Radio Jockey & MD, | 27 Dec 2004
“How is a radio station supposed to pay the overwhelming license fee if its collections don’t add up to the dues? The political leaders are too busy making money for themselves, even if it means killing a medium as effective as this one. As a result, you don’t have any new stations coming up, and those that exist are on the verge of closing shop. Stations are also averse to experimenting with new formats because they feel completely bogged down by the financial constraints.”
He is blessed with the gift of the gab and is one of the most successful contemporary radio personalities. Abbas also runs the show at Encompass Productions – an events, promotions and media company, that also churns out radio programmes. With offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Dubai, his company has over 40 corporate clients including Nokia, Toyota, Fedex, Sahara and Colgate. Encompass is currently packaging and scripting shows for Radio City, which includes FilmCity Express, Junior Janab and Public Demand. Encompass has recently expanded into below-the-line promotions and also venture into film production.
In conversation with Anushree Madan Mohan of exchange4media, Abbas shares his journey over the years, the story of Encompass, his brainchild, and his views on the radio and music industry. Excerpts:
Q. Tell us a little about Encompass Productions. Why did you decide to float this company?
The 360-degree take on things is turning out to be such a cliché; you have ad agencies, media agencies, production units – all claiming the all encompassing number, yet in most cases, they don’t live up to the task ahead of them. As the name ‘Encompass’ suggests, we are a company with a difference; we deliver all of what we actually take on. Whether its events, production or concepts, we take up all these activities simultaneously and aspire to emerge as your one-stop all pervasive media house.
Soon, we would be producing movies as well. We are currently packaging and scripting programmes on Radio City, namely, three shows – FilmCity Express, Junior Janab and Public Demand. The first of the lot, FilmCity Express, is a no-holds-barred show, spanning everything from ‘Banarasi paan’ to ‘filmi gyaan.’ Junior Janab on the other hand is a take on the Bill Cosby show, and it involves an intricate discussion with kids and their take on the adult world. Public Demand is a countdown show, aired every Sunday from 6 pm to 9 pm. We are currently producing around 15 hours of programming every week.
Q. How would you classify radio vis-à-vis other mediums?
I call it the theatre of the mind. The cost of production, unlike television, is quite low. For instance, I can take you to Mars just by building the right ambience within the studio. I don’t need to spend money on the sets or the cameras or the manpower. Yet it’s an effective medium. It can make you think, it can touch you, it can make you nostalgic, it can make you sentimental, and the effect does linger on. Radio is a relatively cheaper medium too for advertisers, yet the mileage derived is tremendous. You can touch millions in a given city, in a language that they know and trust and understand. People form relationships with the radio station of their choice; they get emotionally attached to their respective shows and anchors.
Q. How did you begin your journey as an anchor?
I used to do stage shows in school since I was four. I kept doing voice-overs, jingles and the likes. Later, while I was doing my Mass Communications from Jamia Milia Islamia, Usha Albuquerque offered me the anchor's job on a career show called ‘Hum Honge Kamyaab’. This came out of the blue as I was not planning to get into a career in anchoring. But after Hum Honge Kamyaab, I got a lot of other offers as an anchor and there's been no looking back since.
Q. Have there ever been any bloopers while on air?
You call them bloopers; I call them boo boo’s. Most of the stuff I do on radio is pre-recorded, which is why the possibility of a boo-boo is extremely rare. But I have an experience to share as far as Junior Janab is concerned. We were recording with this small group of kids in a studio, when one of the kids stood up and said, “Uncle, there is water all around this place.” I was dumb founded. How could there be water lying around in a centrally air-conditioned studio? It took us some minutes to investigate and find out that one of the kids had peed in there. When asked why he didn’t raise an alarm and rush towards the bathroom, the red-cheeked culprit said, “But Uncle, we were recording, right? Didn’t want to disturb you while you were at it. The airconditioning was getting to me, and anyway, I didn’t think that anyone would notice.”
