Podcasts have been around for over 15 years. Popularized by Apple, Podcasting is a thriving industry in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe. That said, podcasts in India have not been anywhere close to the popularity it gained in the US, UK and Europe.
In a country that’s over 4 times bigger than the United States, it’s interesting to note that India saw the first FM broadcast in 1977, and that was 50 years after they first started in the United States.
That brings us to the question – when will India see a growth in the ecosystem of podcasts and podcasting? It’s been just over 15 years since Podcasts were first started. Will India take a few more years for India to witness a marked growth?
In this article, I get down to the history of radio broadcasting in India. I try and deconstruct the making of the Indian radio industry, analyze the elements that continue to make it work, and finally attempt reimagining the space in today’s world of Podcasts and new media.
Note: This post is not sponsored or affiliated with Murphy. I’m writing this as someone who grew up seeing it and listening to it.
First, let me start with an interesting story about radio in India.
If you’ve ever lived in India anytime between the 1960s and 1990s or traveled through India, you’ll know who Murphy is…or perhaps what Murphy is. For someone who grew up in India during the 1980s, the Murphy baby is a familiar one.
Wait. Who’s this Murphy baby?
Well I’m actually referring to one of the most iconic brands from England that once manufactured the most sought-after radio receivers and televisions.
Back in the day, radios, as radio receivers were popularly called, were synonymous with Murphy in every Indian household. And guess what? Murphy’s logo used to that of a little baby boy they called “munna”.
In fact, Murphy was so famous that a Bollywood movie in 2012 even chose to include Murphy munna in a song.
New technologies from the West always took a lot of time before they finally arrived in India and some other countries. This was the case with radio broadcasting too.
In the case of radio broadcasting, the FM radio was introduced in India in the late 1970s, and grew in popularity later in the 1990s. This was 50 years after FM mushroomed in the United States.
Because of this lag, AM (Amplitude Modulation) and MW (Medium Wave) radio broadcasting continued to enjoy popularity all through the 1980s and very early 1990s. And Murphy did not just emerge to be a leader, but people in India seemed to have a different relationship with their Murphy radio receivers too.
Interestingly, these radio receivers were more commonly referred to as transistors.
In those days, if you visited any household or walked into a restaurant or a corner shop, you would not miss the sight of the Murphy baby. Everywhere you went, you would be guaranteed to hear either the news or songs from the All India Radio. Take a step closer and you’ll most likely see a Murphy baby.
I remember a day when my grandfather took half a day off from work, because the Murphy baby fell ill. Well, the radio wasn’t working for some reason, and the entire house had lost the rhythm.
People were emotionally attached to their Murphy babies!People were emotionally attached to their Murphy babies! #1000VoicesMillionLives #MakeLearnChange #Podcasting Click To Tweet
It’s always the case that when a brand starts to dominate, or the brand loyalty starts to grow, people tend to use the brand’s name to refer to the technology itself.
Now you’ve seen this in other industries too perhaps. People, even today, refer to a photocopier as the Xerox machine, and online search as just Google. “Xeroxing” and “Googling” become actual words people use.
It was no different with the radio scene in India. People went to the store to buy a Murphy radio.When the Brand Dominates, Technology Takes a Backseat. Photocopying becomes 'Xeroxing', Searching becomes 'Googling'.#1000VoicesMillionLives #MakeLearnChange #Podcasting Click To Tweet
The term Podcast was born in 2004 and became famous with Apple’s use of the term in it’s iTunes app in iPod and later in the Mac and iPhone.
The iPods and iPhones were sold in massive numbers worldwide, with the United States accounting for a big majority of those sales. The ratio of the number of people using one of Apple’s devices to the total population continues to be the highest in the United States till date (64% Americans use an Apple device).The ratio of the number of people using one of Apple's devices to the total population continues to be the highest in the United States till date (64% Americans use an Apple device)… Click To Tweet
Sure. You can think of podcasts like FM Radio channels. Each podcast is a channel, just like in FM Radio, with the exception that you don’t need to tune-into a radio frequency.
Instead, you could visit a website and click a button to subscribe to the podcast. As an alternative, you can use a podcast player app like Podcasts app from Apple or Overcast app on both iPhones and Android phones. You can subscribe to specific podcasts inside of these apps.
