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Sameer Soni

Station Director | 31 Dec 2003

"Tapping into people’s emotions, that’s the mantra behind Mirchi’s programming."

Meet the Man behind the ultimate Bollywood station! In a candid conversation with Anushree Madan Mohan from exchange4media, Sameer Soni, Station Head Mumbai, Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM defines Radio Mirchi as a brand, traces the station’s core objectives and defines its programming content.

Q. Please give us a brief background about yourself. How did you begin your association at Radio Mirchi?

My association with Radio Mirchi started off with one fateful lunch with Mr. AP Parigi, MD & CEO, Times Infotainment Media at China Garden. We had a no holds barred conversation, spinning around my career graph, my interests and my thoughts about radio as a medium. About fifteen days later, he offered me the position at Mirchi. Radio, per say, is an exciting field, one which offers great prospects for growth. And Mirchi as a station does stand for quality programming, it inspires instant recall amongst the people. I din’t think twice about taking up on Mr.Parigi’s offer.

A brief background about myself? Well, for starters, I am a true blood Delhite. I arrived in Bombay in 1991 and did my MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute Of Management Studies. Thereon, I took up a position in Deutsche bank. I soon realized that banking, as a field did not hold much interest for me. Which is why, I started out as an entrepreneur and established my own set up. But jewellery as a business venture requires plenty of investment and capital. Three years later, I took the decision to return back into the professional game. Which is where ETC comes in. As a satellite channel, ETC offered me tons of experience and learning. I have always believed that your learning is always the maximum in a smaller unit. What I got from ETC at that point in time, I couldn’t possibly have derived it from a bigger set up. At ETC, it was Mr.Yogesh Radhakrishnan who taught me the nuances of the profession. He in his rustic style attuned me to all there is to the game. I still regard him with the highest degree of respect. The next stage was of course Mirchi. And till now, the going has been great.

Q. How would you define Mirchi’s positioning? What kind of a music mix do you serve?

Mirchi….Apka Apna Bollywood station! The ultimate stop for all the film world buzz. Mirchi caters to the young at heart. It’s a royal mix of fun and entertainment! As far as music is concerned, we are a hit radio format. We play music, which is already a hit amongst audiences. And we do not break new songs. 80 per cent of Mirchi’s content is contemporary Bollywood music. As far as retro is concerned, we generally play the old numbers post 9 pm at night or during the afternoons. That’s the Mirchi fare for you!

Q. Since most of the stations are serving a platter of Hindi music, how do you stand out from the competition? Don’t you think that this gives rise to a situation wherein everyone winds up sounding similar?

People in this country bond with Hindi as a language. While English is a language that’s held in awe, Hindi is still the language that we are comfortable with. In an effort to impress those around him, a 19-year-old guy would probably drive around in a car with a Kylie Monogue number playing in the background but in the solace of his home, he would still tune into a Kishor Kumar number. Bollywood music would always be a priority. In a country such as ours, English is still a niche language and only appeals to select audiences.

About FM stations are sounding alike because of an almost similar tilt towards Hindi music? Well…. Have you looked at the television scene lately? What differentiates a Sony from a Star Plus? Or a Sahara from a Zee? Aren’t they all trying to cash in on Hindi content? Pick a family drama from a certain channel and compare it with its peers, would you notice much of a difference? I believe that while most FM stations concentrate on Hindi music, it is the stationality factor that sets them apart. Interstitials, promotions, contests, RJ’s, presentation, and packaging- all these factors set Mirchi apart from the competition. While ideas are limited in every medium, it’s the execution that counts.

Q. Which are the most popular shows in Mirchi? What role does the RJ play in the scheme of things?

Unlike television, radio is not based on one hour show format. The time band is of paramount importance in this medium. One band flows into the other, the process is seamless. The RJ of the morning slot would shake hands with the RJ of the afternoon slot, but then that’s the nature of the medium. Hence your question should be- Which are the most popular time bands on Radio Mirchi? By default, it’s the morning and the evening time bands that generate the most listenership.

A radio jock is an integral part of the stationality of the channel. As a matter of fact, an RJ is that figure which brings out the stickiness in the medium. While everybody’s playing the same music, it’s the jock that brings out the distinction. But is the jock the only thing that lends relevance to the station? I think not! There are other factors as well, such as presentation, promotions, packaging etc.

Q. Does Mirchi make it a point to recruit seasoned jocks? Or are freshers acceptable as well?

I can trace very few people, who would come under the category of seasoned jocks. Mirchi is open to recruiting freshers, as long as they fit the bill. We give them the requisite training before putting them on air. Youngsters are informed about what the brand Radio Mirchi stands for, they are given lessons in voice modulation and are taught the nuances of the medium. They are first made to do voice overs and are trained as voice artistes, before they are given the responsibility of hosting a show.

