| 18 Aug 2022
Chennai Live station head Prem Kumar - Chennai Live talks to the cosmopolitan Chennaite

Chennai's newest station – Chennai Live, floated by the Muthoot Group, positions itself as a 'talk station' and claims to have a format that is completely different from all other radio stations in India.' s Tarachand Wanvari had an interaction with its Chennai station head Prem Kumar. A mechanical engineer with a management degree in marketing management and a career spanning nearly one and a half decades, Kumar is a strategist in establishing businesses, brand management, product management, advertising, sales and e-commerce. Excerpts-

Does the Muthoot Group own Chennai Live or has it just part-financed the station?

They have provided 100 per cent of the finance for the station.

Only one station as of now?

This is just a first step towards their business foray into the media which is not restricted to FM alone. I mean, going forward it could also mean many more things such as television, print media, not just radio alone.

Could you elaborate?

The point is that the group is a very large business group in South India. It's a very cash rich group that's into many businesses. FM is just a first entry into media.

Is the programming here mainly Tamil?

Because of the clutter, we have adopted a totally new format based on some of the formats in the US, UK and Europe. It's a talk format. We are India's first station that has adopted this format.

But Radio Today FM station Meow has also positioned itself as a talk station…..

I don't think that their programming is fully talk throughout the day. Moroever, Meow is very closely positioned towards women. But when we say talk, it is throughout the day. From morning to evening, you will hear discussions.

Which is the target audience for Chennai Live?

Prima facie, most of the radio stations are targeting the mass audience. We are actually going away from that. We are not a mass station. We are meant for the evolved individual. There is no age barrier. My target audience can be 18 or even 20 or he or she could be a 50 year old CEO listening to my station.

Something like Radio Indigo, that has two stations and caters to international music?

From the TG point of view, yes, though not in terms of format! The things that we discuss are very intelligent. Another category for our TG is somebody who's very well informed. Our station will make sense to people who are very well informed. This is definitely a Chennaite, but somebody with a global outlook. Someone who would be knowing about the US Open, who would know about the US Elections, someone who'd know who Obama is or what Sarah Palin is all about. Or he'd know about the Nuclear deal and know the local theater as well, definitely an English reader, as well as someone who also knows Tamil. We are talking about somebody who's very clued in - a cosmopolitan Chennaite.

What pie of the listenership are you targeting?

Chennai's population is about 6.5 to seven million. We are looking at a target of about 1.2 million. While the other stations in Chennai are looking at the other side, we're looking at this type of audience. 1.2 million could be the entire English speaking population in Chennai.

Are you getting those kinds of numbers?

We've launched about two months ago – on 8 July to be precise, and the kind of response that we're getting is tremendous. The kind of people that call in are so different – professionals, lawyers, doctors, from IT. In fact, we had the HR country manager of Sony Ericsson calling in the other day. You can never imagine someone of that caliber calling into a mass media station. No one else is doing these kind of intelligent conversations on radio in the country. There must be some reason that others are not doing it. It's not as if we have invented this model. It's already there in developed countries. Probably everyone wants to go in for the numbers game. While that as a business model is fine, but then how many people can play in that kind of a situation? But everybody going into that territory doesn't make sense.

What are your estimates about the number of listeners that you have currently, since RAM has not yet launched in Chennai? And within what timeframe will you get the 1.2 million listeners?

Right now, I think we have between 400,000 to 500,000 listeners. I guess by this end December or January of next year we should be there.

How do you plan to attract listeners?

We are planning some big things. We have plans of doing interesting things off and on air. Off air, I am talking about big size on the lines of an India Today Conclave. This is just to give you a broad idea. It will be something really big that we'll do in Chennai that not only Chennai , but all of India will talk about. Maybe bring in a person like Al Gore or a Shashi Tharoor and other eminent personalities. In the next four or five months, a lot of these events should fructify.

We'll have tier-1 events or mega events in Chennai. Tier-2 events will be very localised kind of events which will involve the local Chennaite. This could be music programmes or something on knowledge.

