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Seetal Iyer

Programme Director | 09 Feb 2005

I think if the music is good, you could surely get a ghazal enthusiast to fancy a mainstream Bollywood hit, or vice versa. Coming to WorldSpace, it gives audience the luxury of choice. Among the Indian channels, Farishta is dedicated to Hindi classics and Jhankaar to current hit music (both film as well as Indipop) – which make easier for a listener to choose the kind of music at any given time.

Journalist-turned-RJ-turned-Programme Director at WorldSpace Satellite Radio, Seetal Iyer, is the one who lives music every moment. Iyer looks after two WorldSpace channels – Farishta, the 24-hour classic Hindi film music channel, and Jhankaar, the 24-hour contemporary Hindi music channel. The best part of the job, according to Seetal, is that it allows her to ‘discover’ great music in hidden archives and forgotten tapes. “My job is to find and play the best music that Hindi films have had to offer. And this might not necessarily be from hit movies, or celebrity songwriters. Many times, I’ve come across a really good song that no one has ever heard, and I get to ‘break that song’ on my channels.”

While she delves deeper and deeper into classic Hindi film songs with Farishta, Jhankaar keeps her busy with not just listening to tons of latest Hindi music, but catching up on the latest film news and gossip. She admits that music has been an integral part of her growing up, including training in Carnatic music (which she is quick to add that any ‘good’ South Indian girl has to get through) and Antakshari with her family. Prior to joining WorldSpace, Seetal had a successful three-year stint as an RJ with Radio City.

However, it was probably her spell as a journalist at The Sunday Observer and Femina that honed her research skills. She fondly remembers her weekly column in, in which she wrote about the angst and experience of a single person and her take on society. Ask her where she expects to go in a couple of years and you will draw a blank, as she says, “I’ve no clue. We’ve just begun, and I’ve a long way to go before my channels are self-sustaining. But, for now, I’m just taking one day at a time.” Seetal speaks to Malini Menon of on her present challenges at Worldspace. Excerpts:

Q. Worldspace caters to niche segment. Do you think that the taste of the classes is the same as that of the masses?

Good music cuts across the audience and so I think Radio Farishta and Radio Jhankaar would cater to both in that sense. Hence, the differentiator here is not the taste but an attempt to explore a genre further. That would be the audience these channels would like to reach.

Q. What is the level of innovation that is done in content on Farishta and Jhankaar? Especially when all Hindi songs shows are more or less the same?

All our channels are 24-hour channels dedicated to particular genres, which allow us to delve much deeper into several aspects of each genre. For instance, my channels Radio Farishta and Radio Jhankaar will always have more to offer in every conceivable way. The difference lies in the way we execute our programmes like artist specials. We have specials on some artists that run to four hours, which enable us to truly explore their contribution to the genre in terms of their music and information about them, rather than just doing a token 10-song routine. Since we’re in the business of giving people quality programmes, the research that goes into our shows is much more detailed. This, I think, is where we would score over the run-of-the-mill “Hindi song shows.” Also, our channels have no advertisement, so we can play more songs per hour. On an average, we play between 10-15 songs in an hour, depending on the length of the songs featured in that hour.

Q. Do you think that it’s Bollywood (remixes and pop) music that rules, or do you think that ghazals and other genre than films also do well?

I think if the music is good, you could surely get a ghazal enthusiast to fancy a mainstream Bollywood hit, or vice versa. Coming to WorldSpace, it gives audience the luxury of choice. Among the Indian channels, Farishta is dedicated to Hindi classics and Jhankaar to current hit music (both film as well as Indipop) – which make easier for a listener to choose the kind of music at any given time.

Q. Come February, everybody is gearing up for the Valentine Season. What will we see from the Worldspace platter for this season?

Radio Jhankaar is going all the way for Valentine’s Day. We have a lead up to Valentine’s Day on February 13 with a countdown on the best love songs in recent times on Jhankaar Countdown (18:00 hours) with Chaitanya Hedge, who happens to be one of the highly eligible bachelors in town. He will share some of his secret love tips that evening. We have planned specials on both our shows - Jhankaar Express (07:00hours) and Jhankaar Jhoom (18:00 hours) on February 14. We'll be playing some of the most popular love songs along with loads of requests. Our RJs, Anchal and Aditi will also put callers on air with dedications. On Radio Farishta, Chaitanya Hegde will present a Valentine’s special- Izhaar-e-haal, on February 13 at 07:00 hrs. Izhaar-e-haal will feature classic Bollywood songs that have the hero/heroine professing their undying love for their beloved. The attempt is to introduce people who are in love to at least 45 different ways of speaking their mind.

Q. Do you think that “feminine factor” makes a difference in programming? Do you believe that sensitivity helps? If so, how have you used this while programming Farishta and Jhankaar?

Oh no, I wouldn't really bring gender into this at all. I suppose all it requires is passion, sincerity and single-minded determination – qualities that are common to both the sexes, the last I heard!

Q. What is the level of radio jockey talk that helps the listener to stick on? What is too much and what is too little? What are the programming instructions given to a radio jockey?

Radio Jockeys adds the human touch to shows. Of course, music is vital and the enjoyment of it on radio lies in the surprise element. The fact that you don’t know what's going to play next, unlike your cassettes and CDs. You’re always in for a surprise with the next song and the RJs help make that moment a personal, warm and intimate for you. There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to talk time. But there are a few pointers all of us swear by -- speak only when you have something meaningful to say and do not hijack the show and music altogether. At WorldSpace the focus is very clearly on the music, its various aspects and the people associated with it. RJs are encouraged to do their research thoroughly to keep this focus.

Q. Worldspace is a no-advertisement radio network. Does that give you an advantage?

I would imagine that would put the listener in a position of advantage, no offence meant to the concept of advertisements. Satellite Radio as a medium requires the consumer to pay for its content offering. This calls for higher responsibility of the medium towards its consumer, in terms of the quality and consistency of its programming content.

Q. Would you really complain, if you got hour after hour of uninterrupted good music intersperse with just the right amount of RJ talk?

Nah, I think not.

Q. Worldspace is a relatively new concept. We would like you to share the challenges and limitations you faced while programming the content for Farishta and Jhankaar?

The idea of building a database of quality songs for a 24-hour channel was a challenge for a host of reasons. Music must be sourced manually -- the only way to do it is to visit stores, research through history, order CDs, catalogue music and categorise them. It is a long back-end process that takes the kind of time that you cannot always justify to a consumer. To put the best out there and put it fast has been quite a challenge.

Q. How do you keep your idea bank updated? Do you believe that sometimes there is too much demand for fresh ideas?

The mind is the best idea bank available. The only way I think to do it is to stay alive to what’s happening around you.

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