| 22 Jul 2024
The element of surprise

What was really magical about Radio? This is something I want to ask those who have listened to radio on radio sets or transistor radios. Incomprehensible as it may sound to the generation weaned on Television, the appeal of Radio is even more elemental than that of TV.  The audio experience with its music, lyrics and the singing voices conjuring images and a state of enjoyment in your mind…  But just like the music, there is another extremely important element to the musical entertainment radio provides.

It is the element of surprise.

Not knowing which song will come up next.

When you are in the mood for some good music and are tuned into a station, if it surprises you with a real personal favourite track that comes up unannounced – that is indeed a wonderful experience. Imagine that. And hold the thought.

I realized that even though I might have scores of favourite tracks organized across genres and folders on a USB stick, playing it out in the car isn't such a great experience. Why? Because I know which track is coming up next. Just not like the element of surprise.

So, to continue with the thought: what happens when, suddenly, unannounced, you hear the beginning of a favourite song on a Radio station? You get mentally conjoined with the playout in the first few seconds, and speedily get into the groove to savour the complete song. So far, just a few seconds have passed. And then, the plug is rudely pulled. When the Radio presenter proudly cuts in, saying, "Ye gaana ab se thodi hi der mein!" or "This song coming up later on this show!". What!? Are you for real?!

Alas, yes. That's what's happening across most, if not every, radio station in Mumbai.

This just tells you that the programming person responsible for show formatting and song playouts, is most likely someone who has gravitated – or been buffeted to Radio -- from Television, which is a medium of ‘coming-up' teaser-carrots for  viewers to keep them hooked or force them to make a mental appointment to come right back after their mid-break browsing.  Radio, unfortunately, is just not cut out for that kind of coming-up-soon teasing. Radio entertainment – music – is a sharp and instant deep dive into a favourite song, and whether positively or negatively, a listener reacts instantaneously to a good or ‘bad' song. And if it's a good song that is stopped 5 or 10 seconds after it plays out, it leaves an unpleasant taste in the mind, followed by some rough-edged words hissed out. You have deprived the listener of the enjoyment of a good track by killing Radio's biggest USP in terms of music playout: The element of surprise.

So here's a fervent request to Radio programmers - particularly those who have moved to it from TV: jettison the TV-teaser style of playing and interrupting a song with a coming up later promise. Leave the next song unannounced unless you're coming up with a radio premiere of a song from the biggest potential blockbuster film about to be released; that, of course, deserves all the build-up you can give it. Well, within limits, of course.

Radio is instantaneous. Radio is about now. Don't town-cry about the gem of a song that's coming up later. If it is the best song you have, play it now, without warning. That could extend this moment to five minutes or even 10. At 10 minutes, you'll beat the TSL RAM reported last. Play that great song now! Play it without warning. With the element of surprise.

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.