How are the advertisers, media buyers, your clients taking it? Are they responding favourably?

Many premium brand advertisers or corporates who cater to a premium audience don't consider radio at all, because they consider radio as a mass medium. Many are forced to use television and print as an advertisement medium for their product. What we are saying is that here is an opportunity for premium brands to a premium audience, obviously in a cost effective way.

Our advertising strategy is to go after premium brands that are currently not advertising on radio at all. It's not about big brands, it's about premium brands, these could be small and local also. For example Prince Jewelry in Chennai is considered even among the other jewelry brands as a fashion lifestyle brand compared to a GRT which has been a traditional kind of jewelry brand which in fact caters to the entire customer band, but is positioned as a traditional brand. Our target client would be the Prince kind of a customer. But, for example, if a person drives around in a Mercedes but is not so well informed and well read is not my target audience.

What are the programs that you have on air as of now?

We start the morning with the 'Sunrise show' presented by Archana, then we have 'Live Talk' by Bhavana, followed by Chennai Connection which is about celebrating the spirit of Chennai. This is followed by a programme called Life Caf?© targeted at the youth segment on which we talk about stuff like alternative careers or how to get to Harvard University. This is followed by the Good Light Show in the evening where we have discussions on lighter topics such as Are you a PC or an Apple? ;or, what is your favorite cartoon character?; or which is the book that changed your life?. Stuff like the craziest job you'd want to do. No one else has discussions on topics such as these  The Late Night show has deep discussions with eminent people – this could be on business, films, theater, etc. We are on from 6 am to 1 am as of now.

Do you plan to become a 24 hour station?

Yeah, between 1 am to 5 am, we are looking at a programme called 'Open Mind'. This is a programme that will give an opportunity to trained youngsters to come and talk on any subject. These youngsters will be trained by us. We'll groom young talent.

What is the language that your presenters speak?

People say that we tend towards English, but we are saying that we speak the language that the evolved Chennaite speaks about 70 to 80 per cent English and 20 to 30 per cent Tamil. However, in some of the compositions you may not even hear a single Tamil word, but then the idea is that people who are tuning in know that they are being addressed by a person who knows Tamil.

How big is your presenters' team?

Right now, we have six – four girls and two guys. Producing a talk format of radio is not easy. We are almost like a news channel. Our presenters have a journalism background  The idea is to run a talk radio format with eight features every day. The idea is not to provide news, more like a radio magazine or a feature. What we do could also be the same subject of a feature in a Hindu or a Times of India. It's all feature driven.

How easy or difficult is it to get presenters?

It's very difficult, especially for the format we follow. In other formats, it could be easier. That's because in a talk radio format, the presenter has to be extremely intelligent, extremely well-read, extremely articulate and should be able to engage in any conversation under the sun  The people we are looking at may not even want to be RJs. We don't want the wannabe RJs.

How are you planning to grow the number of stations? Is this the format that you plan to follow for all the stations in future?

We are not necessarily depending only on the third phase (of licensing) for growing the number of stations. We are open to acquiring other stations also. There are some interesting stations in the metros. It's about a station fitting into our strategy. We are not saying that the format will be same everywhere. Radio is such a local medium. I may not have a similar format in a major city like Bangalore or Kolkata or in a tier three city like Madurai. It will be a business decision. There is so much of clutter that if we start doing the same things that others are doing we could be doomed in three months.

Where do you think radio is headed in India? Will there be consolidation?

It has to happen. There is no space for clutter. Radio is not about economies of scale. You could be doing so well in one city while floundering in another one. It really doesn't matter whether you have 10 or 20 stations. I am not saying that the numbers won't grow. The players have to realise that they can't all be beating the same drum. As long as they differentiate themselves, there is room for everybody  and we hope that we are the torchbearers of that change.

The industry has been crying that advertisers are not taking radio seriously and the industry is not growing. To a large extent, the blame lies with the players themselves  The advertiser may just cut a piece of his advertising pie for radio, but he will not grow his pie, and neither will a clutter attract new advertisers. Unless new formats keep appearing, the industry might not itself actually grow.