Each podcast will have episodes of content that’s published (like broadcast in radio) frequently (daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly).
Whenever a new episode is published, you get notified in your app, and you can listen to it by wearing a pair of headphones or by connecting the smartphone to a pair of speakers.
You can find podcasts in various genres from arts, business, comedy, education, news, entertainment, technology, sports, culture and many more. In each genre, you will find hundreds of thousands of podcasts.
Each podcast episode can span from a few minutes to several minutes or even more than an hour. You can listen to an episode for however long you like. Can replay when you want, skip or even unsubscribe to a podcast itself.
That’s interesting. Then why Podcasts never gained popularity in India?
While the West was warming up to Podcasts, radio was going really strong on the other side of the planet. India had just warmed up to FM radio in the beginning of 1990s.
The national radio broadcasting network (All India Radio) started doing programs on FM radio. From news to request-a-song shows, FM radio had started to take over the nation in mid 1990s.
Apple really didn’t have any presence in India. When everyone in the United States enjoyed the iPods, many Indians enjoyed the other USB MP3 players equally as much.
In fact, thanks to Chinese-made products, India saw the birth of another new-age device – USB MP3 Players with…guess what? A Radio!
Thus a new hybrid device was born!
Yes, you couldn’t download Podcasts into USB MP3 players. But we had something better!
FM Radio channels had started to crop-up everywhere, and they continued to do the magic Murphy did in the 1980s.
The Murphy brand had slowly started to fade away…
The Love for Radio Persisted.
When you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers. But this one is a good question. Why do people in India love the radio so much?
It’s worth looking at it a little deeper. And, let’s start with Murphy.
By now, I’m sure you get this. Murphy became synonymous with radio in India for many reasons. Here’s a closer look.
The British-run Indian government had setup the All India Radio in 1936 to help the people stay up-to-date with the happenings across the nation in near-real-time. And 11 years later, India celebrated it’s independence in 1947.
The All India Radio played a key role in keeping the nation updated during World War II. And post-independence, India was going through a very interesting period.
The political climate was warming up to a lot of newer challenges, both nationally and regionally. From wars to famines, cricket to films, there was a lot of activities across the nation.
The All India Radio (AIR), since World War II, broadcasted in foreign languages. AIR today broadcasts in 15 foreign languages.
In 1957, when the Transistor arrived after the Rural Radio Reforms, Murphy happened to be one of the most successful players to create a device that could help people listen to radio updates, all at a low cost.The All India Radio (AIR), since World War II, broadcasted in foreign languages. AIR today broadcasts in 15 foreign languages. http://allindiaradio.gov.in/Services/External/Pages/default.aspx #1000VoicesMillionLives #MakeLearnChange… Click To Tweet
Back in the day, India had not been electrified even half as much as it is today. Electricity was practically not available in many places. But even in such places people listened to a radio.
Murphy’s success with radios receivers that powered up using batteries, was a big reason why was such a huge success.
When the FM Radio came into mainstream use, people fell in love with them instantly. As I see, there were 4 biggest reasons for this success:
However, the eventual entry of the internet in India started to bring about a few changes to FM Radio. They nevertheless strengthened the role of FM Radio.
The first change it brought was the availability of voice content online. Recorded versions of shows on FM Radio started to appear on their websites.
The second change was when the bandwidths started to improve. FM Radio stations started to launch Internet Radio stations. This helped FM Radio Stations reach the non-radio listening audience too.
The third change was the mix of written, voice and video content online. As the bandwidths went up around the years 2006-07, all three forms of content started to converge, thus giving rise to this term new media.
No, I never said that. In fact, that’s the point I was trying to get to. What we did so far was to look at the history of radio in India.
As someone wise once said, to look forward into the future, you need to look back at the past.
I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.
So, let me crank the gearbox and move this machine forward…into the future.
A question that probably comes to your mind is “Do we really need to reimagine podcasts for India?”
Given the strong history of radio in India, the current popularity of FM Radio and the massive changes in the technology that India has witnessed in the last 3 years, I think the answer is a Yes.
Podcasts, as they exist in the West, may not just work as it is in India. There are many different reasons for this. It’s a mixed bag. So let me put my observations on the table.
Kids of today don’t grow up listening to Murphy munna. They are instead watching a Peppa Pig cartoon or Marvel Comics animated series. Adults aged 20 and above are walking around with a smartphone.
