All India Radio has suspended its plan to shift its popular FM Gold channel from its original frequency of 106.4 MHz to the weaker, less-known 100.1 MHz frequency.

This announcement comes just two days after The Hindu first reported on the plan to change frequencies, which was slammed by listeners and employees alike.

While an AIR statement claims that the suspension was done on the advice of Prasar Bharati CEO B.S Lalli on Sunday, October 31, Prasar Bharati board chairperson Mrinal Pande disputes this timeline.

On Monday, AIR director-general Noreen Naqvi told Ms. Pande she had taken the decision to shift frequencies after discussion with Mr. Lalli, and the CEO had suggested that she put up a formal note to him on the issue. “So I asked that a copy of the note be forwarded to me as well. However, no note has been sent to me till date,” Ms. Pande told The Hindu.

She was relieved that the “extremely questionable decision” was being suspended, but also expressed dismay that she was informed by the media and not the executive, and that both decision and suspension were made without informing the Board at all.

Guidelines criticised

In its statement, AIR sought to put the blame on guidelines issued by the Telecom Ministry.

“The matter of frequency change has been under consideration in accordance with the guidelines given by the Ministry of Communication/Wireless Advisor who have advised that All India Radio should bring its channels within 100 to 103.7 MHz band to achieve the objectives of the plan for all broadcasters,” said the AIR statement.

Ten days ago, AIR decided to shift frequencies, giving up the band on which had built its brand and wide listener base for the last nine years and instead move to the frequency used during the last two months for Commonwealth Games-related broadcasts. Listeners were appalled at the decision to move to a frequency with poor reception and sound quality, without any extensive publicity about the shift.

There were also apprehensions that the stronger frequency could be sold off to a private player, with several employees pointing out that the BAG network's Dhamaal station had been given the coveted 106.4 frequency in ten other cities and towns.

AIR's Wednesday statement actually claims this fact as another justification for the proposed shift. “In the Phase II FM expansion in 2006, the 106.4 frequency has been allotted by the government to private FM operators which has led in particular to affecting AIR FM operation in areas around Hissar and Karnal due to co channel interference in the area.”

AIR cites this as a reason that the “AIR directorate after having conducted a field strength measurement felt it would be an appropriate time to migrate to identified frequencies so as to maintain its large area of operation.” This indicates AIR's willingness to give up its strong Delhi frequency in order to avoid “interference” from the private channel's broadcast in other smaller cities.

According to the AIR statement, the “plan will not be taken up till such time the entire matter is put up to [Mr. Lalli] formally and all relevant aspects have been examined.”