| 24 Oct 2020
My FM business head Harrish M Bhatia - Smaller towns want a combination of music with talk, the metros prefer just music

Ahmedabad, Ajmer, Gwalior, Chandigarh...the Bhaskar Group led My FM has been launching its radio stations at a fast clip and business head Harrish M Bhatia has been a busy man, overseeing the establishment of each.94.3 My FM, part of Synergy Media Entertainment Limited, a fully owned company of The Bhaskar Group, has 11 stations on air already since the launch of its first station in Jaipur, on 28 May 2006. Six more are ready for launch, with Nagpur slated to go on air soon.Tagged'Dil Se', My FM claims to cater to the local flavor of the people in Rajasthan, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, states where it is already operational, among the seven states where it will eventually run a clutch of 17 stations.Bhatia, who was the national product head for LG for three years, before he joined the Bhaskar group, took time off to speak to's Aparna Joshi about the company's plans.

Excerpts:What have been the initial learnings you have gathered from the My FM stations launched in the last few months?Each city has shown up as distinctive from the other. While some of the bigger cities prefer music, the smaller towns have shown pleasantly surprising affinity for the radio jockeys.In Gujarat, we have been surprised by listeners who say they don't want the jocks to converse in Gujarati. They say, we do understand and love Gujarati, but it's on radio everywhere now. When it comes to entertainment, people seem to prefer Hindi!So, in Ahmedabad, for instance, we have made our programming 60 per cent Hindi, 20 per cent Gujarati and 20 per cent English!Our content is tailored differently for every town. We have been doing extensive research, and have found that places like Nagpur and even smaller towns have become very cosmpolitan, so you have to have a mix of English, Hindi and the regional language. Unlike a metro, where English or Hindi rule the roost, the smaller cities need a dose of the regional language too...but again, Marathi isn't considered very upmarket in a place like Nagpur, so we have to keep that in mind too...How do you train your radio jockeys to maintain this balance of languages plus be in touch with the audience they are talking to?That's the reason we are hiring only local talent, and there's no dearth of talent in the country. There's a lot of research before we have launched any station, and all our programming teams have been trained for nothing less than three to six months. We don't import the jocks from the metros and impose them on an alien city. We ensure that they are in touch with the local dialects, culture, ethos..That's why we are able to glean that people in Punjab may want the local flavour to come through on a radio station, but they don't want Punjabi music playing all the time! The one thing that binds this country when it comes to entertainment is Hindi. The flavour though can be Bundelkhandi in Gwalior and Sindhi in Ajmer, so one has to change according to local requirements.How will the print medium background of Bhaskar help in setting up a strong radio station network?Radio is not just entertainment any more. Radio is as big a medium as any other, and people increasingly depend on it for their infotainment. Being a newspaper helps, since we know a day in advance what's going to appear in newsprint the next day. Having a presence in the local print medium helps us keep a finger on the pulse of what's happening in the city through the network of our reporters. Secondly, because of the long association with the markets we are operating in, we understand the pulse of each market, each of which has distinctive characeristics. Apart from what kind of music needs to be played, the style of jockeying and the topics covered are also decided by the market which we are conversant with.Thirdly, to build a brand, you need to be able to do it across media. Since this industry does not have that kind of a revenue model to begin with, we get the advantage of the media platform too!Apart from localising content for each station, do you plan to experiment with formats, aside from the universally accepted music format?The bigger towns like Indore and Ahmedabad are asking for entertainment on radio. But as you go to the smaller towns like Ajmer and Gwalior, the preference moves to a combination of music with talk. These places like to connect to the jocks, what they talk about, how they converse...We have had listeners who couldn't talk to the jocks on the phone, driving down to the station to have a glimpse of the jocks, who are becoming mini celebrities in these towns! So, stations where radio has been around, prefer the music, whereas towns where radio is just coming in, like more of jock talk! And they want information along with their daily dose of entertainment. Our strategy has to differ from station to station. What is the profile of the typical My FM listener? How do you see FM radio competing with various other media available to the listener today?While we have a large chunk of listeners who are young, we also have housewives tuning into certain programmes, and we also have listeners who are 40 plus, hooked on shows that run from 9 to 12. Our programming caters to all strata of society. So, while we target the young population, we cannot afford to ignore this large other chunk of society. As far as this medium is concerned, it is poised to become powerful in a couple of years. By getting to the smaller towns, the reach is going up. One, because it's a very handy medium that's growing fast - if you consider the penetration of the FM enabled mobile phone that's increasing faster than any other medium. It's just a matter of time till radio becomes a force to reckon with.But with competition offering nearly the same kind of content, how will the sector grow?Again, this is where we will have the advantage. We understand the local market, and we have the advantage of the other medium (print). We don't have a single station, common programme strategy. We will have 17 stations and 17 different programmes throughout the country.Each station is equipped with its own programming team and local jocks. Initially, we have to invest a lot in terms of training, but the effort should pay off soon. How do you plan to grow the listenership pie?For any medium, the growth will come only if the content is good. In spite of the fact that we are among the last to arrive on the scene, we can steal the scenario if the content is gripping enough.Are you exploring newer platforms from which radio can be driven?Definitely. Right now, we have a tie up with Spice Telecom in Chandigarh wherein they use some of our radio content, but we are still in the initial stages. We do have a full fledged company that looks into such ventures, but it's too early to talk about it now.What is your strategy for getting in ad revenue?Advertising revenues for the radio industry have actually grown very well... When you talk of three per cent revenue of the national market, you talk about a time when radio was operational basically only in two metros, and the real boom hadn't really happened. So, actually, the figures are much higher even now, and are poised for an even greater growth.One thing we have realised is that our competitors have not focused on retailers. Our strong point has been our relationship with retailers in all the markets we operate in. We have a business model that's quite unique, wherein 50 to 55 per cent of our business comes from retail. We are going to replicate the model in radio. That is what will drive our growth. We are the only station that covers the entire state we are present in, giving us a bigger edge. This includes Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, which we cover completely.Everyone knows that metros are slowly saturating. Growing markets are the markets where we are present. It's the growing towns where the malls, multiplexes are growing, where consumerism is increasing by leaps that we are present at the right time.How do you plan to leverage the power of the mobile and the Internet to grow listenership and make it interactive?A big advantage now is that SMSs make it possible to gauge the success of a show immediately, gives you an idea of how good you are. This is a medium that needs to be used intelligently.How have you been tracking your listenership?We have been relying on Nielsen data for some of the towns, but we have been doing our own internal research, as well as some focus group studies, which has helped us mould our programming according to the needs of the listeners. For example, our research among listeners in Ahmedabad gave us clear indications that they didn't want us to play Himesh Reshammiya, they were tired of him!You can make subtle changes in programming based on these studies, but the basic premise of programming remains the same. Like Ajmer's tastes are dictated by the kind of its population, made up of Sindhis and NRIs. In fact, we do play international music in Indore, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and Jaipur, the first time that a station in these cities is doing so.