Preeti Nihalani
Guest Article

Radio: riding the evolutionary waves

Even with the advent of technology, radio is a constant in the listeners’ lives, says our guest author.

From the late-1940s to the early-90s, every Sunday, the entire family would gather in a circle, as a ritual, to listen to the latest news, match commentary or classic songs on the radio. In those days, radio enjoyed a monopoly in the entertainment industry.

Rewind to radio's history in India

The country first heard radio during the ‘British Raj’. In June 1923, the Radio Club of Bombay became the first company to broadcast in the country. In 1927, the Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) established and operated two radio stations in Mumbai (then Bombay) and Kolkata (then Calcutta).

In April 1930, the government established the Indian State Broadcasting Service (ISBS). On June 8, 1936, it officially became All India Radio (AIR). In 1956, it was renamed ‘Akashvani’.

Presently, there are 350-plus private radio stations, like Mirchi 98.3, and 260-plus community radio stations in the country.

Is radio making waves today?

Fast forward to today, where we have multiple sources of entertainment, such as television, audio/video OTT platforms, and snackable content and apps available on our mobile devices. But where is the radio? It has not only survived the emergence of these advanced forms of entertainment, but also proven to be the most resilient.

According to AROI 2020 study, nearly 82% of Indians still listen to the radio at their homes or on the road. Mirchi recently conducted a dipstick study of in-car consumption patterns in the top eight metro markets.

The study reveals that radio's still the top choice for this premium audience, despite music OTTs on the rise. There are about 85% of audiences that listen to some form of entertainment in the car. Around 80% of these people listen to FM radio, just 3% to OTT, and the rest to stored music.

Listeners prefer radio over playlists due to several factors, including well-curated music, fun and engaging conversations led by radio jockeys (RJs), the latest city news, among others.

In terms of advertiser preferences, radio has historically been used primarily as a medium of activation, as it allows tactical messages to be broadcast quickly and build frequency. A combination of radio's reach and its theatre of mind impact and mood-enhancing impact on listeners, allows it to play a much larger and more ambitious role for brands.

Always tuning into radio, aka ‘the fittest survivor’

The bedrock of content and trust

Radio continues to serve as a primary source of knowledge and information. In addition to having a massive reach across the country, it remains one of the most trusted news mediums. The industry refers to it as the ‘fittest survivor’ in times of calamity and disaster.

Radio is one of the most apt mediums that helps people stay informed during unprecedented times. Its unmatched ability to reach out to a mass audience keeps the community, at large, connected. The channel continues to be a reliable source that the citizens can depend on in times of crisis, where a battery operating device may fail. 

Thus, even with the advent of technology, radio is a constant in the listeners’ lives. Besides this, the trust that radio has built over time, owing to its listener-focused, local and live nature, is inimitable.

Moreover, the credibility that comes with the RJs, can bring a sense of security and normalcy during times of uncertainty. For instance, during COVID, radio served as both a source of entertainment and a vital means of delivering reliable information to listeners.

Over the years, radio has reinvented itself in order to meet the evolving needs of its listeners. Today, it offers a variety of programming options, including city-level information, music, comedy, agony aunt, contests, talk shows, and more.

That's not all, we know in India, at every 50 km, dialect changes. Today, a few prominent stations, like Mirchi, are delivering content in 63 different dialects. For instance, in Gujarat, Mirchi is present in 10 cities. In all these stations, Mirchi relays its content in Gujarati, but in each, the dialect and content used are local to the city.

Still in every marketer's playbook

Given that radio is an audio-only medium, it simplifies the storytelling efforts of the brand to a large extent. Its wide reach empowers marketers to engage with audiences in regions where literacy rates are low and power supply is limited.

Furthermore, the ambit of radio enables hyperlocal marketing. It is a medium that continues to be affordable and convenient, while being highly engaging.

It has also been an expert medium, when it comes to running PSAs, encouraging local businesses and executing regional activations to bring local communities together.

Another aspect that makes radio an appealing medium for advertisers, is its accessibility to everyone. Especially since most information and entertainment mediums charge customers for their services.

As an audio medium, radio doesn’t require its listeners to pay full attention, unlike television. TV, with its audio and visual elements, requires the full attention of its audience. This further allows marketers to tap into consumers, who are multitasking or on the go.

Thus, radio has the lowest ad-avoidance ratio, as compared to other traditional mediums. Unlike TV, when an ad comes on screen, you don’t switch the channel, because radio is mostly playing in the background, while you are probably doing some other chore.

In addition to brands, radio is used by governments and international organisations for mass outreach programs.

Fast-paced evolution of radio

The radio industry is transforming itself by venturing into a multi-platform presence for its content across audio/video platforms, social media, etc. Consumers are now even able to interact with the medium through its digital platforms.

At Mirchi, in addition to a large extended reach on social media and YouTube, we have also recently launched our own platform Mirchi Plus, where we offer exclusive audio content.

Most radio stations also have influential RJs, who have built a deep connection with their listeners on social media, making them strong voices. Leveraging this power of radio, we have seen brands and advertisers coming back to radio to establish a meaningful line of communication.

Radio will continue to have huge potential. As an interactive medium, it holds the attention of its listeners by providing socially viable content and enhancing the on-air experience.

The industry was brought down to half its size when the pandemic hit. However, it has been one of the fast-to-recover mediums (faster than print and outdoor). According to AdEx India, a division of TAM Media Research, radio advertising volumes have crossed pre-pandemic numbers.

Furthermore, over the past two years, even the number of advertisers has increased. The inherent strengths of radio are the reasons for a strong advertiser belief in the medium.

The author is Chief Operating Officer, ENIL (Mirchi).

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