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Radio: The new infotainment mantra

November 18, 2006 14:50 IST
It takes a newspaper report to understand what RJ Simran Kohli means by saying that radio is one of the biggest mediums of infotainment for the future.

The report is on Radio Farda (or Radio Tomorrow), a US-funded radio channel (they're pumping in $7 million by way of fresh funds even as you read this) in Tehran, which encourages listeners to air their views on political subjects - considered taboo in the earlier regime. Put simply, radio power is creating history.

In India too, radio's reach is growing as an increasing number of channels create a space of their own. Poised to become a Rs 1,200-crore (Rs 12 billion) industry by 2010, the Indian radio sector, according to a recent study conducted by FICCI and PriceWaterhouse Coopers, will reach beyond the metros to at least 70-odd cities.

What's more, there will be 40 strong private players compared to the current seven and the market of Indian radio, as industry experts point out, will see investments worth $1.5 billion in the next 24 months.

Radio advertising, which presently has 2 per cent of the country's total ad-spend, will see a substantial rise in the next 10 years.

Kohli is ecstatic with these figures. "Radio is big in India. I can command Rs 1.5 lakh for an AIR show that fetched me Rs 800 ten years ago," she says.

With nearly 700 channels waiting to kickstart operations in India, Kohli reasons that at the very least 80,000 people will be required in the industry. The license fee to the government, she says, is bound to come down.

"Once radio channels were expected to pay Rs 9-10 crore (Rs 90-100 million) every year. Today, channels have to pay the same amount for 10 years. Obviously, the fee will only come down."

Kohli is now a radio jockey with Big 92.7 FM and runs her Academy of Radio Management, a first-of-its-kind academy specialising in radio studies.

Kohli may be the quintessential radio jockey, but she has great plans ahead, including starting her own radio channels ("I'm going to look at community radio channels and each channel can cost around Rs 7-8 lakh to set up"), branches of her radio academy in B- and C-class towns and continuing to command a high price for anchoring radio shows.

"Money and fame," is the quick reply when we ask R J Manish why he's in the business of radio. With Radio City for the past four months, Manish, who was in television earlier (he was a VJ with Zee Music and did another music-based show for Star Plus), gave the nod to radio for the money involved in the industry.

"It's at a nascent stage," he says, "but the money involved in the industry is quite amazing." He's right.

According to industry experts, newcomers involved with the private players in the industry are getting between Rs 20,000-25,000. Those with experience of three-five years can get Rs 50,000 while seasoned players are getting as much as Rs 1.5 lakh per month.

Doesn't boredom set in? "It might," confesses Manish, but adds that "radio offers fairly flexible hours and depending on contracts, one can even freelance easily."

Manish's day (he hosts the prime-time slot or the "breakfast slot" as it's known in the radio world jargon) starts at 6.30 when he goes into the studio, scans the newspapers quickly, sits with his producer who gives him inputs for the day's shows - these include mentioning clients who have pitched their ads in the show and other news briefs - and a rough script to help Manish anchor the show from 7 am-11 am.

After his show, Manish manages to schedule his television shoots (he's working for a sitcom for a leading channel) and finally wraps up his day at 12.30-1.00 am. Why is he exhausting himself?

"Radio is an interesting medium and has a greater reach than ever before. Because private players are involved, the entire set-up is very corporate-ish. We get handsome salaries plus perks; in television, payments can be very slow. In some cases, as long as you're not revealing your identity as the RJ, dubbing and doing voice-overs is also allowed."

The "baap of all RJs", as he's called by his fellow tribe, Nitin remembers that the profession didn't fetch him the kind of money and name that he's getting today. Poached by Red FM at a hefty price (rumours suggest he's getting Rs 1.5 lakh and even got a bonus amount from Red FM), Nitin moved after a very successful four-year-stint in Radio Mirchi where he became the voice of the channel.

"People started calling me 'Ulta Pulta' Nitin," he says, adding, "The journey was an uphill task." Nitin started hosting 30-minute shows, four times a month and didn't ever think of RJ-ing as a lucrative career option at that point.

Though he doesn't deny the lure of quick money and a dose of fame, Nitin warns of the stiff competition. He gets up every morning at 4.30 am to reach the studio at 5.30.

Here he sits and ponders over what he might do to enhance his shows - he's managed to get a musical band and a bunch of small children to scream "Red FM" in his studio - and finally starts his show ("it's all impromptu") at 7, continuing till 11 am.

RJ Harsh of Radio Mirchi voices similar concerns while RJs Saurav and Anant remember the tremendous pressure when they were asked to step into Nitin's time slot at the channel.

"It wasn't easy but thankfully we've managed," says Saurav. Though RJ Dev of Radio One admits burnout in radio happens, only those who love the creative medium step into the radio studios as RJs. He's been in the profession for five years and says he enjoys every bit of his space on radio.

With so many radio channels vying to be heard, players in the industry are doing the best they can to get viewers on their shows.

A majority of channels are bringing celebs on board as radio jockeys: singer Roop Kumar Rathod, for instance, will host a ghazal show on Radio City, while small-screen stars like Mona "Jassi" Singh will give RJ-ing a shot on Big FM.

Stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan give radio interviews a nod. "Celebs realise that radio connects them to listeners," says Dev, adding, "Surnames on radio are never given out because our reach has to transcend community barriers."

Interestingly, channels are even putting intensive R&D in place before launching their channels. "Before launching in Chennai, we researched, altered content and finally decided to offer 70 per cent of English music," says Rana Barua, national marketing head, Radio City.

In the India entertainment industry, radio certainly is music to the ears.

Additional inputs by Aabhas Sharma

Abhilasha Ojha in New Delhi