Once upon a time, inquisitive listeners across the country would be all ears while audio dramas unfolded on their radio sets. That was the time when television hadn't yet seen the light of day.
Now, Fever 104 FM is all set to recreate the mythology epic, Ramayan on radio. Officials at the radio station believe that it is a first-of-a-kind initiative in India, and truly exemplifies that radio is the theatre of the mind.
Fever has been working on Radio Ramayan for the last six months, with its programming teams from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru collaborating for the venture.
When asked why the radio station chose to recreate the Ramayan in an audio format, S Keerthivasan, business head, Fever 104 FM says that other possibilities were considered too. "But Ramayan is one story that has travelled all across the world and appeals to everyone in the 12-60-year age group," he adds.
The mythological drama will hit the airwaves on September 20, on all four Fever stations. The series will be spread across 120 episodes over 24 weeks. Although Keerthivasan did not divulge the cost of production for the series, he said that it is almost at par with a regular show on a Hindi general entertainment channel.
One of the challenges the audio drama faces is that while the time that any consumer listens to radio may be fixed, which station or show he/she listens to may not be. Keerthivasan agrees that radio does not enjoy appointment listening, but is optimistic about Radio Ramayan's prospects.
"In India, the concept of appointment listening is not practised as done internationally, because every radio station is similar to the other. With this unique offering, we are certain we will create dedicated listeners," he says.
The channel will heavily promote the show on the radio station starting today, with the three celebrities urging viewers to tune in. Fever will also promote the show in the group's publication, Hindustan Times.
Divya Radhakrishnan, president, TME, expresses doubt over such a proposition. She believes that radio stations should stick to their core strength of being an audio medium. Creating a visual effect on radio may be a bad idea. "Look what happened to music channels. They weren't able to sustain as an audio medium with pure music as content," she observes.
Instead, in her opinion, shows such as Binaca Geet Mala, which combined music with stories, could be a good proposition.
Radio stations have explored unconventional programming earlier. On Radio City, soaps such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki were recreated earlier in the decade. Around 2004, the radio station experimented with other genres of programming, with a thriller called Apradhi Kaun, a horror show -- Darr, and some comedy shows.
These certainly created buzz, but failed to accumulate substantial listenership. Apurva Purohit, chief executive officer, Radio City, believes that ultimately, people come to radio for music; non-music listenership on radio is very low.
"We have experimented with various genres, but these shows have a limited appeal amongst listeners. I don't see drama programming gaining popularity on a mass station in the present, or even anytime in the future," she adds.
Dhamaal 24, BAG Network's radio station, which has presence in regions such as Ranchi, Patiala and Hisar, airs a radio drama called Life Gulmohar Style, produced by BBC World Service. The drama, which has completed more than 60 episodes, focuses on women's issues woven into a story. Each episode is followed by a discussion on the issue raised.
"It's a good change from the regular music that's on offer on radio stations. We have got a good response for the show and we hope to add more such offerings in future," says Anil Kapoor, national programming head, Dhamaal 24. Kapoor says that more such shows are on the anvil.
Fever FM is looking at selling spots on the show differently; it hasn't got any advertiser on board yet. Keerthivasan says they might start off without any sponsor on the show. "We want it to catch on and get advertisers to come to us," he says.
"We understand that we don't have the luxury of having 30 stations spread across geographies. Hence, we are forced to innovate and create distinct properties like these. This is only the beginning," he adds.