Q. Is it quite a job, managing the kids for ‘Junior Janab’?
Kids can be a handful sometimes. But I have always been fond of children, which is why Junior Janab doesn’t seem like a job to me. I have found that if you sit on a pedestal and speak to kids like they are kids, it seldom helps. Speak to them in their language and probe for tiny details. For instance, if you stick to Hi’s and Hello’s and expect the ice to break in an instant, that’s a wrong presumption. But ask a probing question like “Who’s your best friend?” or “Which subject do you like the most in school?” It only takes one crucial question to break the ice and trigger a volley of information that you would find interesting. The best part about kids is that they are terribly honest. They say, what they think and make no bones about it.
Q. Coming to more serious subjects, what’s your take on the entire licensing issue?
I think that it’s killing the cause of private FM in the country. How is a radio station supposed to pay the overwhelming license fee if its collections don’t add up to the dues? Even with the Congress tumult in the elections, we haven’t seen much proactive effort on this front. The political leaders of this country are too busy making money for themselves, even if it means killing a medium as effective as this one. As a result, you don’t have any new stations coming up, and those that exist are on the verge of closing shop. Stations are also averse to experimenting with new formats and techniques because they feel completely cowed down by the financial constraints.
Q. You were hosting the show ‘Khanak’ on Win 94.6 at one time, before it shut shop. Did the closure of Win 94.6 come as a shock to you?
Yes and no. I knew that the license fee was taking a tremendous toll on the revenues of most FM stations in the country. If you can’t meet your costs on account of your arrears, what hope is there? Yet, the closure of Win 94.6 came as a bolt from the blue and greatly saddened me. Gautam Radia is one of the few people for whom I have tremendous respect. He made it work for as long as it could. The work atmosphere was homely and extremely comfortable and I got along with all the members of the team. All I can say is I hope for a better future for private FM in this country. And I am hoping that Win 94.6 will bounce back stronger and rejuvenated.
Q. Anish Trivedi, prior to his leaving Mid-Day, had mentioned that private FM was becoming a little too ‘mass oriented’ and perhaps stretching to the lowest common denominator? What do you think?
Again, I see this as something that’s related to the revenue aspect. Radio research has shown time and time again that it’s mass-oriented programming that works, and brands inevitably follow the numbers route. Hence, almost every radio station is attempting to be perceived as a mass station. Even the RJs sound more or less like clones of each other. If private FM breaks the financial shackles, you would have more differentiation. Programming wouldn’t just be about ‘Bhai’s’ and ‘Bidus’, it would encompass a whole lot more.
The opposite end of the spectrum is of course phony accents and a deliberate westernisation of sorts, which I think is more applicable for television. For instance, we were interviewing these kids for a small part in a play and the majority of them had accents which we couldn’t decipher at all. We then had to request them to be their normal selves and the accents were dropped. This brings me to the conclusion that the younger generation is a confused lot. On one hand, you have the mass-oriented ‘Bidu’ mindset and, on the other, you have those that slide their Ps and mind their Qs.
Q. Music companies have for long complained that private FM was affecting their sales. What is your view on this?
Private FM is not killing anyone’s sales; it is in fact encouraging listeners to make more purchases as far as music is concerned. Radio complements other mediums extremely well and there is enough room for everyone. On the other hand, we live in a technology-oriented era. You can download music in an instant (video and all) and view it on your comp. So what’s the fuss about? With life taking on a faster pace, naturally there are a lot more options available for listeners. Why shouldn’t it be so?
Q. Where’s Encompass heading from here on?
Encompass began its journey as an events and promotions company, and has now spearheaded its metamorphosis into another avenue which promises good returns, namely, below-the-line communication. In addition, a Bollywood films division has been added to the Encompass umbrella. This division will handle complete marketing, in-film product placement, promotions, events and PR for Bollywood films. Among the first few projects handled are films from Spice Team Entertainment’s ‘Shukriya’, Band of Boys debut film ‘Kiss Kis Ko’ and Sohail Khan Production’s ‘Fight Club.’ Hereon, we are planning to consolidate this particular division further. We are also getting into film production; we already have two scripts in hand. I'm now fully charged to give my attention to this particular avenue.
Ten years down the line, I see myself as a successful director of movies. I see Encompass emerging as one of the biggest media conglomerates.