| 05 Dec 2023
Conversation returning to Radio

One wonders why radio presenters today don't really converse. Why they have to always be mindful of keeping their 'links'   under 30 or 20 seconds, why they have to always end with the station base line each and every single time.  One of the best things about radio in the past, when people like Ameen Sayani, Brij Bhushan Sahani, Pandit Vinod Sharma, Tabassum and Manohar Mahajan ruled, was the fact that the presenters always conversed. They spoke to you on air just like they would converse with you off-air. They were never in a tearing hurry to barf out 400 words a minute, elongating a word here, a phrase there, trying to sound stylish like some RJs today do.  They were never hyper, shrill, rude, or impolitely familiar with their listeners. There was adab, tehzeeb, tameez, thehraav. And the music… that was the icing on the cake. Sweet, lilting, melodious – so beautifully hummable and etched-memorable.

Which, perhaps, is why a station like BIG FM is doing well, now that it has gone retro. The presenters - especially Annu Kapoor - converse at length. An Annu Kapoor would have the 'muscle' to stare down any fidgety clock-driven programmer or producer, but the way the entire station has metamorphosed into a destination for music and meaningful conversations filled with interesting nuggets of trivia about the creators and stars featured in the all-time favourite songs it plays out… it obviously stems from programming belief and is an interesting experience. The presenter-chat and songs are linked well, though the ad breaks could be a little shorter – but overall, engaging; if you like retro music. When Annu Kapoor narrates a story in his unhurried, interesting way, one settles deeper into the seat – I listen to FM only when I'm driving across Mumbai – and savours the narration plus the content. And the song that follows is the icing. But the ad break before Annu's show begins is infuriatingly long! Trying to push in as much advertising as possible in the pricier drive prime slot before the next show?

We know how Radio is riddled with very low, single-digit TSL (time spent listening) numbers. Some time back it was, what - around 5-odd minutes that an average listener remained on a station?  Well, my TSL with BIG is in the high double digits, and in fact, with Radio City and Radio Mirchi too, for their retro time bands. and AIR (from where I invariably switch to any other station as soon as the 'presenter'  comes on,  but that's another story on the how-not-to of Radio programming and presenting ...  especially presenting).  My teenaged daughter, though, scowls every time I wander away from Fever, Red, City, Mirchi or Oye – she's a hard-core new-music buff. Sadly, my son and wife too share her taste in new music. So three of  four in my nuclear family mainline on new music.

But this here is my space, so back to the refreshing retro on BIG, for me. Their RJs converse. Siddharth, who pilots morning Drive Prime, is second only to Annu Kapoor in the BIG scheme of things. He too converses naturally in a voice that is deep, clear and has body – perhaps a bit too much body, because he could do with a bit of softness in his voice, especially when he's narrating interesting, often soft trivia stories surrounding the songs. But he converses from the heart, and with feeling. Just cut the Gaane Jo Hit Thay, Hit Rahenge bit –by a good 50%, Sid.

Dilip, who anchors the evening drive prime, has a ringing udghoshak (announcer) awaaz, and speaks steadily, pleasantly. He's a bit workmanlike,  but,  importantly,  pleasant, polite, down to earth and empathetic when he converses, especially when he's matching couples through their year of birth.  You can tell he's listening to them and not in a hurry to get his point across. That's a great quality – listening with patience.

Ok, we've done morning drive prime, evening drive prime, and Annu Kapoor's 9 PM night prime and yes, there's pre-prime-seduction-time too.  Presented by Aniruddha, who must surely have a mike only to himself -- who would want to go near a microphone that must surely be moist with the kisses he keeps blowing on air?  At whom, one wonders. He also has this habit of inhaling extremely audibly between pauses, on air. OK, now the good part: He has a very good voice with an infectious smile, and if only he turned the seduction bit down about 85 percent, he'd be really good – purely subjectively speaking.  But he obviously believes all the ladies tuned in have done so only for him to seduce them, so gets somewhat over the top. Of course, BIG FM would have a great reason for this seduction dance to continue – the numbers, is it? They must be good, so I must be wrong. Perhaps the ladies do love his style. What do you think?

To me, the big differentiator amongst stations is the quality of the presenter and the kind of music it plays. Nothing else, really, even if I do exaggerate a bit to make a point.  And there are two presenters who have always sparkled. If I'm surfing, and if I find either of them on air, I will stop, and take in the complete 'link' at least, plus the music if it holds me.

