Adgully Exclusive | How radio got back its mojo: 92.7 Big FM honcho explains

Once upon a time, radio was the people's medium. It was a wise friend to farmers, offering them practical advice. It entertained the masses by sharing with them the genius of Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, and Asha Bhosle. It passed on the government's messages on health and civic virtue. India loved radio, and it seemed the country and radio would live happily ever after. Then one day, a shiny prince called TV mesmerised India. TV showed people that images and sound could come together magically in living rooms. Soon, the poor radio lived only with those people who could not afford TV sets. It appeared that radio would die in obscurity. Then a miracle called FM revolution swept through India, making radio hip and desirable again. Now lakhs of people of India take their radios with them in their luxurious air-conditioned cars.

This incredible fairy-tale ending needs credible elucidation. Therefore, Adgully spoke to Anand Chakravarthy, the senior vice-president (marketing) of 92.7 Big FM.

"I think radio has changed a hell of a lot," Chakravarthy said effusively. "In any category, competition forces a change. And radio channels realise that they can't do what they were doing. They are changing in line with the change seen in consumers." Chakravarthy said that consumers had become very demanding in the era of infotainment glut. "If people don't like you, they switch you off," he said. "For example, when we launched, radio was a fairly simple medium and the content was focused mainly on music and movies." Besides, the content was governed by traditional models. "And 80% of the players were in that space," Chakravarthy said. "But to be fair to them, it was a very difficult business when they launched. The ability to experiment was limited because profitability was a huge pressure."

Then came Phase II in the medium's development, Chakravarthy said. Radio Ver2.0 opened up more creative avenues. "A change had been effected in the regulation relating to revenue sharing and players were therefore able to spend a lot on marketing and promotion," he said. "Then several significant developments took place that altered the nature of radio: stations started experimenting, and many genres which were never played before 2006 were brought back." For example, Sufi music and ghazals found secure places for themselves on the Indian airwaves. "In fact, we had a show called "Seher' which was hosted by Shweta Tiwari; it was the first devotional show in India," Chakravarthy said. "It was a runaway hit. In Bikaner, the poojari of a temple used to play that show every morning. As new players came in, they brought in new ideas and I think everybody across the globe did a lot more on the content front."

Chakravarthy said such explorations made radio exciting and contemporary. Moreover, the interactivity being encouraged by radio stations engaged more and more listeners. Chakravarthy cited Big FM's shows to illustrate the point. "We have a live broadcast every Sunday from a mall with our RJ," he said. "And every Friday, we take 20 of our listeners to watch the first-day-first-show of a movie." The station also has a show with different housing societies every Wednesday. "The way we interact with consumers has changed a lot," Chakravarthy said. "Therefore, the perception of a radio station has changed to a great extent; a station is no longer considered to be the purveyor of songs alone. A lot of new ideas have come from international radio stations as well."

As for the greatest change in the medium, Chakravarthy said that radio stations were no longer limited to being an on-air product. "Experimenting, innovating, bringing in new content, and going regional¦these are some of the most significant features of the new radio," he said. "When we launched in Bangalore in 2006, we were the first channel to launch in Kanada and then after six months, all the others followed. As a result, in Bangalore, the time spent on radio is virtually similar to that spent on television."

But are there dangers lurking that might sour the current episode of the radio fairy tale? Adgully put that question to Chakravarthy. "To our mind, radio is the most stable business," he said. "But I think one of the key issues to tackle are regulations. And we are confident that they will be dealt with in the Phase III of radio's evolution." He then outlined some of the salient areas where regulations need to be revisited. "Music royalty, the opening of news and current affairs, opening up of live sports on radio¦these are the areas that need to be looked at," he said. "If these are resolved, the business will receive a huge boost and Phase III will automatically spur growth."


News in the domain of Advertising, Marketing, Media and Business of Entertainment

More in Exclusives