| 18 Apr 2024
"It's time for radio to go from being city-specific to micro-city specific"

MUMBAI: It is pertinent that when Abraham Thomas talks about radio listenership in India, he often replaces the word 'listener' with 'consumer'.

The industry veteran who has straddled the worlds of print, television, radio and digital, clearly knows the mind of the average Indian. “The consumer wants to consume content, whatever the platform”, affirms the Radio City CEO,

He should know. Thomas has over two decades worth of experience with the likes of MTV, Sony, Red FM and a brief fling with the Delhi headquartered Hit FM. His insights and assessment of the radio scenario echo the current sentiment of the media industry, but Thomas is already thinking two steps ahead. In the six months he has been at Radio City, he has instituted some radical as well as some subtle changes in the organisation’s programming and marketing. Most radio stations have toyed with the concept of offering creative services as add-ons for advertisers, but Thomas christened City’s new initiative Audacity – an aptly pro-active term for the company’s new division that pulls in the network’s talents across the country to offer the advertiser a 360 degree integrated brand exercise.

Even as Radio City is beginning to reap the dividends of this exercise, he spearheaded another thought – by fine tuning the network’s positioning. The ‘rag rag mein daude city’ campaign has brought a local flavour to 20 of its stations across the country with a unique stationality and anthem for each market. He is still not satisfied. Radio City will soon be a 39 station network. -- including the older stations, the acquired Radio Mantra stations and the new stations that will come up with the acquisition of 11 new licenses. The time, he says, is now ripe to go from being city specific to micro city specific. “The consumer can no longer be spoken down to and content cannot be dumbed down anymore,” says the affable Abe.

There is much more in the pipeline for Radio City with him at the helm. In a chat with Aparna Joshi, Thomas outlined his plans for the network and where he thinks the radio industry in India is headed.

After Audacity and the new stationality exercise, what is new for Radio City on the programming front?

We will go wherever the consumers are. The consumer of media is now moving to digital and to the mobile phone and we will be present there, as long as there is relevance in the medium. We have some memorable properties like Love Guru and Babbar Sher and we are now working on taking these beyond radio.

For example, we have launched an app for Love Guru - you can interact with him, listen to him, ask for advice, all on the mobile phone. It is the same content, now available on another platform.

The same holds true for Planetradiocity, which was built as a space for independent music. Planetradiocity is now moving beyond music into the spoken word and comedy- to represent everything alternative and independent. We now plan to add multiple properties, talent and on ground events to the platform. We will take it to different markets every month and offer a platform to local talent. We will also have dedicated slots on air for good music that will thus be unearthed and will be played on all markets. All these interactions and events will eventually culminate into the Radio City Freedom Awards for music which we host every year.

Currently, there is a slight difference between the content consumed on radio vis a vis that which is consumed on digital but that overlap is increasing. Increasingly, we find more and more people consuming both.

With the ‘Rag rag mein daude City’ campaign, Radio City has gone local in each market. What next?

We are going as local as we can.  But we have also gone one step further by going micro local. We have broken the city into smaller parts with a new tagline ‘city ke kone kone mein’ – which means we have mapped the city into six zones and we cover everything happening in these zones – information about gigs, cultural events, issues affecting locals, stock market news, anything that connects every pocket of the city and is relevant to each listener. This is what radio is supposed to be, it is no longer supposed to be one national brand playing a common tune and talk. Each city the station plays in will have a similar ‘kone kone mein’ with listeners calling in with information as well a bunch of our own people on the field feeding in the news and information.

We believe we have a secret sauce that keeps our music programming fresh and ticking and this works consistently but music needs to be wrapped around interesting content to keep it consistently relevant as well.

It’s time for radio to go from being city specific to micro city specific.

Another example of localised programming is our new property Joke Studio, which was inspired by research that indicates that comedy is a big driver in most markets. The idea came from Ahmedabad where they got local talent to host a Saturday morning show, which was later taken on ground and got a lot of traction. The same show with a twist has now been launched in Delhi in the daily 11 to 12 band with a different talent hosting it each day. With Joke studio, we are trying to create a national brand, but it will have a completely different avatar in each market. For the advertiser, the brand exists that they can ride on, but each market will have its own individual identity.

How has the radio scenario in India changed over the last decade?

Ten years ago, it was all about dumbing it down and making it simple for the consumer. 

Consumers today have smartened up and we cannot make content idiot proof anymore. The new generation is far more aware thanks to the emergence of digital and mobile. Naturally, the way the radio industry programmes also needs to evolve.

Interestingly, time spent listening on radio is really going up – a lot of people consume it on the mobile phone. FM enabled mobile phones have driven the growing listenership, and the place of consumption and the device of consumption have changed rapidly too.

Advertising too has changed.  National advertisers are forced to take local strategy now with different creatives and different promotions every month. Radio is the best medium to implement it.

Creative is still however driven by agencies who continue to be television driven. The mindset is still the visual, and the audio is pulled out and given to radio in many instances, while the client has moved ahead to experiential marketing and brand solutions. While radio has innovated too by offering diverse options like RJ mentions and contests, we thought of creating a team in house, comprising radio professionals, on air people, and created an ad agency of sorts (Audacity) which lets us access to talent across the  network. Multiple teams can work on a brief and figure out the best way to integrate it into the programming.

We have offered complete integrated solutions across markets to clients including OLX, the Khatron Ke Khiladi campaign and the ITC Mom’s Magic campaign.

What is important is the integration of brand thought which is non intrusive for the listener, making it seamless between programming and advertising.

Apart from RAM (Radio Audience Measurement) in the four metros, which remains the only currency, there is no third party research in other markets except IRS data that is at least five years old. We do our own tracking in each of those markets every month to tell us what is working and what isn't, and  we use this extensively to drive our programming and marketing efforts.  For example, in some markets, the jocks are very critical, while it could be music or comedy in other markets - we use those cues to progress.

Unfortunately, not much has been done to evangelise the medium – you cannot buy a simple radio set easily anymore, you either get it in your car or your home theatre or on your phone. The interest in the medium is high, we have to now figure out how to make the reach grow.

How will the scene change in the next two years?

We need to remember that consumers are  consuming content, and not the platform.  It’s important for content to be available across multiple platforms and not be restricted to any one. Also, it has to be seamless – any time anywhere content. The advertiser will follow wherever there is an opportunity.

Branded content can be the next big thing in the radio space too, if it is seamlessly integrated. Consumers are now smart enough to tell the difference between in-your-face brand talk and smartly integrated ideas, which will always work well.

In an ad, the brand is the hero, so you are talking from the brand’s perspective. In content, the consumer is king. So we have to write the story from the consumer’s point of view. If it is Interesting, entertaining and informative., the consumer will accept it despite knowing it’s branded. Brands are also making the transition from being advertiser  and communication driven to being publishers of content.

Another area that will be crucial to the growth of radio is talent acquisition, particularly in new cities that will launch new stations in phase III. Radio will have to find talent that is fun and spontaneous and articulate and real on air as well off it. Radio is no longer about scripted content.