"We are not going for the lowest common denominator" : Nishchint Chawla RED FM COO

It may not have the best of reasons to be complacent, but RED, the FM offering from the India Today stable, is gung ho about its performance in Mumbai and just as eager to take on competition in Delhi and Chennai by March.

COO Nishchint Chawla, who has a wealth of Radio Mid day experience behind him, is clear that the strategy the channel is currently following, will reap rich dividends in the future, although RED may be lagging behind in the ratings stakes currently. RED may not have the mass following of a Mirchi, but does boast of some quality programming through tie ups with the BBC. A recent IMRB survey put the active listenership of RED at eight million, and Chawla says besides the usual morning radio audience, the channel also attracts a good weekend listenership for its retro music shows.

Chawla spoke to about the programming on RED, with particular reference to shows around World Cup cricket, the marketing and promotions for RED and the future of the radio stations as he sees it.

Excerpts -

Is it a tough life out there in the private FM radio space, particularly in Mumbai?

Although the license fee structure is a tough one, it is not a situation wherein you cannot make money. There's always potential to grow the market size. To break even, one may need three to four years, although that again depends on different factors and government policies.

How are you competing with the other FM players, given the similarity of programming played out on most?

Radio is a very personal medium. Whereas television is a medium that's driven by programming that's shown on it and not by the personality of the channel, it's a different ball game on radio.

We play what the city wants. If it happens to be Hindi music, it's Hindi music that we play. However, let me make it clear that we are not going for the lowest common denominator, nor are we slugging it out for ratings by competing with the other FM stations.

We are focusing on a certain audience, rather than going mass. While we are not targeting any categories depending on their socio economic class, it is the older, educated audience that gets our attention, rather than going for the younger or the less educated listeners.

What kind of programming is being spun around World Cup cricket?

The idea was to go beyond usual cricket programming since our hands are tied as regards live cricket coverage. While we were careful not to replicate programming that's bound to be there on Sony, we weaved in some trivia and nostalgia with some humour, along with regular live updates, that are being provided by the India Today sports editor Sharda Ugra who's in South Africa.

"Whereas television is a medium that's driven by programming that's shown on it and not by the personality of the channel, it's a different ball game on radio"

What in your opinion needs to be done to gauge the performance of FM radio, in the absence of a standard rating system thus far?

The need now is to evolve a common currency that needs to go beyond TRPs. Research, independent or otherwise, has to evaluate the effectiveness of the medium. Like in the US, where there are jazz radio stations that cater only to jazz afficianados, radio stations here too are likely to evolve personalities of their own, making it that much easier for media planners as well.

Who are the advertisers who have come on board RED since its inception?

Retail advertising has been strong on the channel during occasions like Diwali. While we have had advertisers like lubricants coming on board, it is the TV channels who have stepped up their presence on the station. Over the months, we have had Sony, Hallmark, Sahara and HBO advertising on RED. While the FMCGs have kept away thus far, the launch of RED in Delhi and Chennai should see this sector also increasing its presence on RED.

Why has RED not been as aggressive in promoting itself as the others have been?

That's not true. We did go the whole hog when we started out last year. In September too, we had as many as 200 hoardings put up at various places in the city. We prefer to interact with our TG at strategic places, though. We have had ongoing promotional activities at Crossroads and Imax for some months now, and we use clubs and like happening places as our touch points.

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