Q. What’s the mantra behind Mirchi’s programming?

Tapping into people’s emotions, that’s the mantra behind Mirchi’s programming. Radio is a very personal medium, it plays the role of a friend. A listener needs to get involved with radio. Mirchi expects its jocks to bond with the listener. There is a need to feel the pulse of the people and to connect with them at every level. For instance, the mornings have to start with on a positive note. Nearly every one’s schedule is more or less the same in the mornings. It’s up to the RJ to tap into the morning mood and offer hope for a brand new day.

Q. What differentiates Mirchi from the rest? What are your key concerns as a leading radio station?

The very name sets us apart, I would say. The other stations sound ‘Oh So English’, while Mirchi instantly gives a colloquial feel. The very name intrigues people. Our concerns as a leading station? My biggest concern is consumer expectation management. Our listeners have a great deal of expectations from us and we have to be careful enough not to let them down. Another concern is change. In a medium as dynamic as radio, change is unstoppable but with it comes the fear of coping with change.

Q. Would you say that the limited revenue that flows radio’s way is a cause for concern as well?

It mustn’t be forgotten that as a medium, radio stations are fighting against a lot many constraints. On one hand, there are the regulatory issues. On the other hand, there is a set mindset that we have to fight against. Lack of authentic research is a major concern. The problem is that while a universal yardstick exists for television, a similar measuring device doesn’t really exist for radio. If its research that’s taken on by the stations themselves, it is more or less regarded with a pinch of salt! In such a scenario, planners are not fully convinced about the kind of reach that a particular station provides. And that’s one of the main reasons for radio getting a limited share of the ad pie.

Q. How is Mirchi faring in terms of revenue?

The profile of our advertisers varies from FMCG brands, telecom brands, consumer durables, petroleum giants, and financial entities. Mirchi has a platter of at least 200 advertisers. Tactical ideas, promotional schemes, contests, and creative solutions- various brands are partnering with Mirchi in every way possible. But moving ahead, for us to survive, the category has to grow. Having said that, it must also be said that the going hasn’t been easy for us! There is a fixed mindset that we have to fight against.

Q. Has there been an increase in the ad spends of television channels off late?

Oh Yes! There has been a definite increase in the ad spends of television channels, as far as Mirchi is concerned. While earlier, TV channels were merely flirting with the medium; today it’s a full-blown affair. They are doing programme promotions, brand promotions, contests and all the works! As to why, they have increased their advertising on Mirchi off late; the answer lies in the medium itself. Radio, as a medium is alive! Topicality, interactivity and the sheer numbers- these are the core reasons!

Q. Most music companies complain that with radio stations playing the full version of the latest songs, their sales have gone down. What would be your take on the same?

Well, do I have a choice? How else would we be running the radio station? Besides, I don’t really think that there has been a dip in sales. If there’s music on the FM stations and people are listening, it should bring in more of a demand for audiocassettes and CD’s. Not the other way around!

Q. What all marketing activities have been taken on by Mirchi in order to build itself as a brand?

Well, this question would require a flashback of sorts. In April 2002, we launched Radio Mirchi in Mumbai. Our outdoor campaign at that point in time focused on the frequency of the station. The hoardings went ‘ 98.3 Radio Mirchi! Its Hot!’ As a station we had anticipated that a lot of rival stations would be stepping in. Hence we felt that the first thing that ought to register in the consumer’s mind is the frequency. Now that we had imprinted the frequency in the consumer’s mind, it was time to concentrate on our tag line. In Stage 2, we used Bollywood as a platform to spell out the message. In other words, why is Preity Zinta seen in so many refrigerator commercials? Coz It’s Hot! Similarly, why is Salman Khan slipping off his shirt in every film? Why is Aamir Khan drinking so much of Thanda? The list of questions went on and on.

Now that we had translated our by line, we felt that it was time to interact with the public on a more intimate level. We started partnering with a lot of ground events! In the same vein, we partnered with college festivals like Kaleidoscope, Kiran and Umang in order to build on our equity. In the current day, we are a key element in the MTV Immies and the Bandra Festival. Again, we have Bollywood related activities like the Mirchi movie of the month, wherein we pick a movie and build programming around it. Another instance, would be that of the Lata Mangeshkar concert wherein we were in the forefront.

Q. Would you classify the Mirchi Kaan awards as yet another branding exercise?

I would look at it as a category building exercise. The objective is not to build Mirchi as a brand but build the category as a whole. Since radio is a new medium, there are very few people who would take the initiative to acknowledge creativity within the medium. And its not an easy task since there are no visuals to aid the task. The Kaan awards would build creativity in radio, as a whole. It would ensure that the creative pool within radio doesn’t go unrecognized.

Q. Humor rules supreme when it comes to creatives on radio. Why is creativity within the medium restricted to spoofs and jokes alone?

Well, I think that it’s a good thing! We Indians need to lighten up and laugh at ourselves more often. Frankly, we take ourselves too seriously. Humor based advertising adds some color to an otherwise mundane life besides adding value to the message at hand. But off late, there is a lot of experimentation going on with radio commercials. Creative minds are trying to tap into various emotions. The scene is not restricted to humor alone.

Q. How would you define in one word?

Mirchi= Entertainment. There can be no other definition!

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