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Vikas Varma

National Head of Programming | 03 Apr 2006

Radio is the only medium that has a one-on-one relationship with listeners. Unlike watching movies or TV where we generally sit with friends and family, radio is something that we listen to and connect with music individually. Radio City is about music and songs that put you in a positive state of mind and we have mapped out songs in a particular way that will be played at different and suitable times during the day. This is the key thought behind our new campaign and brand identity.

Known to be a highly creative professional, Vikas Varma, National Head of Programming at Radio City, has extensive experience spanning 17 years in the media and entertainment industry. He has worked with ad agencies such as Frank Simoes Advertising, Madison Advertising and Touché Communications, which is a part of the Dialogue International world’s 4th largest advertising agency network. Prior to joining Radio City, Varma was COO at UTV India Ltd.

During the course of his career, Varma has been instrumental in strategising and launching a number of consumer durables, FMCG and entertainment brands. He has directed several ad films and promos, as well as conceptualised and created songs and jingles for some of the leading broadcasters. Varma has also been instrumental in the launch of a number of well-known TV serials and shows like ‘Movers & Shakers’ and ‘Chappad Phaad Ke’, among others, for channels like Sony, STAR Plus, Hungama, NGC and BBC.

Varma’s focus is to further build on the innovative never-done-before aspects of programming for Radio City. During his tenure, Radio City has been launching a slew of new initiatives, setting numerous benchmarks for the industry through its programming innovations like Lingo-Lila, Babbar Sher, Love Guru, and Musical-e-Azam.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Shikha Saroj, Varma discusses Radio City’s new brand identity and how the station will increase listenership by customising programmes.

Q. Radio City has recently introduced a new brand campaign to gel with its new brand identity. What are your expectations from this new campaign?

The brand campaign – both on-air and off-air – are going to work in sync with each other. The thought behind the on-air and off-air campaign is ‘Life ki Dhun Gungunao, City Mein Kho Jaao’. I think this is the need in any city today because of congested and highly populated areas. People living in cities find their own peaceful and beautiful spots in their head. In cities, there is always a lot of noise and crowd around you whether you are in a bus or stuck in a traffic jam or even in a restaurant. Radio is the only medium that has a one-on-one relationship with the listeners. Unlike watching movies or TV, where we generally sit with friends and family, radio is something that we listen to and connect with music individually. Radio City is about music and songs that put you in a positive state of mind and we have mapped out songs in a particular way that will be played at different and suitable times during the day. This is the key thought behind our new campaign and brand identity.

Q. How different is this new campaign and brand identity from what Radio City was earlier?

Radio City will now focus more on putting listeners in a positive state of mind through its innovative programmes. We know who our loyal listeners are, and from now on we will focus on taking our listeners to a beautiful place (in their minds) through the music we play.

Q. Please comment on Radio City introducing a few new programmes as well as adding more dimensions to existing programmes.

When one goes to an art exhibition, they appreciate the aesthetic qualities and textures of the paintings. However, when one knows what went into making that particular painting, they appreciate and understand that painting even more. We are also trying to make our listeners aware of the making of a song and why the singer has sung it in a certain way. So, it is not only about them listening to the song, but appreciating the song even more by understanding its technical aspects. Our radio jockeys will talk about the song and this will add musical expertise to our programmes. This idea stems from the fact that we (Radio City) are music experts and will pass music knowledge to our listeners in an interesting and engaging manner. We will also interview singers who will talk about personal preferences and also about the kind of music they like and what music do they recommend.

Q. What other activities is Radio City organising to connect with listeners and take forward the objective of being a listener-centric radio station?

I believe that radio makes or breaks a song and Radio City will focus on this fact even more now. Internationally, if a song does not play on radio, it will never sell. In India, TV makes or breaks a song, so people make a music video to sell the song. This explains all the item songs that are produced today. But music is all about listening to music and not watching music videos. There are many movies that have not done well but have beautiful music. In India, if a movie flops so does a good song from the movie. My mission is to ensure that good music will always succeed and people will always listen to good songs. If the music is good, we will promote it. We also have various tie-ups with music companies as that is our currency. These tie-ups are good from the businesss perspective and getting more new music. However, there are thousands of old songs that are not exposed yet. Radio stations and TV channels do not play old songs but focus on new music. I don’t remember hearing a song from the 60s or 70s on radio or TV. What we understand is that listeners already get to hear new music on other radio stations as well as TV. We want to play new songs as well as old songs on Radio City. The most important factor is playing good songs irrespective of the year that the song was released on.

Q. How would Radio City define ‘good music’?

We have a whole process with approximately four filters to determine good music. Filter one is the standard filter based on popularity – we do a lot of research and songs that make up to a particular grade will be played on Radio City. Filter two are the music managers who work with us. These managers are music experts, producers and our jockeys who validate the songs and help us decide what songs will go on air based on their music expertise. Our third filter is the mood map that we have created, which is based on the fact that each piece of music has a certain effect on the listener. Songs can make you sad or happy.

I am personally spearheading this where I study a number of reports from the Berklee School of Music, USA. We have also been referring to the Sam Veda that was written more than 3,000 years ago. The Sam Veda has done immense research on the 26 ragas and their effects on the human mind. Apart from that there are the Nav Ras that basically talk about the nine human emotions – each raga affects the mood in a particular manner. We pick songs based on the mood map and play appropriate songs during the day. We also focus more on less talk by jockeys and more music. I have also consulted a psychiatrist to understand the effect of sounds on human beings. Our listeners will not be annoyed because we will not play the wrong kind of music at the wrong time.

Q. The radio industry is suddenly getting a lot of attention. How will Radio City be different from other radio stations that will start operations in a couple of months?

Luckily for me, I have an advertising background and I understand that you cannot stop product proliferation. It is very important for any station to recognise who they are and hard-wire their personality. Once this is done, there will be less confusion as each station will have its own identity. Every station cannot be number one, so that will be figured out later. What has worked for Radio City is our loyal listenership. According to research, the minimum tune outs are from Radio City. We will continue doing what we are doing, keep our core listeners happy and through compelling programming, we will ensure getting more listeners.

Q. Radio City is operational in four cities and you have bagged 14 licenses. How important will localised content be once you start operations in other cities as well?

Unlike TV, which has national content on popular channels, radio is more focused on localised content. We are doing intense research to find out the music preferences in each city. This will be based on the sensibilities of people from different cities, their lifestyles, etc. The only thing that will ensure some uniformity among all Radio City stations is focusing on our core identity. Localising content is complex but interesting. It is a challenge to keep alive the uniform identity of Radio City and at the same time offer localised content in each city. We will ensure great radio experience for our listeners in every city that we operate in by only hiring people who are music lovers.

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