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Nisha Narayanan

Senior Vice President | 01 Apr 2010

Currently, we don’t experiment and are too cautious. The radio industry has to experiment, we have to diversify into differentiated content. There is enough space for all, irrespective of the number of channels. The unfortunate part is that we may be nine stations in the same city, but we are targeting the same TG and playing the same songs. However, the policy has to be more enabling, more multiplicity of channels, news and current affairs from unlimited sources, so, once these issues are tackled, there is higher scope of differentiated content, of getting newer formats, etc.

Nisha Narayanan is the senior Vice President, Red FM. She began her career in radio broadcasting over a decade ago, working with the state-run All India Radio before working for a private FM broadcaster. She moved onto the cable and satellite television sector, serving both as a newscaster as well as Executive Producer and Business Development Manager. Later she became an independent media consultant, focusing on FM broadcasting, and Head of Distribution for Deutsche Welle radio in India. She has wide-ranging experience with Times FM, RBC radio (satellite radio), educational channels like Gyan Vani and commercial FM stations. She has served as Head of Audio Visual programming for Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, which looked after the overall communications of the Tata Group of companies. A Chevening Scholar in broadcast journalism, Narayanan has also authored many articles on radio policy and regulation, and writes regularly for both the mainstream media as well as specialist journals.

Robin Thomas

Q. What makes you so passionate about radio?

The beauty of radio is that it’s so response driven, and it is all about thinking local. One of my biggest learnings of being in radio is ‘think local and be local’. Radio works if you think local, it is such an immediate and response driven medium. Radio has worked well for all of us, whether it was the Mumbai floods, cyclone affected Orissa or even during the Mumbai terror attacks on 26/11. Most of us have grown with radio and we have seen Indian radio evolving from what it was then, without any commercial radio, to the coming of satellite radio, to the coming of FM radio and now the opening up of campus radio and community radio, etc., which is very good. It is, however, unfortunate that most of the media institutions do not give students sufficient knowledge or education about radio. There is so much to radio other than being an RJ – from research to strategic planning, marketing, music management, and the job of producer and so on.

Q. The IRS R2 2009 results show that after rebranding to Red FM, your listenership has seen a jump, what are the changes you have brought post the rebranding?

The whole exercise was predominantly done, but in a scenario where we were reeling under the economic slowdown, the way forward was to leverage on an existing brand with whom we have a sales and marketing tie-up and try and use that mileage to build our programming and listenership as well as our advertising. Today, I think approximately our Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata stations come approximately with about 20 per cent of the market share, and after this whole rebranding exercise and with our other markets, now we are hoping to reach 20 per cent of the other markets as well, which wasn’t the case earlier. So, definitely after the rebranding exercise we have received a huge response from the advertisers, however, it is the image of the brand, the visibility of the brand that has always been there. Therefore, by changing the name immediately, the aspirational value, the likeability of the station, everything went up.

Q. What about the programming changes you had to undergo?

Earlier, it was ‘SFM Jhoomo Jamke Jhoomo’. After re-launch, it was Bajaate Raho, which became the expression for our station, and I think that has emerged loud and clear. Today, any listener or client recognises the fact that it is a Bajaate Raho station, so the attitude has come in. However, there was no point in having this attitude earlier, when the positioning was ‘Jhoomo Jamke Jhoomo’, which was a more musically driven station. Now, the challenge is not only playing the best song, but also to ‘Bajaate Raho’. We have some of the best RJs now, in every town we have got a popular RJ, our music was tested in all our markets, in terms of packaging we are able to share content as well across our different markets.

Q. And what are the advantages of have a large network?

There are huge advantages that you have as a network. You drive from the experiences of various markets. There is a huge talent pool in all these markets – Mumbai and Delhi, which have enjoyed FM radio for the last eight years. I think somewhere down the line a saturation point has been reached as far as talent is concerned, but if you go beyond these big metros, you find immense talent, the idea is to identify them and train them and repeatedly train them and give them the needed exposure. Therefore, the ideas come from the other markets, you have accessibility. The joy of sharing content has definitely picked up, even from the sales point of view. Between SFM and Red FM, Red FM is a far more popular brand with an attitude, so yes, rebranding has definitely helped us build listenership. Our listenership has in fact, more than doubled or tripled now, the clients are extremely enthusiastic because there is a certain amount of quality than an advertiser expects from us, there is a certain amount of quality and content that a listener expects from us and we are able to deliver that.

Q. Out of the 48 stations, which one of them is the most challenging one and the fastest growing one for Red FM?

Every city has its own dynamics and every station comes with its own challenges, but if you go to a hilly station, you have transmission issues, wherein you have the overlapping of frequencies. In some places, you have manpower issues, where you are just not able to get the talent you may need. With some, you have power issues and technical operations and setting up issues, etc. Hence, every city comes up with its own dynamics and challenges. The challenge is to understand the psyche, to understand the music, the film industry of that state and so much more.

Bhopal, Pune, Indore, Bhubaneshwar, Jaipur, Kochi, etc., are some of the key markets that are growing fast. Now, advertisers have faith in radio, even at the retail level they want to experiment with radio. Delhi and Mumbai clients are accustomed to radio, but now even the retail market is picking up and I have always maintained that the future of radio lies in smaller towns. The retail client now has more faith on radio, firstly, because it is an effective medium, secondly, because it is a response driven medium, and thirdly, because it is affordable and local. The retail market is picking up, and because of commercial FM radio playing a lot of regional songs, the regional music industry is also forming associations, organising itself and seeing a lot of growth. Come Phase III, and with 700-odd frequencies means we have to go all the more local than what we already are right now.

Q. Mumbai has always been seen as Red FM’s bastion until a year ago when it slipped to No. 2. What do you think went wrong and what is the road ahead for Red FM in Mumbai?

The numbers keep fluctuating, but we are still No. 1 in our TG. If you see SEC ABC 18-35, we are the No. 1. As far as the road ahead for Red FM in Mumbai, it is about being local, being highly interactive. I think there is a lot more we can do to reach out to people through programming.

Q. How was 2009 for Red FM and what are your priorities for the year 2010?

I would say the year 2009 was brilliant, because today we are a larger network, where Red FM went from three cities to 48 cities, so that has been the biggest achievement. It has been arguably one of the biggest rebranding exercises that commercial radio has witnessed in India. My priorities from programming point of view is to ensure that we take the brand from home to each city, to be as local as possible, to be as interactive as possible, to support local causes of that city. Therefore, it’s not just about rebranding, you are Red FM Bajaate Raho, a station for expression and that in its true form should be reflected in every station.

Q. Where do you want to see the Indian radio industry few years down the line?

Currently, we don’t experiment and are too cautious. The radio industry has to experiment, we have to diversify into differentiated content. There is enough space for all, irrespective of the number of channels. The unfortunate part is that we may be nine stations in the same city, but we are targeting the same TG and playing the same songs. However, the policy has to be more enabling, more multiplicity of channels, news and current affairs from unlimited sources, so, once these issues are tackled, there is higher scope of differentiated content, of getting newer formats, etc.

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