People in India speak over 122 major languages. And a very large percentage of the Indian population now uses a smartphone.
In a race to compactness, smartphones today connect to the internet but don’t have FM radio. Given the penetration of streaming music services like Amazon Prime Music, people are listening to streaming music than FM radio.
A Point to Note: In India, people are still always trying to hack an FM Radio into a smartphone 🙂
With newer technologies like VoLTE, data has become the new voice. Unlike the past, new technologies like this are finding their way down to tier 2 and tier 3 cities, towns and villages much faster.
Reliance Jio has done precisely this. A smartphone with VoLTE is in the hands of an Indian for as low as $22 / Rs.1500.
The subcontinent has many languages, cultures and subcultures. Unlike the West, where This American Life is a runaway hit, the numbers are going to be much smaller in India.
India has over 600 million people under the age of 25. If 1/4th of that young population had access to podcasts, that would be twice as much as that in the United States.
Can you imagine one of the simplest reasons Murphy was a hit?
You plug-in the batteries, turn on the device and turn-into your favorite station – you hear music (or news or whatever it is).
With newer devices like Carvaan, this simplicity is starting to set its foot into digital audio too. It’s just a matter of time when devices like this will start to get made for podcasts too.
It’s simple to tune-into a few tens or hundreds of radio stations. But it’s not the same with Podcasts.
One of the biggest challenges facing the podcasting industry is the discoverability of podcasts. There are a bunch of solutions out there, and even more coming up every other day.
The discoverability challenge will be even more in India. Genres, languages, cultures and so much more add to the mix. Simplicity of discovery is key.
While AI and Machine Learning is helping a bit, this area will hopefully see a lot more work in the months and years to come.
Has this post piqued your curiosity about podcasts?
If you’ve not listened to podcasts in India, and wondering how to get started, here are some quick pointers.
Everyone is using a smartphone these days. My grandma uses it too. So, if your smartphone is an Android one (90.85% of India uses it), I recommend one of these apps:
If you are amongst the 2.87% iOS users like me, here are two options:
But what if I use one of these types of phones? Well, better is to use a computer instead and listen to podcasts directly. The best way to listen to podcasts on your computer are:
The Amazon Echo has become my favorite gadget off-late. The biggest reason is because I just get to listen to my favorite podcasts while I workout at home.
The best part with Amazon Echo is that you don’t need to know how to operate the device. Speak to it. And yes, it understands the Indian English accent pretty well.
Even my 4 year old son speaks to it effortlessly!
Most cars in India these days come with built-in players that can play podcasts. Many aftermarket touchscreen car music players have built-in apps like Apple CarPlay to help you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Now if you like a show and want to keep yourself up-to-date with the latest episodes without needing a smartphone, subscribe by email.
Most podcast websites offer an email subscription. Just subscribe for free and get the latest episode by email whenever it gets published. (you can get mine by subscribing to my newsletter)
Great, you have hopefully picked one of the above options to listen to podcasts. But which podcasts should you get started with?
There are plenty of good ones. Let me pick 3 of my favorite podcasts (from around the world) and 3 good Indian podcasts I discovered recently (follow them all!):
These are for the general audience (not niche podcasts).
If you are are someone who’s been nurturing a secret wish or a dream of sorts, to become someone or take your hobby or interest to a whole new level, you’ll be interested in Season 2 of The Design Your Thinking podcast.
You’ll hear stories from guests who are creators, entrepreneurs and non-conformists about their journeys, struggles, grit and learnings. Also, do join The Million Project Facebook group!
I think the jury is out and the question will be answered in due time. Every indicator is answering YES, and I’m already starting to see it too.
Trust me, you’ll love it. Podcasts help me get exposed to newer subjects, know new people, learn new topics and generally help me further explore my interests. You’ll see it too.
If you are so convinced that you want to start your own podcast, I fully support you. I’ll root for you. Go ahead and do it. I wrote a post on why you should start a podcast this year, and I also have some helpful resources to help you get started.
I hope this post helped you explore the world of podcasts and its relevance to India. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
If you are interested in exploring your interests and following your heart (perhaps starting a podcast), subscribe to my newsletter below and also download the DYT Playbook (it’s free), to help you get started.