"They would not listen to us if it is not relatable," says Hirva Upadhyay, a 21-year-old Radio Jockey from My FM, Rajkot, referring to the younger audience, primarily the Gen Z, and drawing a parallel connection between the preferences of the listeners and her Gen Z traits. Upadhyay, who started working as an RJ at the early age of 19, currently hosts an evening show for the station, aiming to make the links—the time for the RJs to go on-air—short and "snacky." Oftentimes, she asks people to finish a joke, which mostly is a 'PJ,' slang for a joke of poor quality that stands for Pakau Joke. But such segments catch the attention of the new-age audience of the radio, as she observes the number of responses recorded by the radio station.
RJ Hirva, a GenZ herself well understands the nerve of the GenZ audience and focuses on catering to them through slang, word plays, and storytelling.
According to the FICCI-EY report titled 'Windows of Opportunity: India’s Media & Entertainment Sector Maximizing Across Segments' of 2023, the Indian Media and Entertainment sector experienced a growth of 20% in 2022, with radio contributing 19.9% to this growth. However, analyzing the data to understand the growth of radio can be disappointing, as a survey conducted in January 2022 by 'Statista' revealed that 71 percent of respondents claimed they had never listened to the radio, with only four percent expressing a favorable opinion. Although the FICCI report also mentions a "need to address issues relating to listenership measurement," it is evident from the behavior around us that radio listenership is scarce. In such a situation, it is undoubtedly the light-hearted, "relatable" conversations by the RJs of private FM channels that are shouldering the responsibility of keeping the essence of the audio medium alive. RJ Hirva loves to say that "people listen to the radio so that they can listen to the RJs."
Hailing from Varanasi, RJ Raginee Chauhan, who hosts the show 'City Ki Vibe' for Radio City Varanasi, focuses on issues concerning youth. However, her work is not limited to live hosting. Like other RJs, her work involves ideating topics, discussing with programming heads, scripting, and, undoubtedly, other tasks like providing voiceovers for commercials. Throughout, the main objective is to speculate on what could resonate with the audience. Having worked as an RJ for almost six years, Chauhan understands that discussions on new concepts around dating, like 'flags,' and relationships in general, attract most callers.
Raginee Chauhan works around various IPs including event IPs to garner attention towards the radio.
On the other hand, beyond merely speaking from a studio, Chauhan is involved in creating Intellectual Properties—concept-based shows and programs for her channel to maintain audience engagement. This was highlighted in the latest report by FICCI, emphasizing how radio companies are focusing on integrated solutions, including content production and event IPs. "We live in a world where if people have even one 'X factor,' they want to utilize those skills and talents and seek platforms," the 27-year-old says while discussing her hosting role on a show called 'Super Singer.' Additionally, she mentions that new IPs she is developing this week also help attract audience attention, beyond the city-centric events covered by RJs for their respective channels.
The digital game
According to the 2023 report, India had 36 private FM broadcasters in 2022, operating 388 FM radio stations across 113 cities, with the country hosting a total of 1,233 operational radio stations, including 366 community radio stations. All of these stations are facing the impact of the rising influence of influencers, gradually overshadowing the popularity of the RJs. "The only edge we have over them (influencers) is that a brand is associated with us," Chauhan says.
RJ Harsh Talati works for Mirchi Plus, the digital segment of Radio Mirchi along with the other verticals of the radio station while also keeping his personal Instagram active.
Meanwhile, radio stations that transitioned to digital platforms long ago are leaving no stone unturned in utilizing their RJs to enhance their reach among the audience. Similarly, the RJs themselves are leveraging these platforms to grow their online presence. RJ Harsh Talati from Mirchi Plus, Ahmedabad, remarks, "It is a two-way process where the radio station helps you grow, and you help them grow in return." Upon joining the radio, Harsh was immediately tasked with continuously engaging with people on social media and maintaining regular activity on his personal Instagram account. It's no surprise that RJ Harsh enjoys a following of 100K+ followers on Instagram, and often, people reach out to him on the radio channel after seeing him on his personal social media page. "Content is king, and we RJs not only communicate with listeners through FM but also engage in producing various other content pieces for their social media platforms to remain authentic," the 32-year-old RJ emphasizes.
Adding the regional touch
In all of Radio Mirchi's shows, RJ Harsh always adds the Gujarati accent on-air, keeping the radio's hyperlocal essence intact. "Using the regional language and accent usually gets me more engagement," he explains, noting that he receives more calls during the call-in segment when he asks questions in regional Gujarati.
RJ Triptti Pathak makes sure to flaunt her U.P. accent from Delhi's station of Ishq FM to remain transparent to the listeners.
