State-owned Radio Nepal enjoyed the monopoly in the market from its establishment in 1951 to 1997. During that period, it set up broadcasting centres in all five development regions and was reaching almost the entire population through its short and medium waves. The monopoly was broken in May 1997 when the first independent radio station – Radio Sagarmatha – began operation as a community FM radio run by the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ). It heralded a new beginning in Nepal’s media landscape paving ways for other community and private FM radio stations.
In the two decades after the first independent radio station was established, the Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) has granted licenses to 736 FM radio stations. Forty-eight of them are centered in the Kathmandu Valley and others are spread across the nation. According to Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal (ACORAB), at least 314 of those radio stations are community radio stations.
The community radios have been crucial in social transformation helping disadvantaged communities through information, education and empowerment. Since the cost of radio operations is low and people do not have recurring costs to listen to radio, which is also a viable medium for illiterate people, radio is considered the most impactful and accessible media in Nepal. The role that the community radios have played has received praises from all over the country. In August 2017, during his inaugural speech, Vice President Nanda Kishore Pun said: "The community radios are the voices of people… the focus of community radios is to provide the accurate and credible news to rural communities."
The Sharecast Initiative’s 2016 survey shows that 59 percent of households own radio sets whereas 98 percent of households own mobile phones. The mobile phones are important radio-listening devices as 69 percent of those listening to radio listen to it on mobile phones. More than half of the population listens to radio every day. The advertising revenue share of radios in 2011 was around 17 percent of the total advertising budget, however the data do not take into account local advertisements that the radio stations collect themselves at the local level.
Another important aspect of radios in Nepal is that private radio stations are allowed to broadcast news and news-based programmes. Nepal is the only country in the South Asia region that allows the private radio stations to broadcast news.
Poudyal in 2013 noted that the involvement of political and various other interest groups in operation, programming of radio stations from backyards, unhealthy competition, and lack of professionalism on news, programmes, sponsorships and advertisements are pushing the independent radios to compromise with the professional qualities and ethics of journalism.
Another unusual aspect of Nepal’s radios is the self-created syndication in the news broadcasting. Dominant FM stations such as Nepal FM, Ujyaalo, Nepalbani and ACORAB have created alliances or networks of radio stations for sharing news content. In his 2017 article Cancer of Media Concentration, Prof P. Kharel noted that such practice undermines the role of media as the fourth state. He wrote: “If two or three radio networks in the Kathmandu Valley produce news and current affairs programmes that are broadcast on most of the radio stations at least during prime time, this constitutes a form of concentration not heard of in other democracies.”
Other major players except state-owned Radio Nepal include Radio Kantipur and Image FM. Radio Kantipur of Nepal’s biggest media house Kantipur Media Group claims to reach 75 percent of the population by setting up 8 separate radio stations all over Nepal that relay all programming from the Kathmandu station. Image FM has 7 such stations all over Nepal while minor players include Capital FM, which has 3 stations in three major cities.