| 28 Mar 2023

The radio industry debates the trend of getting hitherto 'invisible' RJs on to street hoardings

The radio jockey is the only unique product of FM stations in the Indian radio space today, where clutter is the dominant feature and lack of differentiated content the recurring theme.

Not surprisingly, after years of keeping the 'voices' invisible, stations are now changing tack - star radio jockeys are making their appearances as the heroes of the stations. 'Jab Jeetu Raaj bolta hai, toh akkha Mumbai sunta hai', goes Mirchi's claims from the rooftops. Last year, Radio One bought hoarding space to announce 'They are back!' when star RJs Jaggu and Tarana returned after a sabbatical. Some months ago, Big FM splashed its breakfast RJs Archana, Vrajesh and Raju Srivastav on huge hoardings and Red FM fought shy of displaying star RJ Malishka on bus ads, content with her trademark line 'Akkhi Mumbai ko nachaungi'.

Gone are the days when the faces of radio jockeys were left to the imagination of the listeners. Today, the RJ is not required to just make an appearance on a hoarding, he makes guest appearances on talent hunts and even hosts the occasional TV show.
With content still sounding similar across stations, the RJs have become the face and the USP of the radio station, helping both the station and the jockey to stock up on some popularity.

Agrees Big's marketing VP Anand Chakravarthy, "RJs form and important part of a radio station because they deliver the content. RJ is the factor which differentiates a radio station from another; they create a relationship with the listeners and create a loyal listenership base because radio is a very personal medium. The role of RJ is becoming important over a period of time with them becoming the face of a radio station of the otherwise faceless medium."

The maturing radio market is seeing a switch in approaches, says Radio Mirchi national head brand integration Riya Mukherjee. "There are two distinct and equally valid schools of thought, as far as revealing a radio jockey's personality is concerned. One is the classic 'mystery man / woman' angle keeps the imagination alive and allows listeners and fans to draw their own pictures. The other school says that since jocks are like your friends, somebody you interact with on an everyday basis, you should know how he / she looks. The first works best when you start up a radio station and the second is great when your channel and its personalities are well established. As the FM markets mature therefore, we see a lot of stations switching from approach one to approach two. It is a very natural progression, as radio jockeys become stars and personas in their own right."
Rana Barua - FM radio being largely audio-based plays on the 'theatre of the mind'

Marketing strategy or gimmick?

Fever is one station that has not opted for visibility of its RJs yet. Says Fever's Delhi station head Neeraj Chaturvedi, "Bringing the RJ into the limelight by putting up their posters all over is a marketing gimmick to increase the interaction and help them connect in a better way with the listeners. Although, we have not done that in the past, we plan to launch promotions to increase interaction between the listeners and the radio station in the coming year."

It's apparently a gimmick that works. "It is certainly a marketing strategy, but a listener building plan too. The more people see a visual that personifies the show, the more people will tune in", believes Radio One national creative head Kobad Mobedjina. "The purpose is also to 'sell' the show to the listeners. The RJ also brings out the personality of the show with the visual that makes the whole hoarding. It is also used to attract those who may not be tuning in to the show because even if they do not consciously tune in, the hoarding may push them to do so."

Radio City's national head, programming and marketing Rana Barua too avers, "FM radio being largely audio-based plays on the 'theatre of the mind'. There is an immense aura and mystery around the RJ whose voice the listener hears everyday. Basis the overall brand strategy it helps in some cases to keep this mystery alive.

However at times, it helps to provide a face to the voice so the listener can actually imagine the person behind the mike and better relate to him. Listeners like to fashion the speaker with a particular form of appearance, look which goes in line with his on-air personality. This helps them identify with the RJ thus developing a stronger bond with him. "

RJs- Face of the radio channel

Mukherjee argues that the RJ, in many ways, is the human face of a radio station's brand. "Since a radio station is a very intimate, personal medium, it makes sense to promote it not just through brand advertising and campaigns, but through real, human personalities. A strong personality can establish a brand fantastically so representing those values and emotions through real people rather than just clever advertising, is always more impacting."

Agrees Kobad, "Putting a face to the voice is an internal decision of each radio station. In Mumbai, you will notice that not all private FM stations are following this trend. As far as Radio One is concerned, we have promoted our breakfast jocks Tarana and Jaggu last year because we believe that the RJ is a 'real' person, with likes-dislikes, opinions and moods that the listener picks up. RJs are not treated as just voices, but more like a person you want to be friends with."
The Big FM hoarding showcasing the breakfast RJs

How does the radio channel benefit?

Red FM COO Abraham Thomas assumes that RJ led promotions help in building sub brands out of radio jockeys. "Red FM was one of the first stations to develop and execute such a campaign two years ago, when we promoted our morning show and RJ. Last year once again, one of our top jocks RJ Malishka was instrumental in propagating Red FM's CSR arm; 'Bajaao for a Cause'. This initiative certainly helped build Malishka as a sub brand and build brand differentiation. Our RJs personify Red FM's unique brand attitude and therefore if the RJ promotions are in sync with the overall brand persona, then the risk factor is reduced."

