Hrithik Roshan, Anu Malik turn RJs as FM stations woo audiences in smaller cities

FM radio companies are looking at celebrity-led shows to drive up their incomes and popularize the channels across markets especially in smaller cities like Kanpur

A file photo of Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan. The actor launched a FM station in Kanpur and introduced the programming line-up of the new station to the listeners. Photo: AFP
A file photo of Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan. The actor launched a FM station in Kanpur and introduced the programming line-up of the new station to the listeners. Photo: AFP

New Delhi: On 10 October, Radio City listeners in Kanpur were in for a surprise as the radio station engaged Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan to play host for a day. The actor launched the Kanpur station and introduced the programming line-up of the new station to the listeners.

The launch of Radio City FM station in Kanpur (on the frequency 104.8 FM) is the first of the phase III radio launches from Jagran Prakashan group-owned company Music Broadcast Ltd. The company won 11 frequencies in phase III auctions, which concluded in September 2015. It currently operates 29 radio stations across the country.

Earlier in June, Radio City had roped in writer-director Anurag Kashyap to host a two-episode crime thriller show in an exclusive radio partnership with the movie Raman Raghav 2.0.

Radio City is not the only one to sign up Bollywood celebrities to reach out to audiences. Last month, Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd-owned 92.7 Big FM brought music composer Anu Malik on board to host a weekly show Big Radio Reel, where Malik narrated his experiences of working with various Bollywood celebrities.

Big FM has been running another show Suhaana Safar with Annu Kapoor with the movie and television actor for three years, where Kapoor talks about yesteryears’ actors and films.

Increasingly, FM radio companies are looking at celebrity-led shows to drive up their income and popularize the channels across markets, especially in smaller cities. “Bringing Hrithik Roshan on board helped us create awareness about the brand overnight in Kanpur which, without a celebrity, would have taken much longer. It helped in building the brand,” said Abraham Thomas, chief executive, Radio City.

HT Media Ltd, which operates Fever 104 FM and Radio Nasha brands, was the first to introduce celebrity programming in March (with the launch of Radio Nasha on the frequencies acquired in the first batch of Phase III auctions) with actors Anil Kapoor and Satish Kaushik and singer Amit Kumar (son of Kishore Kumar).

Anil Kapoor hosted a morning show called Jhakaas Mornings for six months on Radio Nasha; Kumar currently hosts an afternoon show Crazy for Kishore, while Kaushik hosts Filmy Calendar Show in the evening. Radio Nasha plays Bollywood music from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in Delhi and Mumbai. The shows (repeats) are also aired on Fever 104 FM in some cities.

“The response to the shows hosted by Bollywood celebrities has been nothing short of phenomenal. Various celebrities have approached us and shown interest to host shows on Radio Nasha,” said Harshad Jain, chief executive, radio and entertainment at HT Media, adding that the company has taken the concept of celebrity programming to weekends as well. In August, Radio Nasha engaged lyricist Sameer Anjaan, actor and screenwriter Salim Khan and director Kunal Kohli to host weekend shows.

HT Media is the publisher of Mint and Hindustan Times and currently operates 15 radio stations across the country.

The company also runs a weekly show called Radio Nasha Superstar where every week a new celebrity is called to host the show and interact with listeners. So far, the show has featured actors Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar and Madhuri Dixit, among others.

However, not everyone is convinced about celebrity programming. “Radio is a very personal medium. Listeners relate to the content. It can be okay for a short period of time. But every celebrity can’t be an RJ. It requires a completely different set of qualities,” said Tapas Sen, chief programming officer at Entertainment Network India Ltd (ENIL), which owns Radio Mirchi brand. ENIL currently operates 44 radio stations in the country.

Thomas of Radio City agreed. “Celebrities alone can’t run a show. It depends on the content and spontaneity as well. We are looking out for new talent which is real and engaging. Any celebrity who can do that is a great thing,” he said.

Executives in radio companies and advertising agencies believe that such shows help the companies in popularizing the channel and attracting the advertisers as well. “We have seen a range of brands showing their keen intent in associating with our personality-led shows. Celebrity shows have a premium attached to them both for (advertising) spot rates and integrated opportunities and association,” said Tarun Katial, chief executive officer, Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd, which acquired 14 frequencies in phase III auctions.

Harsha Joshi, executive vice-president (group trading), Dentsu Aegis Network Ltd, agreed that there is a marginal hike in the advertising rates of such shows but said that celebrity programming won’t make any difference in the long run.

“The shows might be popular but it’s a challenge for the companies to offer differentiated content. I think enough information on Bollywood is available across platforms. Celebrities narrating their experiences won’t be any different,” said Joshi.

According to industry estimates, lesser-known celebrities charge somewhere between Rs.60 lakh and Rs.1 crore annually to host a show, while popular and mainstream celebrities charge a few crores (depending on their stature and duration of the contract) to play RJs.

Anirban Das Blah, managing director of Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd, said that celebrities are engaging in radio shows just to promote their upcoming films/shows. “Celebrities are hosting the shows from a promotional perspective. While for some, the purpose is to stay relevant and build a brand across platforms,” he said.

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