Radio is timeless. Even as other modes of entertainment are born, morph and keep vying for our attention, radio is quietly persistent, entertaining and informing us, a taste of the local flavor and a pulse of the community. But how and why does radio endure? There’s no one better to answer this question than the creative minds at FunAsia Radio Network UAE – COO Dheeraj Kapuria, Program Director Digby Taylor, and Business Development Head, Sunny Ahuja – who share their tremendous excitement with us about FunAsia Network’s place as a community broadcaster and entertainer, what their network offers, and why broadcasting as a medium of communication is here to stay.
The Opening Cue
Digby leads us into how the business of radio is evolving. “The future of radio in the UAE is one of the most appetizing in the world. Big groups continue to absorb small stations in key markets across Europe and the USA, growing to cover demographics with medium reach by buying out local licences. Here the radio business in the UAE has a 93% reach already in the media space, thus making it very enticing for any potential advertiser wishing to reach a multi-cultural, multilingual society. Big radio stations dominate, and at some point, DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) will come and make its presence felt. Until then, FM rules the airwaves in the UAE.”
The trio embarked on their collaboration when Sunny met the COO of FunAsia and veritable media veteran Dheeraj Kapuria in 2018. They were impressed by his knowledge of the science behind radio and were eager to implement it into building a business. They hired him to expand the radio market without further ado with a proposition to head operations and launch multiple radio channels.
At the end of 2019, FunAsia acquired the first radio channel, Big 106.2, followed by Luv 107.1, a feel-good Hot AC station playing the biggest hits of the 90s and noughties. Then came Beat 97.8, an upbeat station playing cutting-edge electronic music. Then, in a year, Talk 100.3 was launched in quick succession in partnership with Mr. Ajay Sethi, a true Business Icon from the Channel 2 Group.
Together, they became market disruptors and created niche radio products. Backed up by a strong team of professionals that Sunny hired with Digby’s support along with that of other radio and media veterans, they now boast of a 45-member crew with four radio channels in this country.
Talk 100.3 is the first sports and business radio channel in the UAE, acting as the chosen voice of the business fraternity that covers finance, real estate, retail, automobiles, hospitality, and essentially all angles of business for the South Asian community. Branded as ‘The Home of News, Sport, and Conversation’, Talk 100.3 made its mark during the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in the minds of the listeners.
Sunny explains, “When FunAsia launched Talk 100.3 in partnership with The Channel 2 group, we did not need to market it much because we were the only sports channel narrating ball-by-ball commentary of the World Cup 2021. The marketing spread like wildfire organically, and it was all word-of-mouth. Every single taxi was playing Talk 100.3 as everyone was hooked on what was happening in the match. We had the voices of legendary journalists and cricket commentators like Boria Majumdar and Clive Lloyd. They went live on air and featured all-star lines of legendary cricketers, like Kapil Dev. Hence, it was so engaging that it didn’t need any outdoor visibility, just radio, print, and social media content with PR and word-of-mouth was enough.”
Fun Asia Network is growing exponentially. The new BIG Fan TV app streams live TV and radio with events and multimedia. Network Programme Director, Digby is enthused as he says, “FAN is going places, and we want you to join us on the ride”.
Content is King
COO Dheeraj Kapuria explains what sets radio apart. “Despite the plethora of content, not just in television and movies but also in OTT and social media, radio occupies its own, almost sacrosanct space as a form of entertainment. It is incomparable to any of these mediums since it caters to the local audiences and presents an up-close picture of the events happening around you.” The average person spends at least an hour behind the wheel, and what do they reach out to during this monotony? They want content and entertainment that is significantly related to what’s happening in their country, so they turn up the radio. “Radio is not like television that caters to content created in India or internationally, or OTT content, which is primarily entertainment. So it predominantly remains the first choice for the masses,” he plugs in.
UAE has over 40 radio channels across Arabic, Hindi, English, Malayalam, Tamil, Tagalog, and Farsi. What FunAsia set out to do was to cater to a large, diverse audience, whether it is sports or business, and outperform every other channel in the arena. Today, they can confidently say they’ve created a niche where their content caters to the mature South Asian audience.
Podcasts are steadily rising in popularity and are bound to have affected the space. They’re not too worried though. Podcasts are audio-recorded content in the digital medium, while the radio is frequency FM. They are not competing against each other. Radio is live, while podcasts are recorded content for the digital domain. As Sunny puts it, “What we have done is created room for podcasts to be aired, thus aiding collaboration. We have podcast partners who have come on board and curate content for that domain and get featured on the channel.”
The other thing to place your bets on, as Dheeraj puts it, is TTL or Through-The-Line marketing, the new age medium web. “When doing a station campaign, you get brands to sponsor the program and get their radio presenters to come to the stores for an outdoor activation, so that listeners who are tuned in not only get a chance to win at the event but also get to be a part of the radio show. It then goes on the digital and social media platforms.” Today, the medium is so blended that they are working on customizing and creating bite-size podcast versions for the radio domain. Thus, radio no longer works in a silo; it is backed by other mediums as well.
Riveted by Radio
With four channels in niche spaces, FunAsia dominates the audio infotainment spectrum. Each channel has its own strength. Talk 100.3 focuses on small and medium enterprises, having evolved into a talk forum for the business and sports community. In 2022, they will be creating a show specifically for women that will feature women entrepreneurs and talk about how men and women are walking hand in hand, leading the business fraternity. The 100.3 morning show will feature an Indo-Pakistan deadly duo, Sobia Khan and Vivek Sanil, who focus on all that the business fraternity needs to know, followed by Anurag Malhotra in the afternoon, and Anjaan Ganesh bringing the strongest Talk shows in the UAE.
Acting as the local medium curating content for the listener and specific offerings to cater to different audiences across different age groups, the bouquet of channels ensures that the network has an aggregated listener base of about two and a half million listeners making the network worth 12 million dirhams a year.
Sunny acquiesces that the world today is veering towards collaboration. Radio advertising isn’t just based on radio commercials alone. Radio hammering can give a brand heavy-duty, unprecedented awareness. You can reach millions who listen to your advertisements multiple times a day, 30 days a month. Radio is not just limited to radio commercials since these also go to social media as digital ads. The pandemic has also made radio advertising accessible and affordable, and the medium is becoming approachable and based on necessity.
Making A Mark
Courtesy of their rich and varied experience, the trio dish valuable advice for those who want to join the radio industry. In a nutshell – Spontaneity and creativity are two integral aspects. If you are creative and have ‘the gift of the gab’, you can get into radio. However, there is no downplaying the struggle. You need to devote time to find your core competency. You can’t be the ‘jack of all trades’ on the radio.
When a person speaks on the mic, every single ad is produced, every single script for the ad is written. Every single piece of music is filtered. The bottom line is if it’s not relevant, no one will listen to you anyway. Today, radio jockeys don’t stay cooped up in studios, doubling up as presenters at malls when contests are run and for other fan-interaction activities, so the new age media professionals also need to have a charismatic personality that connects them with the audience.
The medium has and will see its fair share of evolution in years to come. One thing remains unchanged though – one sees it on television as its presented to you, but you create it in the mind when it comes to the radio. Naturally then, it’s time to tune in – because radio will remain as timeless as the friend on the go.