The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Radio vs television

The stag party quickly got into full swing. Boisterous laughs, lewd jokes and unabashed leg pulling filled the air ' the hallmark of an enjoyable stag party. This is when someone picked on me. As luck would have it my glass was empty. I was actually feeling lazy and wanted the next guy to fill it up for me. My wait was for a suitable prey.

Avinash walked across the room and said: 'Wife is not here and your glass is still empty.' He is one of those happy-go-lucky characters who introduced us to Ursula Andress in school. He sat next to me and said: 'Miya biwi ka rishta, radio jaisa hona chahiye. TV jaisa nahin.'

It took me a while to comprehend the full import of the statement. No, I was not thinking so much about the prescription for marital bliss. I was fascinated by the characterisation of the two media ' radio and TV.

Radio is far weaker than television as a source of infotainment. Yet because of this very weakness, it is blessed with a distinct character. Radio is a passive medium; it does not demand undivided attention from its audience. The intimacy is as much. Still, unlike TV, it does not expect exclusivity.

FM channels, the new metropolitan entertainers, have possibly stripped the medium of this unobtrusive nature. One cannot really say that they have erred in their judgment. Their focus is on the younger audiences. For this group, passivity may be boring. They would want the phone-in, the chat with John Abraham or listen to the favourite songs of Lara Dutta. In their altar, the behind-the-scenes, quiet entertainer has to subjugate.

The question really is whether the youth-only business model is the best one. Why bother about other target groups' A radio channel depends solely on advertising revenue. Apart from the youth products they also want a share of this detergent campaign and a bite into that automobile major's ad budget. One therefore needs to entertain the mother while she is cooking. Or the tired father when he gets back home. Being an audio MTV may not be the complete answer.

It is not that the FM channels are not aware of this. They play different genres of music at different times of the day. Unfortunately the rest of the programme does not alter significantly. The radio jockeys remain the same and thus behave the same way irrespective of the kind of music that is being played.

The West handles it differently. A channel called Classic FM in the UK only plays music that befits its name. The anchor person meshes with the music genre ' in language, in tone and most importantly in mood. In short, she holds the 'Do not disturb' sign aloft.

There is another reason for widening the vision of the radio medium. TV had come and hogged a substantial portion of the ad pie. Their strength lies in their reach. Yet, today, TV to many is like 'water water everywhere, not a drop to drink'.

Much of TV viewership today may be up for grabs, even in prime time. A well-produced radio play could draw quality audience away from the K-series in the evening. Perhaps the ailment of the FM channels in India is TV phobia. They may need to be reminded of a great wisdom. If you follow someone's footsteps, you can never overtake him.

(Reuters picture above shows the power of the radio during the Pope's funeral)

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