Radio is said to be the biggest earworm there is. A song’s credibility, no matter how popular it is on other platforms, is still tested on the radio.
All India Radio (AIR) the government-owned radio network was launched in 1956. It was the only source of news and entertainment apart from the on-ground activities. AIR captivated the nation with its programming which included not just current affairs but also shows about storytelling, humour and of course music.
One of Indian radio’s earliest stars was Ameen Sayani. Through his show, Binaca Geetmala and subsequent incarnations including Cibaca Geetmala, he not only entertained the listeners with his pick of songs but educated them about the singers, music directors and lyricists of the songs. Along with this, he would always have an anecdote or two to precede the songs. It made Ameen Sayani a household name and India’s most loved Radio Presenter.
Privatisation of FM Services
AIR introduced FM services in 1977 but it boomed only after its privatisation began in 2001. Privatisation in any field brings changes to its basic structure and operation and radio was no different. Radio presenters soon assumed a swanky new role and were rechristened as Radio Jockeys or RJs. Most stations adopted their own different approaches to programming, broadcasting, and reaching out to a set target audience.
A Contemporary Hits Radio Station (CHR) won’t play retro music even if they know that people like it, as the contemporary music listeners are its target audience.
RJs would draw up their playlists for the day and present it to the listeners in their own style while adhering to the station’s format.
“Radio stations realised that this led to chaos when it came to the song flow of the day. A particular RJ would play music of his taste which would completely vary from say, the RJ who performed before him. To counter this, the concept of a music manager was born,” said RJ Hrishi K, Radio One.
The Birth of the Music Manager
Consequently, today the songs that people hear are not entirely chosen by the RJ or a music guy. The song logs are research-based. Now every radio station has a music manager who decides on the songs list and flows according to the categories and the format of the station. Then as per research, they chalk out the flow of the music for the day. So a super hit song can be repeated ‘N’ number of times a day, while some songs are played according to time slots and occasions.
“RJs have to cater to the station’s identity and we cannot play songs as per our whims and fancies. The show is mine, its content is mine, as also my teams, but the song log absolutely isn’t,” explained RJ Malishka, Red FM.
“I have been present at all Digital Music Testing (DMT) sessions. In these sessions the team is given a playlist and they have to rank the songs as per their preference. It is not a single person’s call, its a consensus. But we only decide the placement of the songs, it’s the audience’s call whether the song should be played again or numerous times or never. The audience decides the playlists.”
In the Radio Computing System (RCS) there are set categories. The music manager siphons a larger list into a smaller one and sets each song under a category. Playlists for the shows are programmed according to research but as per Hrishi, RJs do hold the power of discretion at times.
Stressing his point Hrishi further reiterated,
“If I don’t want to play a particular song, I have an option to choose any other song from that category depending on the data base at our disposal. But the RJ cannot shift from the station’s format even on a request show. Listeners also have to understand the format of the radio station.”
RJs – a one point connect
But there are other factors where the role of RJs comes into play according to Malishka,
“Like when there are tie ups, artists who want to get promoted or if a new song’s popularity is to be tested. At times we play a snippet of a song and ask the audience to give us their feedback. The RJ is a one point contact between the artists and the masses.”
Then there is the issue of playing new genres, to which Hrishi insists,
“Of course we do! We get a lot of mails by labels, artists and promoters to play their songs. The music manager and the team listens to them and if we like any song, the song is played.”
It was apparent that FM Stations and RJs were growing in popularity by the day. Some RJs attained superstar status while many others had their niche set of followers. FM Stations were inundated with phone calls and letters from fans and even the movie industry wanted a pie of the action. Listeners, including you and me, would draw up their playlists after listening to a set of songs on the radio.
Then came the music streaming services.
Streaming platforms entered the Indian music market loaded with a huge song database giving the listener the liberty to pick and hear any song they wanted at any given time. Listeners no longer had to wait for their favourite song to be aired on the radio. On these streaming platforms, there was a wide range of playlists at the disposal of the listener.
So did ‘Streaming kill the Radio Star’?
“Radio is real time and this makes the RJs relevant. A listener can just dial a radio station to request a song or express their views, live! Streaming and other platforms are pre-packaged so this charm is missing.
If I am narrating a story, in between songs, about today’s scenario it will augur well with the listeners as they are also experiencing the same. Radio is a two way street unlike most other platforms which makes connecting content with a song much more relevant and there is a real time feel to it,” asserted RJ Raunac, Red FM.
Radio has withstood the challenges thrown at it from time to time. The platform has adapted well to the ever-changing landscape. It has survived the tape, CD, iPod eras and should continue to remain as popular in the age of music-streaming apps.
“Since the streaming platforms entered the market, I realised listeners won’t tune into radio to curate their playlists. It is sad but one has to adapt. Content is what will draw them and not only musical content. The spoken content between the songs is also important. Radio is now a beautiful combination of spoken content and music,” said Hrishi.