These are: Jeeturaaj on Radio Mirchi and Malishka on Red FM.

Jeeturaaj is brilliant, passionate, genuine, fiery -- always connecting with a sock into your solar.  Love him or not, you cannot ignore him. He will draw you into the world he so deftly creates when he speaks. Can thunder with righteous indignation at a listener who dares question his well researched FB posts on the dates of Sankashti or other festivals. But you can see it comes from his complete ownership of everything that he so thoughtfully presents. The man actually deserves a complete column, and I will get one out some time – the day I can get a full frontal mug shot of the man who for some reason loves to hide behind a hat. Which perhaps means not in a long time.

Malishka, the feisty, spirited Red FM presenter shares 'passionate' and 'fiery' in equal measure with Jeeturaaj. This intelligent, witty, assertive young lady is perhaps the best conversationalist on FM today. Of course she has had to skew her tone and 'take' to the station's Bajaate Raho! baseline, but one has heard her connect beautifully on serious, somber subjects too, and she flits effortlessly, effectively from the dead serious to the wackily flippant, and every other shade in between. She has probably won many best RJ awards than anyone else, and no-one's questioning why, of course. I remember spotting her as the amazing young presenter on Gautam Radia's Win station in Mumbai years ago, and I knew if she stuck to Radio, she'd rule. She has.

Do you remember the brilliant conversationalists Jaggu and Tarana on Radio One? Of the recent lot, definitely the best duo presenters on FM Radio in a decade of Sundays. They conversed with each other and therefore the listeners, they were always easy on the ear for the content and style of their conversations, and just the kind of company one needed during the drive to work. In today's increasingly Hinglish-ised Hindustani, any network that signs them on to do a bilingual, spoken-Hinglish kind of show -- even if it is more English than Hindi -- will have done really well for itself. They are natural born chatters,  and will be the best wrappers for sticky music.  That's a gut feeling I'd… er… stake my gut on.

Back to other good conversationalists currently on FM Radio. Another young presenter who connects with a strong combination of a baatcheet waali conversationalist tone and one of the most handsome voices on Radio today, is Karan Singh  on Fever. He was spectacular when in his early avatar of a shaayari-and-kavita-spouting night bird connecting primarily with the ladies during his night time show -- on Fever, right, long back?  As I said, he has the most handsome voice on Radio, just like Ninad Kamat does in advertising. Karan was always sensitive, had thehraav and gravitas, and really knew how to converse, as long as he kept himself from really giving up to the urge to sound like a tragic-romantic shaayar. Then, they took him to some daytime slot, and he lost himself in the glare of the sun. I'd listen to him any time he shows signs of his earlier 'presence'. He is currently on, on Fever, and I haven't heard him in a long time. My loss. I promise to check his show out and share feedback.

And now, a warning to the man who's driving home after 9 pm tonight. If BIG FM has a, well,  seduction time slot with Aniruddh targeting the  housewives early  evenings when their husbands are away at work, Radio Mirchi has one targeting some of the the husbands driving home at 9 pm with a young lady it describes as 'Radio's most beautiful presenter', I think. Sayema. Banegi Aapki Dream Girl, on Purani Jeans 9 pm to midnight, is how Mirchi promotes her.  She whisper-converses in a husky, stylishly broken-at-the-end-of-sentences voice, reading out poetry and even song lyrics, sounding sultry but, hold it, decent. And that deadly balance is really the emphatic gauntlet-hurl, challenging the men to “keep your eyes on the road…!”

There are some more radio presenters who have been around for a long time now, and quite well entrenched in what they do.  Like City's Archana Pania, Mirchi's Meera and Suren, and Fever's Siddhu and, of late, Glen too. Always engaging,  always connecting with their listeners. About them, another time.

So Radio presenting is ranging from beautiful, natural, stylish or razor-edged conversations to seduction and flirtation, to stupidly formatted mindless preening. But then, this piece wasn't about the last category.

Pavan R Chawla works with Adfactors PR. He brings 26 years of award-winning Content & Communication in Media & Entertainment, a lifetime of growing up and a bucketful of subjectivity to this column.  He was an Editor of, had India’s first Top 10 on Western Music on AIR FM, was on air on Day 1 of the Launch of Times FM on 15th August 1993, and has been a music and radio buff as long as he can remember. All opinions here are his own, and have been expressed in his personal capacity, and and The Indian Television Dot Com Pvt do not subscribe to them. @PavanRChawla.