RJ Triptti Pathak, who relocated from Radio Mirchi, Lucknow, to Ishq FM, Delhi a few years ago, deliberately maintains her regional language and accent in her show to cater to people who may have migrated from Uttar Pradesh regions to Delhi. Bringing up regional variants even in the Hindi-speaking belt helps in better connecting with people, she believes. "It also helps listeners feel that the RJ is being authentic," adds the 32-year-old.
Local issues and events – a must
Image used for representational purposes. Source
In addition to languages and accents, RJ Triptti addresses various social and regional issues of the current times. While government-owned stations like Akashvani often engage in dialogues related to social issues, private frequencies such as Ishq FM typically avoid covering hard-hitting topics. Nevertheless, RJs strive to stay relevant by not only providing entertainment through radio but also addressing issues important to the audience.
From hosting shows on child sex abuse to discussing beneficial tips for delivery partners and initiating dialogues on the aftermath of break-ups, RJ Triptti notes that such topics pique people's interest and keep them tuned in. As radio stations and RJs believe that the majority of listeners are commuters in four-wheelers, the increased driving time has prompted RJs to connect with listeners in every possible way.
However, Pathak's seven years of experience have taught her that responses from people vary by region. "People in metropolitan cities like Delhi are more aware of the issues around them but are less responsive compared to cities like Lucknow, whereas listeners from smaller cities are more vocal, opinionated, and responsive," RJ Triptti observes, citing data on calls received during her shows.
RJ Shubhangi takes a round of local events and updates that are not covered by other mainstream media.
In addition to addressing issues relevant to locals, RJ Shubhangi Khandelwal from Surat's MY FM station ensures coverage of local important events overlooked by mainstream media. "Everyone talks only about diamonds when it comes to Surat, but we RJs aim to authentically cover the region by shedding light on regional stories, artists, and locally prominent figures," the 26-year-old says. While handling the evening show, Khandelwal maintains a balance between Surat-specific Gujarati, along with a mix of Hindi and even English, to capture the inclusiveness of the region on-air.
Similarly, RJ Megha Kumari, working for Red FM, Chandigarh, highlights how the radio station is hosting a 'Bhangra Premiere League' to encourage local dance through the medium. Typically, she focuses on region-specific events and issues during her morning shows, benefiting residents to stay informed. While morning shows, known for their informative nature, have started incorporating trends from social media, RJ Megha emphasizes the balance. "We pick up trending things from social media about our city and in general, but we also discuss local topics like elections," says the 26-year-old, mentioning recent topics such as Usha Uthup's version of Miley Cyrus's song and the mayor elections in Chandigarh.
Going the extra mile
RJ Megha takes up relevant local topics in the morning show and plans campaigns around the issues raised by the listeners.
A common thread that binds both RJ Megha and RJ Shubhangi is the initiative they take to assist their listeners—those who reach out to them in distress. Recently, RJ Megha planned and conducted weeks-long conversations around mental health, following sessions in schools, after receiving a phone call from a listener who wanted to raise awareness about mental health for his parents' sake. On the other hand, RJ Shubhangi once received a call where the caller mentioned mental health issues following his mother’s demise. RJ Shubhangi attempted to assist by connecting him with a therapist from her contacts. She says, "People often don't seek solutions because they already know them; they just want someone to listen, and we RJs become that for them
The way forward
Despite the efforts of RJs to keep up with trends and make their conversations quick and relatable for the medium to thrive, neither are new radio stations emerging, nor are the RJs, observes RJ Kshitij Banker, who has been working for Radio Mirchi (USA), for the last 17 years. In a conversation with Local Samosa, he traced the journey of radio from transistors, which began to decline as alternatives like phones gained popularity in the market, to his journey from Mirchi to Mirchi Plus, the digital segment of the station. According to him, a common problem for radio remains advertisements. "When RJs get bored of the advertisements, one can understand why listeners may not prefer to switch on the radio," the Vadodara resident says. As the FICCI report highlights, ad volumes increased by 25% in 2022 compared to the previous year, although ad rates remained 20% below their 2019 level.
Seeing the transition of the radio with the stations going digital, RJ Kshitij believes that only 'snackable' content across platforms can hold the listeners.
Stating that India is a vast market and radio is divided between commercials and podcasts, RJ Kshitij still believes that the subscription-based model could not work in India and might never in the future, given the buying behavior of Indian consumers, who hesitate to pay for entertainment. This, he further explains, leads to the proliferation of advertisements between links and songs. "If radio is to survive, players would have to remodel the advertisement structure for radio stations," RJ Kshitij says. But what can RJs contribute to the growth or survival of this medium? "A focus on 'Snack content' (a buzzword for creating light-hearted content) and producing separate content for radio and its digital platforms," he suggests, recalling the transition from posting polls and asking questions on Facebook to being active on Instagram for the same purpose.