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Rajesh Tahil

Station Director | 22 Mar 2003

Rajesh Tahil has spent a large part of his career in radio industry. He was involved with Radio Mid Day, half a decade back, when the Government had allowed private players to air their programmes for few hours a day on AIR FM. And when Private FM stations came into being and Mid Day decided to launch a station in Mumbai, he was once again at the helm of affairs.

In a conversation with Ritu Midha of exchange4media.com, Rajesh Tahil, Station Director, Go 92.5 talks about the strategy changes at GO, advertisers’ response to FM radio, license fee, formats of programming and things FM Radio in India needs to improve on.

Q. Go 92.5 has increased the ratio of Hindi programming on the station. What led to this change?

Yes, we have increased the Hindi music content by about 20-25%. As for what led to this change: you will recall when the 5 players first launched, the now mass market players were playing 30-50% English music depending on station and one of the late entrants started with hip hop and edgy, alternative music – obviously in that competitive framework the definition of Go as a main stream hit radio format tended much more towards English.

With all the other players vacating that slot and going completely mass market our research shows that there is a big need gap in the market for listeners who don’t want only Bollywood (or only English), but a mix of international chart toppers, love songs, remixes etc. That is a great opportunity for us to widen our audience base without losing our existing listeners as we still play more and better English music than anybody else

Apart from just the playlist we have also made other changes; Anish Trivedi now has a co-host, who is quite well known as a TV actress who brings her brand of perkiness and her proximity to Bollywood to Good Morning Mumbai, we have also introduced The Mid-Day show in the late morning slot with music responses driven through the newspaper. Here again it has helped us widen our audience base among a different set of listeners. We have also created a ‘college band’ on the 2to5 pm time band and it has been very well received.

Q. How has the response been to the changed format so far? Has it brought in more listeners? And increased the brand count on the station?

We are tracking this very closely and it is very obvious that both in numbers and in profile there is definitely a market expansion taking place for Go. It is evident from the number of responses to contests, to the number of hits on our interactive voice response system to presence at our ground activities etc.

In terms of brand count it is difficult to tell at this stage. Since radio is a growing medium and clients are adopting quickly, there has been an increase a month on month increase in brand count from the day we launched. But we are sure that it will result in brands that have so far perceived us to be too up market or segmented wanting to try us as we move to a much more hybrid format.

Q. How has the World Cup related programming on Go fared?

World Cup like all other sporting events for us has been fantastic. The way we do sports on radio is one of our core strengths and we have demonstrated that time and again – whether it was with our coverage of FIFA world cup with Phil the football fanatic or India Natwest with Harsha Bhogle. This time around, besides interactive ideas and contests with ICICI Prudential, Mc Donald’s, Western Union Money Transfer, Parker, Kenya Airways, Max New York Life, etc; we have an exclusive content tie up with the BBC for live coverage from South Africa. Besides, of course, the regular features like Kenkre on Cricket, Khalidoscope, etc.

Q. Coming to perhaps one of the most important questions, are the advertisers looking at radio more seriously now?

Yes, they are. There is more interest in radio than ever before, I think it is being considered as part of any new launches. With the other metros starting up I think it’s only going to get better. I have no doubt that radio will be 3rd in the hierarchy of advertiser decision after Mainstream TV and print dailies in a very short time if it isn’t already for some. Using radio, like a lot of the clients have discovered, can be an extremely exciting process as it jump starts the brand’s saliency tremendously if you pick the station and the property carefully.

Q. How can the advertisers optimise the value they get by advertising on radio?

I think there are a couple of points to keep in mind. To begin with, pick the set of stations well so that you get a good mix of audiences. Numbers are important but not the only factor, so no point duplicating by taking more than one ‘me too’ station. Frequency is important on radio, using a combination of innovations, sponsorships, spots etc you should make sure you have a high frequency campaign at least in the first few weeks of your campaign. If you are buying a property, make sure there is a brand fit and more importantly that it is executed well. And lastly, I think one should spend time and maybe some money getting your radio commercial right…it should not be the last thing you do in a span of two hours before the campaign breaks.

Q. Would you say that radio advertising has improved a lot as far as quality is concerned in the last one year?

Yes it has. I think there are fewer clients using the audio from the TV commercial, which is good. The quality of writing, especially humour on radio is great. I think writers could spend some time understanding audio production to make their commercial do more for them. Again here I think more than money, if you spend more time on your radio campaign you get better quality commercials and better executed properties.

Q. If you were to point out three things, FM Radio in India needs to improve on what would they be?

Well, let me see. I think more variety in programming, which the current license fee structure does not allow. Secondly, better variety/depth in the style of on air presenters, there should be some young, some older, some funny, some more serious etc…there is some sort of VJ style, type casting of radio presenters that is already happening which is not good as it could lead to monotony. And, thirdly, as an industry wide listenership data that gives the advertiser unbiased figures.

Another often asked question, is there enough talent in the country, which understands radio?

There is to some extent, and there will be an increase in both quality and quantity as we go along. Talent is something we are never short of in this country — not with a vibrant entertainment industry. Also radio is very much a buzz industry now and more and more people are getting interested in it both at a management level as well as for production and on air talent. But I think for all talent, especially on air and production, we need to invest a lot more time in training and give them time to develop. I think the intense competitive pressures are taking toll on sound human resource policies.

Moving to another direction, quite a few radio stations will be launched in near future. Do you think it would have a positive impact on FM in the country?

To answer the first part of your question, I do hope so!!! I am talking of radio stations besides the ones scheduled to launch in Calcutta, Chennai and Delhi.

Fact is of the 108 odd licenses that went on offer in 2000, less than 25% will become operational. Mumbai had 11 frequencies available, there are just 5 and Delhi had 10, there are just 3. No prizes for guessing that something is getting in the way of rapid growth in this industry and it needs to be fixed quick.

Will it have a positive impact on the country, most definitely – take Mumbai which is the most dynamic FM market with 5 private players. The industry has directly and indirectly created at least a few hundred jobs, there are five million listeners - so obviously the consumer is thrilled. Each one of the radio stations besides providing entertainment is doing some activity that is of use to the community —whether it is a traffic update or getting behind various social causes.

Q. The Government has still not made up its mind on license fee structure. Are you optimistic of private FM’s future in the country if the license fee structure remains the same?

No, unfortunately I am not. The license fee has to change; otherwise it will end up being a monopolistic business where one or two large players and only a few local players will survive. That’s not good for both the consumers of the radio industry – the advertiser and the listener.

Q. Moving to another front, do you believe that radio has scope for far more than music shows? Which other genres can find a perfect platform on radio?

Yes there is scope, but for that perceived risk of trying something different has to be much less. There is scope for talk radio, for fiction, for sports radio and most definitely news. We have done some chat shows, live performances, internationally well renowned DJs have done sessions at our studios and of course we ve done the Suitable Boy drama. But obviously with severe commercial considerations at play everything does tend to be evaluated from a “is this going to improve my rating” point of view.

Having said that, that’s the way commercial radio is pretty much every where around the world…the two big supporters of non music radio formats are BBC and NPR, both public funded.

Q. What is happening on the PPL front? Has the fee paid to them come down?

The PPL matter is in the hands of the courts. The process for what radio broadcasters should pay the music industry is in an advanced stage of legal discussion, currently we are paying about Rs 500 an hour.

Q. Let us talk about radio research. Is the industry coming together to have a syndicated study? Who would be conducting the study?

They are. They are not. They are. They are not. I don’t know the latest…

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