The words from the hit Queen song Radio Gaga keep ringing in my ears. In fact, my ears have been ringing for several years now (no pun intended).
The revival of radio in Pakistan has received a mixed reception from listeners for a variety of reasons. Those who grew up in the era of the single-option of Radio Pakistan are happy to have so many choices, yet bemoan the lack of quality of the new offerings. The younger generation, already awash with MP3 players and I-Pods, are blasé up, although they seem to enjoy being able to interact live with the presenters on air. But what does radio mean to anyone anymore?
Logic would have said that with the proliferation of TV channels and the Internet, print and radio would go the way of telex machines and pagers. The reverse is true: there are more publications and radio stations now than ever before. Radio has the advantage of being a mobile, ambient medium. That is to say, you can go anywhere with it, yet you do not have to pay attention if you don’t want to. Thus, for those on the road as well as those at home or work, the radio provides a ‘nice’ background with which to carry on one’s activities.
Coming back to the days when Radio Pakistan was the only local option, I recall how we scoured the airwaves for news and music from around the world. BBC and Voice of America provided much-needed respite from the drudgery of the local offerings. It was with great excitement that we sat glued to the VOA broadcast about the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Even now, it seems unreal. But then, as a little boy, it was absolutely ‘out-of-this-world’ (no pun intended, again).
Radio Pakistan’s English music segments were miserly – a half-hour in the afternoon and another at night. Hosted by the likes of Eddie Carapiet and Farkhande Jawwad, we faithfully tuned in to see what was happening. Radio Ceylon, on the other hand, was more generous, so mornings and evenings were tuned in there.
Further afield, we were hooked on to other classics of the BBC – the Top Twenty, Noel Edmonds’ Show, Blues is Where You Hear It (Alexis Korner), et al. And, if the reception was clear enough, The Now Sound on VOA was a must.
From a listener’s perspective, one is looking for music that one likes at the appropriate time of day or night. So, while driving to work, I need something to perk me up and put some energy into my day. While in the office, the music tends to provide a background sound upon which to work productively. In this case, talk should be at a minimum. While driving home after a hard day’s slog, the music needs to be refreshing. And, if you listen in during the evening and nights, lounge music is perfect. Of course, these are my preferences and as with anything else, there are a million other people with choices of their own to cater to.
Naturally, different people look for different things from radio: in the cities it would be mainly music and a spot of news. In the villages and farms, a lot of useful information is also provided around health, education, etc.
The emergence of FM radio nearly 10 years ago has created a whole new dynamic – of listeners, presenters and advertisers. First it was just FM 101, then FM 100, now every major city in Pakistan has at least half a dozen or more stations battling it out for share of ear. As someone who has been on both ends of the spectrum (receiving and dishing it out), I have come to a new appreciation of the medium.
From a listener’s perspective, one is looking for music that one likes at the appropriate time of day or night. So, while driving to work, I need something to perk me up and put some energy into my day. While in the office, the music tends to provide a background sound upon which to work productively. In this case, talk should be at a minimum. While driving home after a hard day’s slog, the music needs to be refreshing. And, if you listen in during the evening and nights, lounge music is perfect. Of course, these are my preferences and as with anything else, there are a million other people with choices of their own to cater to. The range of music available is vast, spanning not just decades but genres as well and as a listener, I find I have to share air space with all the other tastes around. Radio in Pakistan has not yet reached a ‘niche market’ stage where you chose your station by the music they play.
What, then, differentiates one FM station from another locally? For me, it is the ‘connection’ you feel with the presenters and the music. Some stations have presenters with fancy accents but no content (and there are listeners who absolutely love that), while others have invested in seriously knowledgeable staff who provide depth to their show. Hopefully, we will reach a stage when we have a critical mass of professionals that know the subject matter, as well as how to present it.
As a presenter, I feel it is important to define your target audience as well as your offering. Unless you are doing shows at peak time when you need to be all things to all people, a clearly defined objective helps build a show that has a solid connection with the listeners. There is a certain level of comfort that the listener has with a presenter that develops over time. Expectations are formed and met as requests are frequently aired. If you have a call-in show, then the chitchat adds that touch of intimacy.
I am hopeful for radio (and television) in Pakistan. I feel we have the talent, both in hardware and software terms, to churn out quality productions. It is just a matter of time before we see the results.
Leon Menezes used to present a show on City FM89.