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Vehrnon Ibrahim

Executive Producer & National Programming Head | 13 Nov 2002

"The sad truth is agencies today have lost the edge to use gut feel and stick to numbers which in a creative business can be a contradiction in terms."

The private FM radio stations are experiencing a cut-throat competition in the market especially in the Mumbai city. And if you are the last one to enter the market life becomes far more difficult. So we met Vehrnon Ibrahim, the Executive Producer & National Programming Head of Radio Today's 93.5 RED FM, the fifth player to enter the market in Mumbai, to know how they are coping up with the challenge of being the last entrant.

A real music freak with rich experience in entertainment industry, Ibrahim's vibrancy, fun loving attitude and wittiness personifying RED's personality says it all.
He doesn't seem to be perturbed much about the competitor's claims as he proclaims that we are bang on target in reaching out to our listeners.

In a candid chat with Akshay Bhatnagar of exchange4media, Ibrahim refuses to bother too much about being different from others and instead stresses on the need to create own hard burn programming formats like the Western market to survive in the long run. Plus, he hints on the new programming initiatives bringing the action live on air!

Q. How's RED doing in Mumbai?

ell, it's doing very well! The launch in Mumbai has been very well received by the listeners. I'll give you one example. Recently after a great meal in one of Bombay's hidden away eateries in a narrow by lane, I got into a conversation with a young fellow who was selling cheap radio sets on the pavements. Being both in the same line, sort of, I asked him what stations he liked, the chap at once said 93.5 RED as his favourite! He said it was addictive even though there are 5 FM players in the Mumbai market. So that's the kind of response we are getting from every quarter of the city.

Q. What has been your programming strategy?

We are very focused on being vibrant, fun, witty and personality oriented rather than just technology driven. The technology can be copied quite easily. Personalities cannot. Also instead of aping successful FM radio programmers the world over, we have been very specific in our content approach by focusing on local taste and culture in our content selection and presentation. India is a unique market and products that are successful abroad may not necessarily work here if our needs are not understood. You might say that idea is nothing revolutionary but you'd be surprised at some tactics.

Q. Ok. Does it make RED different from other FM radio stations in Mumbai?

Let me put it this way. Why should we bother too much about being different? India is a country which thrives on humour, entertainment, fun, wit, music and movies and sure - sports. We got to just follow these appeals of the Indian psyche and create programming in the proper manner without getting too much into the aspects of being different for the sake of it. The question is how not what to programme. I am more bothered about when and how should I air my exclusive programme, let's say an interview with Amitabh Bachchan. Shall I run it 5 times a day or just once? Hit out like an ad ROS or promo it to the ground so the tension is built and released… These are the important issues. The Amitabh interview will air for sure but when and how, that's what makes us different.

Q. What kind of music programmes do you air on RED?

We play the hits. We play all the hits no matter what. Hindi or English. That's all we play. All kinds, all genres, all likings and tastes ranging from Hindi movie songs to Urban jams… We have no quota of any particular type of music or language, we just play what the city likes to hear. Then we play it again. Defining what a hit is can be perplexing but we have our ways derived from both logical progressions and gut feel. Some songs can even be smelled out coming at you while walking through a crowded fish market and others can slowly wake up to become sea monsters and sit on the play list for a few months. Either way we have a net and pretty much catch the lot.

Q. In your opinion, which kind of radio programming formats do you think should be more successful in Indian radio FM market?

If I tell you that don't you think I'll be giving my programming strategy to you?

Q. Radio FM has just begun to evolve in the Indian market. So when do you the think the market is going to mature in terms of content?

That's an interesting question. It's purely a matter of time before everyone eventually creates their own hard burn programming formats. This misinterpretation of all stations sounding the same will eventually go. Take the example of CNN and BBC that are both international news stations so they look and sound the same but in terms of programming, they are miles apart. Right now all the private FM stations have just started. Give it some decent time to evolve in terms of different TG focus programming. If A is playing a song Sharara Sharara… and B is also playing the same, they are criticized for using the same programme. Today, most stations are hitting at the TG which has the numbers. The sad truth is agencies today have lost the edge to use gut feel and stick to numbers which in a creative business can be a contradiction in terms.

Q. As you said there is not much difference in programming, does this minimal differentiation applies to the target group also?

Unlike other mediums, FM radio still has no people meter as such. So the least said, the better it is in terms of ratings. Brand recall could be irrelevant. Michael Jackson is known by 50% of our country but did not sell enough units of his last album to pay for the printing costs of the cassette cover. But even without ratings we know one thing, RED FM is bang on target in terms of reaching our 70% of Bombay. Our interactivity channels like telephone lines and SMS experiences network crunching amounts of traffic. Our own call out data backs this up. What we know from our personal experience is that our listeners are very lively irrespective of their profile. So in terms of TG, we have them in the cross hairs.

Q. A recent study of the Mumbai radio FM market showed that more than 90% radio FM listeners belong to the home segment. Does it mean a different kind of programming for them?

Absolutely yes it would. We have different kinds of content mix to suit the needs of the listeners whether they are listening from their home or car or office or even shops etc. But along with that, the mood of the listener also matters a lot to us while planning the programmes. So we are targeting different hours of the day to reach out to our listeners in a different way, both at peak and off hours.

Our RJ's TJ, Jose, and Mohan are really rocking. The phone lines are jammed. The best part is that each one has their own distinct identity. Most of the callers on Jose's show are girls, he sure seems to have made an impression on them. Mohan gets the more mature callers while TJ gets pretty much all of them. I think each one has carved out a niche for themselves in terms of appeal.

Q. When are you launching RED in Delhi?

We are targeting RED launch some time in January next year. You know the score. Operational logistics are still being worked etc… We are in the process of hiring the key members of the core team to manage the show.

Q. How is it going to be different from the Mumbai RED?

Both stations are RED but that's it as far as similarities go. Yes, whatever programming can work in Delhi market will be carried over from Mumbai. But it's going to be an out and out Delhi station with its own typical Delhi flavour with the same fun and madness associated with RED FM in Mumbai.

Q. So what are RED's future plans in terms of programming?

With in a few days of launching, we carried a DJ live on turntables from our studios. Recently, for the first time in India, we went on air live from a night club and received a huge response from the listeners. We also are the first station to have a late night chat show about more "mature" problems. The idea stemmed from the fact that Radio was meant to be a companion and therefore if one of our listeners has a problem and has no one to talk to about it, he/she calls us. And these are not jocks that man the show, these are qualified people.

We plan to be where the action is, whether it is a college show or a disco or a shopping mall or a Goa party. That's only the tip of it. We got big surprises up our sleeves for our listeners for the next few months. Yes, India is a country that moves on movies and sports. And I'm sure no programmer can miss out on that. And yes we are heavily focused on that but beyond that, I cannot tell you anything more on our new initiatives. That would spoil all the fun. Wait for the action to happen!

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