Why hasn’t FM Radio specialized in India?
FM radio, an invention almost 70 years old, is still very relevant in today’s world! Radio broadcasting is cheap and reaches the largest audience. In today’s networked world, you might think that radio channels would lose out to Youtube channels. But no.
Heck, even I’m addicted to it – it’s part of my daily routine. I think I get a healthy dose of around 1 hour of radio everyday! FM radio is a great music discovery machine, which can lead to further sales (or .. err .. downloads).
India took some time to open up to this radio revolution. In the earlier days, radio was entirely dominated by the public broadcasting body- All India Radio [AIR FM radio, all the time on All India Radio – that jingle still runs through my head!]. But then came the nineties, and private players were allowed to run their stations (with some restrictions of course, news couldn’t be broadcasted, etc!).
So India’s radio waves opened up, didn’t they?
And open up they did! Suddenly, out of nowhere, radio was no longer boring. RJs with real chutzpah, real character suddenly filled the radio waves. Music that was peppy, professionally edited, blasted through your speakers. And, thankfully, the ads changed too. Dull undergarment ads changed to peppier beverage ads, now with (really really really) nice sounding ladies! You were almost mesmerized by their voice! [Well, let me not be sexist here. The guys also had a great baritone!]
Radio channels didn’t only improve in quality, but in quantity too! One puny 102.4 FM (All India Radio of course) gave way to many many more stations. Bangalore, for your information, has the maximum number of radio stations for any city – a full twelve radio stations!
You would think that competition would force them to be different – right?
But, they’re all the same!
Lets break down radio channels of India into two – those broadcasting in North India and those broadcasting in South India.
The North Indian radio channels cater to a mainly Hindi-speaking audience, and play that kind of music too. And as we all know, thats only Bollywood music [really, is there any other genre?]. “Bollywood” is a genre that can’t really be broken down into smaller pieces with distinct audiences. Someone who liked a more hip-hop Bollywood song isn’t very different from one who likes the typical romantic Bollywood song.
What all this implies is that those radio channels all play the same damn thing! When Himesh Reshammiya was the rage (oh thank god he’s GONE!), all radio channels played his songs 24×7. Disgusting.
South Indian radio channels, on the other hand, cater to large, yet linguistically diverse, audience. Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, among other smaller regional languages, each have their set of movies and music. This is where I expected different radio channels. Even though (again) there’s no such “genre” distinction, at least they could have some linguistic distinction – some Tamil, some Kannada, etc? But no.
In Bangalore, ten of the twelve radio stations always play the same damn thing! I mean, common! Now I shouldn’t question their judgement (they’re the ones who invested crores, not me), but is their audience all that similar?
No Genre-specific Radio Channels?
This is the final observation. There are no genre-specific radio channels in India. They all (and I mean all) play the same damn thing. Whether in the north, or in the south. They still play the same damn thing!
If you look abroad (and believe me, I’m the last person to do that), you can see a well fragmented radio channel market. Lets look at Seattle (data source: list of radio stations in the state of Washington, USA). There are fourteen FM radio channels in total, with each reserved for a ‘format’. This format ranges from Dance Top 40 to Alternative Rock, from Country music to Smooth Jazz, from Classic Rock to Adult Hits. Theres a mix of public and private radio channels, and is clear from their format that each serves a distinct audience.
Advantage? If you’re sick of smooth jazz, just change the channel to alternative rock. Simple. You don’t need to wait five hours for the next alternative rock slot on the same radio channel. You get it now. For advertisers its clearer too. The market segment who listen to Smooth Jazz is unique from, say, those who listen to Dance Top 40. Greater accuracy in targeting, right?
So I feel that Indian radio channels need to diversify their channels. They can probably blame our music industry, its a segment of Bollywood after all. All songs have the same footing. But if you want proof in my point, look at Bennett Coleman. This media powerhouse made the Times of India, but broke it down to smaller pieces – the Economic Times, <city-name> Times, Ascent, Education Times, etc.
Go specialize, I say!