Interview with Nermeen Chinoy, COO, CityFM89.
First published in November-December 2007
Nermeen Chinoy, COO, CityFM89, speaks about how the power of music and the empowerment of the RJ have made her radio station the one everyone listens to.
AURORA:What made CityFM89 a success story?
NERMEEN CHINOY: 89’s launch was based on the belief that people would only respond well to having access to an unbiased presentation of the entire world of music. The success of the station has been its ability to give listeners the music they love or have come to love. At 89, we believe that music has no boundaries and that we owe it to our listeners to give them as wide a cross section of music as possible, even music they haven’t heard before, because we believe that eventually they will come to love that music.
A:Do you think that the other radio stations are not doing that?
NC: Although other radio stations also base their entertainment on music, I think their base is narrower. Some stations cater primarily to the young and so mainly air Western pop, pop-rock and hip-hop. The more mass-oriented stations primarily air Indian filmy music. Their definition of music is different.
A: Where do you find your core audience?
NC: Among people between the ages of 18 and 36.
A: As a market leader in a competitive environment, how do you retain leadership?
NC: Through Innovation; by being true to the ideals on which we based our launch and always remembering that our listeners and advertisers deserve nothing less than a quality experience whenever they tune in.
A:Apart from the music you play, what other factors differentiate CityFM89 from other FM stations?
NC: We are true to ourselves. Our RJs come from different walks of life and bring with them their individuality and their love of music. The CityFM89 team is committed to providing creative, quality entertainment. We understand the difference that comes from putting in that extra bit of effort. We spend time talking to our RJs and getting their input on their programmes; we let the ideas and concepts flow from them.
A:How do you respond to the criticism that 89 is elitist; that too much English is spoken and hardly any Urdu?
NC: First, we have to distinguish between English and elitist. Just because the RJs speak primarily in English does not make us an elitist channel, the four metropolitans we cater to are cities where people live in English; signboards, road signs, billboards, mobile telephones – everything around us is in English, so how are we to deny its hold on this country as a language? We are a music channel and we air a mix of music that ranges across many languages. We believe that music has no boundaries and when we get requests from people in areas like Ichrah in Lahore and Kharadar in Karachi, it strengthens this belief. From an advertisers’ point of view, if for arguments sake they remain firm in the belief that English caters primarily to SEC A, B and C, then so be it. That is where the majority of the purchasing power lies.
A:Broadcasting out of four cities, do you find that the listenership differs from city to city?
NC: Yes, which is why we localise our programming. For example, the age demographic in Lahore is younger compared to Karachi, although you cannot say that in Lahore the 35 to 50 age group is not there, because it is, but maybe in a relatively smaller proportion compared to Karachi. In Faisalabad, we play more Pakistani and Punjabi music, which is not to say that Faisalabad does not enjoy a fair share of rock and hip hop music. Islamabad on the other hand is very similar to Karachi in terms of audience demographics.
A:Is fluency in English a pre-requisite to becoming an 89 RJ?
NC: I think it is important to stress that we do not encourage anyone who does not think in and speak fluent English to speak English on-air. If an RJ thinks in and speaks in Urdu or Punjabi or another language, they go ahead and voice their thoughts in that language. We don’t have a stipulation that you have to speak in English on 89, it happened by default because the majority of the RJs we attracted were very comfortable speaking in English. Take Gurmeet Singh for example. He does a weekly show in Faisalabad and as he thinks in Punjabi, he speaks only in Punjabi on air. And that’s how we want it, because we want his personality to come through. Our priority is that our RJs know and love their music. In Lahore too, you’ll find RJ’s who break out into Punjabi, and some of the Karachi RJs speak more Urdu than English.
A:How do you develop your programmes?
NC: Development starts on the drawing board. Take our current Ramazan programming for example. Six weeks before the start of Ramazan we looked at the changes we needed to make in our programming. We then based those changes on the lifestyles of our listeners and for most of them this is a very happy time, especially after iftar. So we wanted to give the station a happy feel. This is a month when people are out and about in their cars, shopping and enjoying themselves until late at night.
A:How much of your programming is RJ driven?
