When radio was made by its inventors, they could never imagine that they were building a million dollars industry. If they could, then they would have written a rule book as well. As far as FM radio is concerned, there are no rules as such, apart from the code of conduct and some general guidelines. This is the freedom of radio and also known as the confusion of radio. The experimentation levels are too high. Even before the result of any change comes in, three other changes are implemented.
The audience tunes in to listen to music and more music, and they mean it. Gone are the days when radio was considered as a ‘friend to the ears’. Listeners today are ruthless, busy, equipped with technology and with short memories. No matter how much money put in, the end result is thrashed by RAM. It is not a surprise to see a dip in listenership consecutively for two quarters. Why is it happening, can we stop it? Is there something wrong that we are doing? Whose fault is this – the audience or the radio companies? These are the points on which we should debate or brainstorm now.
Whenever we see mess in our house what do we do? We clean it, that’s what radio requires today. Radio is a sound business, but when we overdo it, it becomes noise. Good, soothing music has a long and deep effect, but noise vanishes in a shorter period of time from our memories. So coming back to the main question “how can we clean the radio”, let’s try these simple points:
a) What to clean: All unwanted and jarring stationalities. Do it with a simple method. Take any non-prime time. Let’s say 3-4 pm, listen to it with minimum stationalities and then compare it with any other hour. If need be, include more of it, otherwise apply the same to every other hour.
b) Limited Interactivity: It’s a new age radio. People like to listen to the information and want to move on. They do not wish to stop and answer your obvious questions about Bollywood.
c) Distribute advertisements and sparklers evenly: This is important as your music manager will complain that the inventory of the prime time is double than the non-prime time. Ultimately it’s a listener whom you are keeping away from good music.
d) Set an ideal length for the songs: What should be the ideal length is subjective, but if you will keep it somewhere between 3.30 and 4 minutes this will do and you will be allowed to play more music.
e) Set jock talk length: A daunting task for every producer, but required. Remember, your listeners have the opportunities to tune in to other channels, moreover they have other devices like the iPod, cell phones, laptops, etc., to serve the purpose.
f) Be listener oriented: Keep your perspective towards your audience rather than keeping it inclined towards the client, because you cannot alter your station as per the client’s need every time, but you can adjust and tune it once it for all for your audience.
g) Back to basics: If things are too messy to fix then go back to the basics. Sit with the team, decide what’s not working for your station. Keep your radio simple, melodious, informative and musical.
h) We sell audience: Always keep this in mind as a thumb rule that in radio we sell audience not the airtime. Your listeners will decide the ultimate fate of your sales revenue.
i) Less TV on air: Do not include a lot of television in your daily shows. Who are you fooling – your audience or yourself? They know it that you are struggling for content.
j) On ground presence: It’s again subjective, but in my opinion radio is first an on-air phenomenon and not any event organiser. First satisfy your on-air listener needs then move to the ground.
Radio is a wonderful medium; the beauty of it lies in its simplicity. This cleaning will work as defragmentation command of computer. It will not only increase listenership, but shall indirectly give a lot of other benefits. Let’s create theatre of the mind and not battle of the mind. The stress level should come down; people must feel happy to work like a listener feels when he hears his favourite music on air. Let’s clean the radio, let’s save the radio.
(Lokesh Gulyani is a radio and TV programming consultant.)