Monday, November 13, 2006

FM radios in Chennai

It has been pretty long since I devoted anytime for my blog. Should I say it was laziness or lack of commitment. Or maybe I should blame it on the hectic life over the last two months.

Whatever, I wanted to register my thoughts on the deluge of FM on a Chennaites radio. This was when Radio City was just launched.

And before, I could register, there are two more on our antennas. Now, there is Suryan FM, Radio Mirchi, Radio City, Big FM, Hello FM, Rainbow, then I am not sure what it is called but we have AIR's FM at 105, and a couple of Community radios (from MOP Vaishnav and Anna University). My Alto has a basic headset and there is place for only 6 FM stations to be programmed for easy retrieval. With so stations, my biggest headache was to prioritize which ones to store. I took some time to listening each and found that all the stations were more similar. Hardly anything in the name of differentiation, in content or presentation.

Then of course, things have changed and will continue to do so.

To start with I thought that Radio City had not done its preparation and simply did not deserve a place. Or that is what I thought, then. Today, they are the most differentiated private FM. While others (again with the exception of Hello) play primarily Tamil, City has more English and Hindi content.

I think if one performs a blind test, City will stand out. But does Hindi and English cut ice with Tamil listeners. Jury is still out on that.

The other big surprise I thought was Hello FM. There is loads of energy in presentation and the music they play. Haven't heard about the RJs but they seem to be doing a enthu job. One surpass, of course, is Niladri. For many English music listeners on FM, his voice is the most recognizable. He does a show with Hello which otherwise plays Tamil music only.

In terms of the launch, I think, Big lived upto its name. Its pre-launch PR and media campaign definitely set the scene ablaze. It poached Deena and Balaji from Suryan and Mirchi, respectively. And as my wife told me, their strategy was to mix old and new songs. And I think it does a good job. Of course, within a week I figured that they were playing the same set of songs, day-in-day-out. En Asai (T Rajendar's song)...

As a strategy, I thought mixing the songs - old and new, does not present you a strong competitive advantage. Not sure, what Mr. Ambani's Adlabs has up its sleeves.

Staying tuned to Big, Asin's campaign doesn't seem to make any sense, at least now. The other big disappointment is Deena. Known as Blade Deena when he was at Suryan and now as Speed Deena, he is one of the best RJs. He is quick-witted and good to listen to. But alas, Big hasn't used him well. Balaji, as usual, talks a lot.

The other big attraction that Big has are TV stars Uma Riaz and Chetan. Both fail miserably. Uma is shadowed by can't-shut-mouth Balaji. She must be wondering where she is struck. Chetan on the other hand falters and doesn't seem to fit the Radio culture. He seems out of place.

I guess, I have covered too much of the new entrants.

The first bout of freshness for Chennai FM listeners were Suryan and Mirchi. Each positioned differently. While Suryan I thought was for Tamil-Tamil listeners, Mirchi was more hep. Mirchi's RJs attained great fame. Suchitra became a hit. She does many things now, hosts TV shows and becomes chief guest at many functions. Balaji also did a show then with Vijay TV. In the afternoons, Mirchi had many programs targeted towards women including one with Chef Dhamu.

Suryan was Tamil music, more Tamil music and more Tamil music. One program that I hated was Periya Thambi, Chinna Thambi. But used to loved Deena's Blade No. 1. Of course, Suryan also took RJs to the streets through a program where an RJ visits a particular area and takes the song requests. Good connect.

Rainbow FM was the only one which played little bit of English music but must say the RJs are bad. Somehow, I felt most of the callers who made requests for English songs were Anglo-Indian school girls. I guess, I am highly opined.

105 and Rainbow also have current affairs and news programs. Being a PR professional and even otherwise, I do regularly tune into these channels while driving back home.

If your radio set is struck deep inside your house, then you probably could listen to Mirchi and Suryan. But interestingly, I City and Big which are not well received inside home was better off on the highways and places outside Chennai limits.

Now, there is the problem of plenty. In a day, I get to listen to FM between 8-9 at home, then between 9-10 while driving, and finally, half an hour while driving back. To choose from so many FMs needs some thinking. So, the most visited stations of the six that I have programmed are City, Big, Hello and 105.

Guess, had too much of Suryan and Mirchi. Yeh dil maange new!

Still, it definitely makes me wonder is there place for more. Heard that a couple of more FM channels are in the offing. What do the listeners need? The answer is not easy. Considering that a players has cracked listeners mind, others may not be too far.

Going forward, I think, a couple of these stations will loose out. Others have to focus and try to retain a set of audience. A player cannot try to be everything for everybody.

The rules of the game might change once the Government opens up current affairs to be covered by private FMs.

Tune-in later!

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