The fact of the matter is this. Radio FM has certainly caught on in Mumbai. But, if you asked the average listener which station he or she is listening to, you are likely to meet with a blank stare. The reason? Well, for one, the numbers - Red 93.5 FM (India Today Group), Radio City 91 FM (STAR India), Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM (The Times Group), Go 92.5 FM (Mid-Day Multimedia), Win 94.6 (Millennium Broadcasting). Read those numbers twice if you like, and then try to repeat them. Or, with your eyes closed, try to say which station goes with which number.
Well, don't blame yourself. After months of being bombarded with these numbers - on the city's billboards, in the papers, on TV - it will still take someone extremely meticulous, to tell you what station is playing, when. A state of affairs beautifully captured in the singsong voices of those selling cheap FM sets - that for Rs 80 give you all stations at the click of a button - outside the Churchgate station in south Mumbai. "Mirchi 91 FM lelo" they shout at the top of their voices, blithely combining the names of Radio Mirchi (98.3 FM) and Radio City, 91 FM.
It is a situation that some stations - like Radio Mirchi, for example - are no longer willing to grin and bear. The station has launched an aggressive promotion to increase brand loyalty. In the most recent promotion, one of the many the station has launched around its frequency numbers, anyone with 983, or any two of these digits, in any sequence, on their passport number can call in entering a contest with more than Rs 35 lakh in prize money. "Everybody is looking for excitement, and by this promotion, we are also passing on a message to the advertising agencies. Unlike other media, you cannot have a different campaign with a different number, every day. What we are looking at is listener involvement and building a bond between the listener and the radio channel," says Prashant Pandey, chief operating officer, Radio Mirchi.
"Our aim is to re-establish the frequency, and we have connected the frequency to numbers that are crucial to the everyday lives of our listeners," adds a senior official in the marketing department of Radio Mirchi. Company officials claim that when the promotion started in the first week of June, they received one lakh calls on the first day, and that now, with a dedicated call centre with 50 lines working full time, they receive 30,000 to 50,000 calls everyday.
Other stations have also created awareness around their frequencies. Earlier, Millennium Broadcasting-promoted Win 94.6 gave scholarships to students who had scored 94.6 per cent in their board exams, paying their entire first semester college fees. Win 94.6 has also been capitalising on its name, playing on the theme that with such a station you can only "win". The station booked the whole theatre on the first show of the first weekend for Humrazz, and the station's listeners, who had won contests aired on it, filled the seats. "The whole idea is to create a sense of interactivity with the station. Radio as a medium should be non-obtrusive. When people ask me if we are a Hindi station, or an English station, I say we are about sound," says Vikram Sawant, group head, promotions, Win 94.6.
Other stations have adopted other methods to increase stickiness. Go 92.5 FM (Mid-Day Multimedia) has launched a lunchtime show, "Dhaba Service" that is targeted at lunchtime in offices. Office goers can call in greetings to their colleagues that will then be aired during the show. "What we are looking at are the 1.00 pm to 2.00 pm office people who listen to radio while having lunch. It promotes a feeling of interactivity with them," says Rajesh Tahil, Go 92.5 FM's Mumbai station director and head of content. The station has also gone in for auctions for charity in a big way - a Santana CD, signed by the singer himself, was auctioned on air for Rs 12,000 - the money going to charity.
At the heart of the matter is a search for brand loyalty - a trait so hard to come by when the only way to identify a station is by its frequency. In this, radio stations are at a greater disadvantage than any other medium. On TV, viewers are made aware of which channel they are watching through the logo, or frequent breaks promoting the channel's own programmes. In the press and on the net, this is self-evident. On radio, the frequency alone denotes the station, and many listeners just surf around looking for the music that they like.
Right now, in a nascent market, it is all the more difficult, because to the average listener, all stations have a similar mix of music and entertainment. "Most listeners switch stations depending on which song they like, though some are loyal to one station or the other. However, despite that, it is still the kind of music that you play, and the kind of audience that you appeal to, that matters," points out Asha Sharma, associate media director, Zenith Media. Also, despite proclamations that radio is a medium of the masses, by language, programming, RJs, and their general tone, the stations are fighting over a relatively narrow segment - SEC ABC though, increasingly, given the profusion of cheap sets, many listeners are from SEC D and E also.
However, there is an important reason behind this. To recover costs, radio stations have to sell air-time to advertisers, and most of these sell products - cars, insurance, travel packages - that appeal to SEC ABC. Unless local advertising, that some stations like Radio City are actively wooing, takes off in a big way, SEC ABC, even if reduced to a minority of radio listeners, will wield enormous clout. The need to woo SEC ABC aggressively is not surprising, given the enormous pressure that the stations are under. With the licensing fees, and other costs hanging like Damocles' sword over their collective heads, the stations that establish a lead over the others would win more advertisers. "It is a commodity that they have to sell at the end of the day," points out Sharma. And with five stations springing up almost overnight, no station has had the time to carve its own niche.
At the same time, there is the sense that radio is an entirely new medium, and that promotional campaigns that have a lot to do with lessons learnt selling other media, or other goods, may be like barking up the wrong tree. "There is a lot of corrupt data floating around. Everybody is looking at radio as if it was no different from TV. It is a completely new thing. Advertisers have to be educated about the enormous potential of radio," warns Sumantra Dutta, chief operating officer, Radio Division, STAR India.
Radio City has been concentrating on increasing the market as such. One way in which it has done this in Bangalore and Lucknow, where the station has a strong presence, was to give away free radio sets. The station did the same in Mumbai. "The thrust should be to convert more people to radio. In Bangalore, one year after we started, Radio listenership has gone up by 72 per cent, and the amount of time spend on radio has gone up from 40 minutes, to six and a half hours," says Dutta. He argues once the market is created, there will be enough place for everybody.
At the same time, Radio City has also taken pains to keep its listeners happy. For example, the 'Radio City Jam Buster', invites calls from listeners stuck in traffic jams so that others can be warned. The bottomline is making the listener stick to one or the other station. Contests do this in a simple way - the results are announced on air, and so listeners have to be tuned it. For example, Radio Mirchi announces its results every hour - 10 winners every hour, from 7.00 am to 8.00 pm. Interactive shows, such as Dhaba Service, or Radio City Jam Buster mean that interested listeners stick on.
After all, at the end of the day, it is the station with the maximum number of listeners that will charge the highest rates from advertising agencies. © 2002 agencyfaqs!