Alokananda Chakraborty

FM Radio: On air, at last

Analysts feel that it will take some time before the radio hierarchy solidifies

If you are in the radio business, then this was one hectic week.

The week saw the launch of WIN 94.6, a private 24-hour FM station, on April 29 by Millennium Broadcast. Entertainment Network India Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bennett, Coleman & Company, formally launched Radio Mirchi in Pune on Wednesday. The station debuted in Mumbai last week.

As the stations ease into the new FM radio space, they have already started jockeying for position and making the most of what they have in hand. WIN 94.6, which does not have other media vehicles like a newspaper under its belt, is banking on a mixture of English and Hindi music, with the former taking lead position. Its focus will be on what has been called the "peak times" for radio listenership, that is, 7:00 am and 11.00 am and between 5.00 pm and 9.00 p.m. Radio Mid Day is concentrating on the evening audience. Radio City, from the STAR network, is expected to debut soon.

Each station is banking on its strong point. Radio Mirchi is hoping that its wider reach will enable it to clobber its rivals. It is also hoping that lessons learnt in its earlier incarnation as Times FM, will stand it in good stead this time around. Radio Mirchi has 10 FM licenses (cities), the largest number in the country. It is also the only company to have licenses for all four metro cities on the same frequency, 93.9 FM. The company, to leverage its reach, is also planning to bank on its reach into smaller towns like Indore and Pune. What Radio Mirchi wants to do is repeat the Indore experience, where according to IMRB research, radio listenership dominates Indore's entertainment pattern between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm - for some target groups at least. However, in the new markets media planners feel that it will take at least a couple of months before any one emerges as a winner.

However, companies that are expected to do well are those that have considerable cross-media holdings, and clout. Radio Mirchi, and Radio Mid Day have an advantage in this. The Times Group has a presence in every media expect television, and Mid Day owns Mumbai's most popular tabloid. Media observers say, if nothing else, these groups will benefit from offering advertising package deals, and that these stations can leverage already existing relationships with top clients, something that the smaller stations will find it harder to replicate.

It is a high stakes game that becomes all the more crucial as radio, as a medium, accounted for just 2 per cent of the total of Rs 9,000-crore of advertising spend last year. "While radio, as a business is cheaper than television, with the exception of huge licensing fees, other costs, such as infrastructure, content generation and production etc are so much cheaper," points out a media analyst in Mumbai. And then, with all trying to make the best in the initial days, a huge amount is getting spent in advertising.

For example, WIN is planning to spend Rs 1 crore on advertising over the next three months. The station's focus will be primarily on outdoor publicity and on its innovative WINMOBILE - mobile vans that would travel the city to convey the message that a new medium has been born. WIN will have to overcome its lack of cross holdings, and other advantages that the established players have.

However, in the end, what will spell out the difference between success and failure will be neither size or niche. It would be just plain old "quality of programming". © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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