The history of radio in Pakistan is as old as the country itself. However, until the turn of the century Radio Pakistan, which was run by the state-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), had monopoly of the airwaves.
In 2002, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), a statutory body regulating the private electronic media, was established and it became possible for privately owned FM radios and television channels to operate.
By the end of 2017, PEMRA had issued 143 commercial FM radio licences across the country. Another 45 FM licences had been issued to non-commercial entities, mainly campus radios.
Additionally, a total of 62 radio channels of the state-owned PBC today cover 98 percent of the population and 80 percent of the total area in Pakistan. These include 40 FM and 22 AM stations. The AM channels include five current affairs channels.
PBC, which runs the state radio network, has official monopoly on broadcasting national and international radio news. Private radio stations are allowed to relay the news bulletins of PBC and, to a lesser degree, the BBC Urdu service and Voice of America.
The FM licences granted by the government do not permit private radio stations to broadcast their own news and current affairs programmes. The listeners have to depend on state-owned radio channels for news via radio. Some private channels are allowed to broadcast local news.
In Pakistan’s rural areas, where access to or affordability of television is limited, there has traditionally been considerable reliance on radio. Private radio has limited penetration in rural areas, where the PBC-run channels Radio Pakistan and FM 101 have a virtual monopoly of radio audiences. With the FM radio opening up to private acquisition in the early 2000s, music, phone-in and other entertainment programmes on the radio have managed to attract an urban and relatively young audience.
Radio audience has multiplied with the spread of phones equipped with FM radio receivers in Pakistan. This helps explain overall radio use among young Pakistanis, who are more likely than their elders to use their phones to listen to the radio. Car users also form an important part of the listener base.
According to Aurora, out of the total advertising revenue of PKR76.2bn across all media in the country in FY 2015-16, radio’s share was PKR2.8bn (4 percent).