capable of tuning-on to DRM. Hopefully soon
Punjabis, especially in the border Majha region will get their wish fulfilled on FM too.

(The author is Senior Advisor with The Fact News)