Comments by the PM on Monday sparked a debate on whether listening to radio in Thailand on transistor sets is a thing of the past. Data shows that while transistor sets may be something from yesteryear, listening to live radio both on the AM and FM band is certainly widespread among all age groups from Generation Z to Baby Boomers among millions of Bangkokonians tuned in on a daily basis.

Radio as a communications medium is going strong in Thailand among all age groups from Generation Z listeners to older baby boomers with millions of regular listeners according to research brought forward by the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday after General Prayut came under fire from critics when he called on the public to have access to transistor radio sets in flooded areas in case power and the modern communication network breaks down.

(Inset) General Prayut Chan ocha visited Khon Kaen on Tuesday to see the devastation caused by floods there. (Right) Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri vigorously defended the prime minister’s comments and recommendations concerning transistor radio sets and the use of the traditional broadcast network during emergencies to brief and communicate with the public. Mr Anucha produced substantial evidence including Nielsen ratings for Bangkok, showing that traditional radio is as popular as ever in Thailand across all age groups despite the shift in the last decade to online platforms with the growth of the internet.

On Tuesday, a top government spokesman at the Prime Minister’s Office hit back at critics of General Prayut after it emerged at a briefing of provincial governors and state agencies on Monday to discuss current widespread flooding in the kingdom, that he recommended the public be advised to listen to radio channels for guidance and official bulletins on the situation, similar to the chaotic flooding in Thailand in 2011, where electrical power and mobile communications went down in some areas.

Prime Minister Prayut suggested the use of transistor radio sets as opposed to modern mobile devices during the online briefing ahead of his visit to Khon Kaen on Tuesday where he surveyed flood damage in the province while his office defended his comments to the media. 

Report suggests the retail sale of old-fashioned transistor radio sets for AM and FM radio is in decline

The remarks by General Prayut on his first day back at the office in Government House following his reinstatement, on Friday by the Constitutional Court, drew fire from critics who pointed out that listening to transistor radios was something that had gone out with the flood in Thailand with the Bangkok Post locating a retail outlet which sold transistor radios in ChaiNat province in central Thailand.

The owner told reporters that he sold one transistor radio set a month for ฿590 or ฿690 with batteries, mostly to elderly people or farmers in the field.

Another survey of market traders found that nearly all agreed that they had not listened to the radio on a transistor radio set in 10 years at least.

Well known lawyer poked fun at PM

A prominent lawyer, Paisal Phuetmongkol, took to social media to poke fun at the Prime Minister for his remark describing him as a man belonging to a past era.

‘When I was a child, I liked transistor radios. But, now, in the age of modern technology, I don’t even know where to buy one,’ Mr Paisal joked.

However, on Tuesday, Anucha Burapachaisri for the Prime Minister’s Office insisted to reporters that live radio as a medium was very much alive in Thailand and backed up his claims with evidence.

Mr Anucha told reporters that extensive research by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and Thammasat University showed that 85.9% of people in Thailand still listen to FM radio on a regular basis while 11.2% still listen to the more old-fashioned AM or Medium Wave band.

Government House strikes back revealing that 86% of the Thai public still listen to traditional radio stations while 69% use receivers at home, in cars and phones

The research also showed that 17.5% of the Thai public now also listened regularly to radio online.

However, the Thammasat University research found that 68.9% of Thai people still used radio receivers to tune in. This includes radios at home, car radios and portable radios including FM radios that work on smartphones as well as transistor radio sets.

Significantly, 19.3% of people listen to radio stations on their smartphones via internet streaming while 7.8% use the FM radio that comes with most mobile phones in effect making them akin to a transistor radio set.

The deputy Secretary-general for Political Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Anucha, also presented data for August 2022 compiled by Nielsen in Thailand for radio listening trends in Bangkok where no less than 36 FM and AM radio stations are available or ON AIR.

AM and FM radio in Bangkok attracted nearly 10 million listeners in August according to Nielsen

The data found there were 3.5 million people from Generation X who were regular listeners of radio in the capital. These are people aged from 40 to 59 years of age. These were followed by 3.3 million Generation Y or those from 20 to 29 years of age.

After this, came the baby boomer generation with a further 2 million people aged between 60 and 71 years of age tuned in while the same data showed 800,000 young Generation Z listeners aged 12 to 18 also regularly listening to the radio.

‘In the current situation, Thailand is constantly experiencing natural disasters. which is a cause that causes damage to life, property, rights or liberties of the people. The wide operation of broadcasting and television are therefore important in disseminating and presenting information necessary for preparation, in order to prevent, correct and mitigate disasters or emergencies,’ said Mr Anucha.

Shift of media to online platforms is happening but radio, so far, in Thailand has been an exception

The contretemps comes as the strength of traditional media in Thailand including TV, traditionally the biggest player, is waning with reduced advertising spends and a constant shift in marketing budgets to online media including video, news sites and radio.

Radio in Thailand has consistently shown itself to be only negligibly impacted by these trends as, on one hand, the medium merges with modern trends while also retaining a distinct appeal of its own particularly as an entertainment source while travelling or background source while working.

However, trends in western countries and markets show that this may change in time while at the same time, radio stations are integrating with online entertainment and news service offerings.

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In this context, it should be noted that the status of radio in Thailand has managed over the last decade to maintain its position despite the massive transformation of the media scene.

Prayut’s second government has overseen an improvement, in recent years, of press freedom

The comments by the Prime Minister must also be seen in the context of efforts by both his administrations since he came to power after the 2014 coup, to limit or supervise the proliferation of online media and coverage which has revolutionised the dissemination of news and current affairs commentary in Thailand.

Efforts to control online media such as creating a digital gateway for external traffic or media, proposals to create a national news pool and more aggressive online media monitoring in the guise of a war on ‘fake news’ have not taken hold in the kingdom as, despite all of this, the government has shown itself to be sensitive to press freedom with Thailand, to its credit, is rising with the most recent press freedom index showing the kingdom ranking well ahead of many of its peers in Asia.

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