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Interviews |  19 Jun 2012 18:49 |  By 

RJ Balaji: "I speak exactly what the city wants to hear"

With a humble beginning to his humorous and casual show, RJ Balaji of Big FM Chennai has evolved by scripting a success story out of nothing. Having recently won two accolades for his popular show ‘Take it easy with Balaji’, the soft-spoken jock is riding high on his success in the Chennai market.

In a candid chat with Radioandmusic.com’s Chandni Mathur, RJ Balaji speaks about his recent success at India Radio Forum 2012, how social media has helped him attain a global reach and how the market in Chennai has witnessed a significant change for the radio broadcasters to invest.

Excerpts:

How does it feel to be the only Tamil RJ winning two awards at India Radio Forum 2012?

It feels really good to have won the awards. It is my constant effort to learn and I feel content and satisfied when my work gets rewarded. It’s been around one and a half year since my show started and the accolades I have won are not for me but for the show and station. I hope to take the show to new heights and achieve more success in future.

Do you feel winning accolades adds more responsibility to you as an RJ towards your listeners?

For people working in the radio field or media business, they know the importance of such awards but from the listeners point of view they do not understand what the award is all about. For me, every show or link that I do is with all my passion. I try to incorporate all that I have learnt into making the show successful. I still follow all that was taught to me by my seniors when I started off in the industry. Awards add responsibility only internally as I have to set an example for other new RJs. But listener wise I do not host my show on the basis of the awards I have won.

How has the experience of working with Big FM been?

Working with Big FM has been an enriching experience. The thing that has been most fortunate for me is that the network gives you a lot of scope to experiment. Infact the ‘Take it Easy’ show was designed only because that was what I felt I was and could do. I felt that I could sustain it and as a newcomer into the system I received a lot of support from the management as well. They guided and motivated me to do whatever I wanted and it is only because of all this that I have won two awards and all other accolades. Whenever I do in my show, I get feedback immediately from my colleagues which help me a lot.

Tell us something about the show ‘Take it easy with Balaji’ for which you won the Best Programme Broadcast.

Luckily for me, the show has been designed according to my character and I can be myself in all elements of the program. As the name of the show suggests, we discuss issues concerning the city and its citizens without any restrictions. In the four-hour duration of the show, I speak exactly what the city wants to hear. I don’t judge my show by the response on social networking sites and phone calls. Around 40-50 lakh people listen to me on radio, so I speak their language and what is in on the people’s mind. I don’t prepare any link or scripts before going on-air. We also have a segment where I converse with a listener, which I keep very casual and I feel people enjoy listening to the show because of that.

Your segment ‘Cross Talk’ became very popular. How has it evolved over the years?

The segment was accidentally posted on the internet and since the content was good, it became viral and got a lot of popularity by crossing around eight million hits. In languages like Hindi or English, it is very easy for a video to cross such a number, but for Tamil, where only a section of society understands the language, it’s a big achievement.

I started doing the segment from the emotional point of view by solving relationship problems. But when it went on-air, more than a relationship problem it became a hilarious prank call. Thus I started playing it with my strength of being humorous out of conversation and turned it into a prank call segment. Once it became viral and got popularity, I started receiving around 20 calls but I made sure only the best go on-air and on the web. But I follow a different format for the web. I upload maximum one or two files in a month there which I feel are really good and unique, while on radio I play the files everyday. On the internet, people invest their time in downloading a particular content and if it’s good then only it will go viral as average content does not sell on internet.

Compared to other cities, how would you rate the Chennai market for radio broadcasters today?

To be very frank, when I started doing my show there was a big vacuum for good radio jockeys. Some good RJs had already achieved a celebrity status, so connect with the listeners was very limited. As there are too many radio stations and RJs here, it’s very easy to get lost in the crowd. Now the market is witnessing a change as there are a lot of youngsters who are coming into radio. So another phase of radio in Chennai has begun. The quality of radio is gradually improving here.

How do you create innovative content and programming for your listeners?

Innovation is very tricky. What you and I find innovative may not be the same for everyone. And radio is not like TV where you get quick results. You need to feature your new content on radio and wait for around 3-4 months to get some result and understand if its working or not. People will take time to accept, understand and to react to it. So whatever new I do on my show, I give myself some time to judge whether it will be successful amongst the listeners or not. Even when I do introduce a new element to my show I make sure every person in my office – senior to junior like it.

What kind of listeners do you get in Chennai? How difficult is it to engage them?

I speak to one person on my show but the conversation I have with him or her is what engages the listeners as they can relate to it in every way. The difficult part is to consistently deliver good work. If I don’t have some good links I will probably scrap them rather than going on-air and speaking nonsense. The easiest thing is to work around the identity that you have created as an RJ amongst the audience. But that can also work against you as it is difficult to break that image created about you. People feel that I will always be humorous because ‘Cross Talk’ is the benchmark of my show. They felt that I can only be funny, so breaking that clutter was very difficult for me. It took me six-eight months to come out of it and make listeners understand that I will also give opinions about serious issues on my show.

