| 30 May 2023
Radio City acquisition revives memories and stirs up emotions

MUMBAI: It was a nostalgic moment for everyone involved with Radio City as the network makes a move that would re-define Radio City. From being the first private player in the country to entering into a consolidation deal with Jagran Prakashan, Radio City has definitely taken a step forward. The deal has brought smiles along with a gush of memories among past members of Radio City. One such person is the station's former CEO Sumantra Dutta (Sumo, as he is more popularly known as) who subsequent to his success in launching KBC on Star Plus as EVP sales and marketing, was promoted as COO of Radio City. A key force behind the founding team and launch of India's first Private FM Radio station and network, he was subsequently made CEO owing to the stupendous success of Radio City.

Time has passed, but Dutta still feels his strong bond with the radio industry. "Everyone loves a success story, but little do they know off the effort put in by the team to make it a successful endeavour," says Dutta over the phone from Dubai. Radio City started in July 2001- a time when print and television were the Goliaths of media mediums and FM Radio was not "talked about". The task at hand was to "re-ignite" the passion and excitement about the FM radio medium. "So, we had to serve our listeners with great content. We went beyond simply music and this gave birth to shows such as the radio version of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati' (KBC)." On Radio City it was called ‘Radio City Suno aur Lakhpati Bano'. This was just the start of what today is the growing Indian FM radio industry.

Going further, Dutta talks about the journey of Radio City- from being part of Star India, then getting "flipped over to" India Value Fund Advisors Ltd and now the deal with Jagran Prakashan. The first and former CEO of Radio City –Dutta, believes that the acquisition of Radio City by the Jagran Group is a great move and an apt consolidation for the radio company. "I believe that it is a perfect amalgamation of all the media assets, as Jagran Prakashan can leverage the power of the mediums across businesses like print, OOH, digital and activations."

Dutta strongly hopes that this great acquisition will help drive innovation in the Radio content space and take it to the next level. Star entered the radio business in 2000 and Dutta was given the responsibility of Radio City by becoming the COO of the network in 2001. After Radio City, he moved to various leadership roles in Star. Dutta goes back to the time, when his FM radio tenure had just started. "Initially I was not at all keen on the move to Radio after being part of the key team that redefined TV in India. With ‘KBC', ‘Kyunki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi' and ‘Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki', Star Plus was the king of Indian television, and its share of viewing was such that Zee and Sony combined were unable to keep pace with it. Star Plus had moved way ahead of its competition and I wanted to stay in TV, but Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea and James Murdoch decided that my future was in FM radio and I should take up the position of COO at Radio City." He further adds, "I took up the responsibility with a resolution that I would drive it to the top and put it together with the right team."

He remembers how his team put together the first campaign 'City Bajao' and how FM radio and Radio City started getting its listeners. The aim of the campaign was to get people to listen to radio. "Through the campaign, we wanted to appeal to everyone in the city. Such was the success of Radio City that it was at Rs 70 crore annually in only its 3rd year, with only three stations," claims Dutta. The Radio City Ad Sales team successfully established a price of Rs 1500 per 10 sec for a spot on radio and the medium was picking up speed. For the first time in India, Radio City explored the market with local retail sales and going to local advertisers by exciting them about the medium and getting them onto FM Radio. Retail advertising gave birth to a brand new set of retail advertisers which later were leveraged by News TV channels and became their bread and butter advertisers. "However, as it happens, subsequently you also had smaller players that came into the market and priced themselves lower which lead to fall in overall pricing of radio spots," says Dutta

For the right opportunity, he will surely risk coming back to India and joining a media network that is "credible and more importantly, professional." He strongly believes that FM radio is well positioned to redefine itself with the Phase III auction and hopes it will allow radio networks to experiment with their content and have multiple stations in the same city. "This will give rise to the next wave of growth as radio networks having more than one station in a city will offer variety to its listeners and renew its passion and excitement of the medium, and experiment with content," Dutta says.

Commenting on various issues surrounding the radio industry and the most talked about news on radio, Dutta says, "News is powerful content and needs to be controlled. It is an expensive business and smaller radio operators do not have enough resources to collect information or research. Hence I think it is ideal to run All India Radio (AIR) news bulletins for now. Most importantly, one should also guard against radio being used to further personal benefit and propaganda and hence having such control will only help the industry." Dutta is passionate about radio content and believes there is a lot that can be done in terms of programming, and just like the TV industry, move away from only Hindi Bollywood offerings to offering radio in regional languages.

After STAR TV and Radio City, Dutta became MD at News Outdoor in January 2006. In 2008, he got back into the TV business at STAR and moved to the Middle East (Dubai) to help drive STAR's distribution across International territories. After over 20 years at STAR, he has now moved to Econet Vision as CEO and is looking at expanding and establishing businesses across the entire African sub-continent.