While the latest developments in television broadcast technologies continue to steal the limelight in the public arena, the fact that the Middle East radio broadcasting industry remains not only a viable, but thriving commercial sector, often goes largely unnoticed.
A recent report published by Arab Advisors Group found that the number of local FM stations broadcasting across the region reached 307 in February, with many of these only being established in the previous 12 months by private entities in countries including Iraq and Lebanon.
A further nine radio stations boasted pan-Arab distribution, raising the total number of FM stations to 316.
These figures represent a 50 percent increase on the number of FM stations broadcasting across the region in February, 2007.
Furthermore, the report found that the growth in the number of privately owned FM stations vastly outstripped that of state-owned broadcasters in the 18 countries surveyed, with 150 independent stations currently on air compared to 157 state-owned entities.
Algeria and the UAE play host to the largest number of government-funded stations, while Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine are entirely serviced by privately owned FM radio broadcasters.
The report found that Iraq and Lebanon alone contributed 42 percent of the total growth in the number of privately-owned local FM stations broadcasting in the MENA region.
The fact is that in developing markets, radio broadcasting remains the dominant mass media platform and a vital source of news and information, as well as entertainment for listeners.
Given the continuing influx of expatriate workers relocating to countries in the region, the growth in the number of privately-owned FM stations should continue unabated, as operators look to tap niche sectors of the market.
Interestingly, and despite the increase in the number of broadcasters requiring additional FM spectrum, there remains little impetus for the local industry to embrace digital radio technology.
Digital radio has failed to gain traction in key radio broadcasting markets in Western Europe and the US, where it is perceived as a panacea to the problem of the lack of available FM spectrum.
In the US, satellite radio services have undoubtedly proven more successful than its 'HD radio' rival, developed by iBiquity Corporation.
In Western Europe, the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) standard has enjoyed mixed success. The standard has been adopted by 1000 radio broadcasters across the region, largely as a result of its ability to broadcast multiple channels using less spectrum than analogue services.
In less spectrum-hungry markets such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the case for establishing these innovative but costly services ultimately remains questionable.
Aaron Greenwood is the group editor for IT, broadcast & communications of ITP Publishing Group.