What is the kind of music played on the show? Catering to the Tamil population, does bollywood music feature prominently on the station?

We do not play any bollywood music; our show only features non-stop Tamil music. And Big FM Chennai has a policy that only melody music should be played on weekdays. We are the only station in Chennai to have a music positioning. We play melody music right from 7am to midnight. Chennai is still a very conservative city so we play music from all eras. Although we have all the latest technology etc here, people still like listening to melody music over short-lived high tempo songs or party tracks. And my show comprises of the top 40 melody songs of the day.

You began a new trend of using Soundcloud to present content after which other broadcasters followed suit. Comment.

I used Soundcloud to upload the ‘Cross Talk’ segment. When I uploaded the video it was a very conscious decision as it was on a demand and supply basis. But when others started using it, they uploaded all the content that they had. Just because my segment got viral, they uploaded all the content with a similar hope. Now very rarely people use Soundcloud as they did not achieve success with their content. But Soundcloud actually got me a lot of new listeners because they may not listen to the radio everyday but they do log on to the web once a day. Social media gave me a global reach as RJs popularity is restricted to a particular market.

How important do you feel are on-ground activities for RJs today?

Like an actor markets himself to make his films sell, similarly today RJs too have to be seen and people need to enjoy your presence. You just cannot be restricted to the studio all the time. It’s like a 360 degree approach and very important. Today people need to see you at on-ground events and award functions to view you as a complete personality. When we talk on radio, people make an imaginary picture of us on the basis of our content, so they need to see us to affirm the image they have of us. More than speaking in the studio, I enjoy doing on-ground events.

Big FM always undertakes a lot of social campaigns. What are some of the most memorable campaigns undertaken by the Chennai station?

Big FM does not have the image of being only a radio channel. Ever since I have joined, I have witnessed a lot of social campaigns being undertaken by the station. One that is very close to my heart is the ‘Big Chennaite Award’. The event aims at recognising people who do great social work but are seldom noticed by the society. For example, we had a woman who would go to restaurants every evening to collect food for 60 stray dogs. Now a day’s people don’t bother if parents have had food, but here was one lady who was even bothered about the dogs. There was also a blind person, who without any help from the government or any NGO was running a school for around 25-30 blind children for almost 30 years. So we recognised such people and honoured them with the award.

When they came up on stage to collect their trophy, they spoke about the experiences and how the award can help them by getting support from others; it was a very emotional moment for me. The blind man also spoke about how he was finding it difficult to set-up an audio library for his school. So the RJs from Big FM took the initiative to supply them with whatever CDs they needed regularly.

Did you always plan on becoming an RJ? Tell us about your journey.

I have never listened to the radio. Even during my course, I used to only hear it for work purpose. I never understood what an RJ does or what his or her job is. I would only think that an RJ plays songs on radio. I did my post-graduation in journalism and only after the course I realised that I could ever become a journalist. One day I saw an ad opening for a RJ, I applied and I got a call from the station for an audition. And I told my friends and family that I got the job. There were around 600-700 people for audition out of which three or four were selected. I got in too and I selected that option only because I had no other option. I did not know what else to do. At the end of my course, if I could have been a journalist, then I would have been in a news channel today and I know I would have been terrible. But I was fortunate to have gotten a job in radio and I am lucky that I have learnt and grown so much. This was the best job that I could have got.

Who is your favourite RJ? Why?

RJ Sendal from Radio Mirchi Chennai is one of my favourite RJs as he is the one who taught me radio and its basics. We used to work together for a radio station in Coimbatore and he has guided me a lot. The training that I received from him has made a good radio professional today and whatever I am right now is because of him.

What tips would you like to give to young emerging RJs of today?

Radio has become like a stepping stone to TV today. Many RJs in Chennai get into radio and after they achieve recognition and fame, they move on to television and films. People have started using radio as a platform to get into films. This has been the trend here for the past 10 years. So I want people to stop using it as a stepping stone and explore its real benefits. So if you want to be an RJ make sure that you maintain it all along. When you lose interest or you feel that you are not good enough for the job anymore then you can think of your future plans.

What are your future plans?

Radio is a very strong and powerful medium and I want to see a whole generation growing along with me. Radio is my passion and I want to be seen as an RJ in future but I am also working on a television show right now but it’s not going to be forever. The TV show that I am working on is a dance reality show I will be hosting. I have appeared as guest before, but this is my first full TV series. And I did it as it was a new experience for me, but my heart will always be in radio. I am not bored with my radio show and I am constantly innovating it so I will be continuing with it. I also conduct a radio programming course. I spread knowledge about radio in all its aspects to a lot of youngsters who are interested in the field.