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Vehrnon Ibrahim

National Programming Head | 13 Apr 2005

With three or four stations and 10 million plus listeners, of course we all sound the same. But with 20 stations, we would be forced to selectively target and that means an English station, a classical station, a talk station, a dance music remix station, a retro station and so on… But the licence fee issue is a brick wall that robs the sector of any chance to show the prolific growth it is capable of.

Passion for radio, love for music and an inclination for perfection, that’s what Vehrnon Ibrahim, National Programming Head of Red FM, is all about. He joined the entertainment industry following his graduation in Bangalore in the 80s. Over the years, he has worked as a production director, an RJ, an audio engineer setting up studios and so on. He also had his own band playing heavy metal music from 1986.

Eventually, Ibrahim came across an interactive television company called Innomedia that wanted a creative director for its channel Chois. In 1999, he was employed fulltime by BPL who were going to launch Indigo FM. From there he moved on to the Worldspace project of Indigo. In early 2002, he was offered the position of Programming Head with 93.5 Red FM. In conversation with Sakshi Talwar of exchange4media, Ibrahim shares his ideas and vision for making the radio industry more beneficial.

Q. Let’s start with the brand name. Why Red FM?

Red is all about being bright, being fresh and being vibrant. It's the opposite of dull. Red is the color of life and connotes energy. Everything we do around the station reflects this attitude and adds to the brand. We are vivacious and that's what the brand has now come to mean.

Q. At the time of launch, Red FM kept a low profile while Radio Mirchi and Radio City were advertising heavily. Did that have any affect on initial ad revenues?

Marketing is also another form of art. We had adopted the policy that a radio station should be strong enough to stand on its own, without creating much commotion. Our research says that people listen to music in general. If they hear a song that they like, they stay on, else they tune into a different station. An advertiser wants to make sure he is getting his money’s worth by reaching the right target audience. And the set of listeners for Radio Mirchi and Red FM are totally different. Instead of going for the masses, Mirchi has concentrated more on the youthful listeners. On the other hand, we have targeted a wider base of listeners. This distinction reflects in the programming as well.

Q. Where would you rate Red FM among other private FM channels in terms of listenership?

We effectively reach the people we target. So we are number one in the segment that caters to our target audience. Mirchi is probably the number one brand as far as radio is concerned. I cannot however see how that connects to the actual listenership.

Q. It’s a case of high brand recall then. So how can one actually ascertain which station is the most heard?

People metering-type research for radio listenership, as opposed to brand recall methodology, should be used. This should happen in India faster than anywhere else. Instead, we have good efforts maybe but nonetheless inaccurate, because the results gathered require no proof. How many people have I asked if they like the Ameen Sayani radio show only to be told, “Yes, we love it, why don’t you also air the show?” The fact is that Ameen Sayani is exclusive to Red FM! People are asked what they listen to and respond with the top-of-mind brand that may not be what they actually listen to.

Q. Does that mean more or less all stations sound similar?

With three or four stations and 10 million plus listeners, of course we all sound the same. But with 20 stations, we would be forced to selectively target and that means an English station, a classical station, a talk station, a dance music remix station, a retro station and so on. And accurate information can only help radio prove that it is an effective medium to advertisers and hence benefit us all.

Q. What role does content innovation play in keeping ahead of the competition? What is the strategy of Red FM in terms of deciding on the kind of content for each city?

Research guides us on deciding the content. What the competition does is not of prime importance. Music is a station’s identity; one has to undertake thorough research on the desired target group. Some songs are played more frequently than the rest but all the songs have to cater to that market. Radio is like the theatre of the mind. Take away the visual and keep only the sound, you and I will see something different. It’s a powerful medium.

Q. Red FM united with Radio Mirchi to raise funds for the victims of tsunami. How come two rivals came together?

There is a friendly rivalry on the programming level as we are all under the same pressure. We weren’t telling people to listen to Mirchi or Red but asking them to donate for a cause. It was just solidarity to show that competition is in its place but here is a cause bigger than the two companies. We realise that we are growing as a creative industry; there is synergy not by learning tricks of the trade but by growing together as an industry, which is better for everyone.

Q. There are some regulatory restrictions on content. What kind of changes in these regulations would you welcome?

I think after waiting for literally years, we are a few weeks away from some closure on this. Serious action should be taken on the nearly year-old rather well drawn up TRAI recommendations. Unmanageable license fees remain but we are the verge of a realistic revenue sharing model. This is the brick wall for any chance of the sector showing the prolific growth it should show. The real losers are the people. The government is losing revenue from a sector that is waiting to explode and the people are not getting the many different formats of radio that a truly competitive radio market would necessitate. Also we would welcome approval on network broadcasting which will enable syndicating live shows.

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