AIR FM Mumbai overhauls programming

MUMBAI: Private FM players have finally forced staid broadcaster All India Radio Mumbai out of its ennui.

The two channels run by AIR, FM Metro and FM Gold have just been revamped, their programming reworked to fit in with the sensibilities of a more demanding listenership. Although both stations now sound curiously like the Mirchis and Citys that crowd the Mumbai airwaves, programming heads at AIR Mumbai aver the revamp, that came into effect on 5 January was done after extensive in house research.

FM Metro, which runs on 107.1 MHz since 1991 and is the oldest FM station in the city, had been running exclusively western music for a major part of the day (4 pm to midnight). Officials realized late last year that AIR FM listeners need music and no exclusively Hindi or English comperes. The result is co-hosting of shows on both stations for a major part of the day, with an interesting mix of Hindi and English music. Competiton from private quarters has also forced AIR to spruce up its radio jockeying. Its army of 53 RJs on FM Metro and 42 RJs on FM Gold has been given a free hand to innovate and experiment, while a fresh batch of auditions for new RJs is to be undertaken next month.

Programming heads of AIR FM have also brought in a clutch of new shows, aimed at targeting different sections of the populace that clue into radio. Also on the cards is a decision to introduce two minute Marathi news snippets, in addition to the hourly news broadcast from New Delhi. This is in addition to the hourly cricket updates that have been introduced during the ongoing World Cup in South Africa. Incidentally, this is the first time that programming, either on the 11 year old FM Metro or the two year old FM Gold has been altered.

Kamal Hai Dhamal, a two hour daily live phone in show, featuring Mumbai celebrities has been added to the kitty, as has a women's show that has been renamed from Suhasini to Sakhi to bring in the additional woman listener at 11.30 am. While the predominant AIR listener remains the quintessential housewife, the channels have revamped the morning line up to get the other TGs into its fold. At 7 am, there is a Good Morning Bharat at 7 am which includes a sports, films and current affairs update. A dial in People's Corner has been created in the 9.30 pm slot, which has sub sections on legal recourse, medical advice and consumer guidance. The public broadcaster is also out to woo collegians with its monthly edition of Antakshari, the musical game show, in which local college students are invited to participate.

The new programming mix, says programme executive Sushma Heppalgaonkar, is designed to cater to wider variety of listeners. In house research shows that shopkeepers, beauty parlours, housewives and the traveling public, who are regular AIR listeners, now want AIR to sport programmes that can compete effectively with the private stations.

AIR Mumbai undertakes audience research on each of the FM stations every three months, to understand changing audience tastes and to restructure programming accordingly. While old music continues to top the charts for AIR's FM channels, the two channels do not seem to be dictated by the morning and evening peak hours that define listenership on private stations in the city. One of the most popular shows on FM Metro is the Geet Mala, which attracts 3.3 lakh listeners at midnight. The top rated show, Golden Classics on FM Gold at 9.15 am, ropes in 20.5 lakh listeners, according to a study conducted by AIR in December 2002.

While the broadcaster does not rely on any outside agencies to quantify listenership figures and audience preferences, its research shows that FM Gold, transmitted over a 10 KW transmitter, attracts an average of 4.5 million listeners, while FM Metro, which uses a five KW transmitter, reaches nearly 2.2 million people in the city, says Dr L P Gandhi, head of the audience research cell at AIR. A proposal to strengthen the transmission of both FM stations using 20 KW transmitters is still pending with the Prasar Bharati, say officials. 

Advertising is slowly following on the heels of changed programming. Retail advertising is catching on the two channels, says AIR Mumbai deputy director Patanjali Maduskar.

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