Avers Chakravarthy, "Using RJs for promoting channels helps us in two ways. Firstly, it assists us by creating connectivity between the existing listeners and the radio channels and secondly expanding the listenership base by prompting the other listeners to tune into our radio station. It is more than just a marketing strategy, every radio station wants to have a larger share in the market and attract listeners and RJ produces a differential content. It is not the contests that can woo the audiences but the RJs and the content played by the radio stations that attracts listeners every day. In the coming year, we would be promoting some RJs of breakfast and evening slots."

Word from the RJs themselves
Malishka - Hoardings have shorter lifecycles lasting for a few weeks but RJs leave a lasting impression on listeners

Malishka, who has become a brand by herself without having her face put on a hoarding admits that "It is an added feature and helps to connect with the listeners who spend their mornings with you. It is a good way to catch the imagination of the people. Such promotional activity differentiates a radio station from another. However, I do believer that Radio jockey is more powerful than a hoarding. Hoardings have shorter lifecycles lasting for a few weeks but RJs leave a lasting remark or impression on the listeners."

Jaggu, who was seen by listeners for the first time when he and Tarana returned to the station, says, "It is mainly a marketing strategy but the connection that it creates between the listeners and the jockey cannot be undermined too. Secondly, it even helps in grabbing new listeners as there is a curiosity after such a huge campaign. Normally, the radio channels promote themselves on their radio stations but posters pose as a different medium. Ads all over the city help in strengthening the recall value and promoting the radio jockey helps expanding the listenership base of radio stations."

RJ Mantra of Red FM is seen too, albeit differently. Mantra hosts a light comedy show on television channel and this he believes has helped him to grow as an RJ. Says Mantra, "It helps to create better connectivity with my listeners now as they know me by my face now. Being a RJ comes with limitations as you can interact only with listeners limited to a particular territory, but being a TV host makes me a national level performer. Initially, when I came to television viewers were surprised to see a young guy as they had visualised a middle aged RJ through my voice. It helps as there is a better recall value now."
Mantra - Television viewers were surprised to see a young guy as they had visualised me as a middle aged RJ

Mantra believes that concealing the face of RJs is a thing of the past, with celebrities coming on air, the radio channels believe in promoting the radio channel with their Radio jockeys. "Today the radio stations are playing a power play by exhibiting their super RJs and the competing channel then campaigning with their super jocks."
RJ Dheena agrees. "The recall value that these posters confer is marvelous. I have listeners saying that they spotted me on the road the day before and it feels good to be identified in a crowd. Also, it is a great feeling when you are identified for your work, I am rightly called as 'Big Dheena' now rather than RJ Dheena!"

Risk factor

Chakravarthy avers that even if the RJ promoted heavily, quits a radio station, it does not affect the radio channels to that extend. "Although the RJ is replaced by other one, the theme of the show largely remains the same and listeners still come to see the content, the content of music that the channel delivers."

Mukherjee points out, "A powerful brand contributes as much to a radio jockey's image, as the jock does to the channels. It's a completely symbiotic, mutually beneficial arrangement that helps both. When the jock quits, he /she takes as big a risk as the channel does, so it evens out."

Mirchi CEO Prashant Panday insists that earlier there were many RJs violating the employment contracts and walking out midway, but the more watertight contracts now ensure that there is far lesser chance of the RJs quitting and the listener base getting affected.

Talking about the risk factor, Dheena says, "There is a risk involved for the radio stations as the RJ becomes a brand of the station and people try to associate the radio frequency with the RJ. But the RJs are bound by yearly contracts and clauses which makes them liable to compensate an amount in case of breach of contract." Concurs Mantra, "The risk of RJs shifting to other stations largely depends on the relationship between the RJ and the radio channels. Also, jocks are bound by contracts with the channels where they cannot quit suddenly so the radio channels are on safer end."

Adds Mukherjee says, "It's largely a marketing and PR strategy, however, in some radio stations, jock promotion may well be part of an HR initiative and / or part of the jock's contract with the company, especially if he / she is a celebrity in their own right. Often presenters expect some exposure in exchange for the listenership potential they bring with them. This sort of publicity is also often viewed as a reward, incentive to older jocks in a channel for great performance and listenership garnering."

Different thoughts

However, Radio Mango director programmes Ravi Nair holds a belief that RJs should be concealed and not appear in public arena. Elucidating further, he says, "Radio Jockeys have traditionally been imaginable characters and I believe they should be under the wraps. There is lot of anxiety about appearance of the RJ and there has to be a mystery attached to the look of RJs. By merely listening to the RJs, the listeners draw a picture of the RJ in their minds suiting some of the peculiarities. When the listeners comes face to face with the RJ many a times the perception is shattered and that might cost us our listeners, so atleast in the near future we do no aspire to reveal our RJs."

Even on their official website,, the RJs are represented by animated characters rather than their actual faces.

The unknown voices are meanwhile slowly becoming familiar faces. The RJ brigade may well be next set of celebs a willing public is set to lap up.