NC: Some of our programmes are driven by the RJ in terms of his/her interest, knowledge and love of music. However, other programmes have become 89 brands regardless of who the RJ is. Programmes such as The Breakfast Show, Lunch at 89, Rush Hour, Dial 89, Coffee Republic and the Weekend Connection to name a few. Now with these programmes the RJ may change but the programme's soul remains. However, we do give them a localised feel. For example, in Karachi Rush Hour is associated with Munizeh, while in Lahore it is with Fizza.
A:Given the virtual absence of an established radio culture in Pakistan, how do you overcome issues regarding finding trained RJs and production people?
NC: We focus on cultivating talent. We believe that people have the capacity to stretch their creativity and productivity if offered a nurturing and encouraging environment. The people who do our shows or work with us are also our target audience and they are extremely sensitive to what the desired standard of quality is, or should be. Our RJs are people who believe that our growth as a radio station and as an industry will only come from continuous innovation and improvement. With a mindset like that, it is easy to develop and train talent.
A:Do you have any plans to extend your coverage to other cities in Pakistan?
NC: If PEMRA (Pakistan Regulatory Media Authority) open the bidding for metropolitan licences again, we would definitely consider another city, provided it made commercial sense for us to do so.
A:How do you manage to keep the commercial breaks so short?
NC: We are probably the only radio station that caps its ads at two and a half minutes, which is why we are able to command premium rates in the market. Today, 89 has the highest yield/per minute in the FM industry.
A:Why are your advertisers willing to pay that premium?
NC: Because of the quality of our programming and the fact that we do not compromise on our policies. We ensure that our advertisers’ message is listened to and not just heard.
A: In terms of advertising, how big is the FM radio market?
NC: Last year the radio industry closed at Rs 450 million and this year at approximately Rs 640 million, so yes, ad spend on radio has grown; however, radio still only holds three percent of the total ad spend.
A:Do you think the quality of radio commercials is improving?
NC: It is, but very slowly and it is something we need to work on. At this point, all we can do is to encourage our advertisers to let us produce the ads for them and let them see how different a radio commercial has to be from a television commercial. The problem is that radio still accounts for just three percent of the total ad spend in Pakistan, therefore, media planners and brand managers do not give radio the same amount of attention they give to TV, print or the outdoor media. But things are changing as the industry grows and the only way to keep on improving is to keep on giving media planners and brand managers options.
A:Why is it so important to you that the quality of radio commercials improve?
NC: At the end of the day our listeners have to be happy. There are two ways of looking at this and advertisers recognise this. You can have four ads in an eight-minute ad pack, or you can have one ad in a two-and-a-half minute ad pack, and the chances of a listener switching during an eight minute ad pack are higher. With 89, however, listeners know the ad-pack is going to be short so they tend to stick with the ads Radio is an audio medium and the challenge is to make the ad pack sound good, because if the ad pack doesn’t sound good, no one will listen to it and that is not fair to our brand. The more we tighten our sound and make it better, the more listeners we will get and retain. Our listeners have to be the priority, because, without our listeners, we are nothing.
A:When people talk about the FM revolution in Pakistan, what do they really mean?
NC: The FM audience barely existed until three years ago. With the coming in of so many diverse options, FM is gradually becoming a part of Pakistani lifestyle.
A:Do audiences still listen to the radio mainly when they are in the car or is this trend changing?
NC: FM was primarily listened to in cars, but now it is being listened to more and more on mobile phones and at home. Radio has become a multi-purpose medium; a source of entertainment and information that allows you to multitask.
A: In your opinion, should a FM radio station have an objective that goes beyond mere entertainment?
NC: We have to continue to give our audience an outlet through which they can express themselves in a way that is empowering and effective, whether it be through music or at a more personal level. FM radio is basically a community-based institution. It is the duty of all FM radio channels to uphold social and moral responsibility as effectively as they can. Given the difference we can make to our young and the hope that we can restore in the older generation, we have to focus on the issues that affect us and present them in a way that is constructive and positive. In essence, it is our responsibility to give people something to believe in.
Interview conducted by Mariam Ali Baig.