'Theatre of the mind'

Reeti Banerjee
Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Abraham Thomas, CEO, Radio City, tells us how the medium creates multiple dimensions for listeners and why the radio is becoming even more critical now as a source of genuine news

Abraham Thomas, CEO, Radio City, tells us how the medium creates multiple dimensions for listeners and why the radio is becoming even more critical now as a source of genuine news

To applaud the talent of artists and technicians of the Marathi film fraternity, Radio City, one of the market leaders in the FM industry, announced the launch of listeners’ choice Radio City Cine Awards Marathi at Seasons Mall, Pune, recently. Marathi stars like Sonalee Kulkarni, Sanjay Jadhav, Bhushan Pradhan, Mahesh Kale and Hrishikesh Ranade were present amongst many other famous film personalities. The award will provide a transparent access to listeners to cast their vote and support their favourite superstars of the Marathi film industry.

We caught up with Abraham Thomas, CEO, Radio City, to know about his experiences of working in the radio, the medium’s growth potential of radio in India and much more. Excerpts from the interview:

Prior to radio, what did you pursue?
I have been in media for quite some time. I started with print media. Later on, I shifted to product sales, circulation and distribution. Then I moved to television and worked with Sony and MTV. I moved to radio in 2005. I have work experiences in every mass media field, including the digital world. That said, there’s an energy about radio which will always attract me.

You have built Radio City into a market leader. What kind of challenges did you face, and what kept you going?
Private radio developed in India only after television had matured. In the West, first it was radio and then television kind of overshadowed it. Here, radio is completely different. I believe radio is very evolved. Local advertising is booming due to radio. It is the only medium which will give you local reach. I also believe that radio is the theatre of the mind — the sound is so powerful that it creates multiple dimensions for you. It’s like experiencing your city through audio. It is a sensory medium, unlike other mediums which are very static or two dimensional.

As an industry, the challenge is to build this perception of radio as a much larger medium than what people think.

With the increase in the number of social media platforms nowadays, the younger generation hardly listens to the radio. Do you agree?
Actually, youngsters do listen to the radio. Because we see a lot of direct co-relation between penetration of mobile phones and radio listenership. From top-end smartphones to mid-level ones, FM is an inbuilt feature that exists in all of them. When you travel in public transport, or when you travel solo, you will get to see people all wired up — they’re all listening to radio.

On the other hand, talented figures like Sonalee Kulkarni and Kedar Shinde are so popular on social media that people follow them and get influenced by their activities. They have a far greater role, specially in today’s time, when there is so much of fragmentation and fake news.

The role of radio and radio talent is becoming even more critical now because people want that one ‘friend’ who will provide them with genuine news as there are a lot of unverified write-ups available on social media.

Can you share some of your most memorable experiences of working in the radio?
There’s this incident that still gives me goosebumps. We had this listener who had won a contest. She walked into our office to collect the contest prize. She was visually-impaired. Our RJ met her and that’s when she realised that her parents were not supportive. They wanted her to get married, but she wanted to study. So she had come to Mumbai on her own and lived in a hostel and was struggling for money to complete her law course. And the small amount that she earned, allowed her to only have one meal a day.

She was immediately put on air where she narrated her story and you won’t believe, cheques started pouring in. I sponsored her for a year — from her food to education, everything I’d paid for. Social media went viral about her. This is the power of radio.

Give me one word that describes you the best.
(Smiles) Difficult one. Audacious!

What is your biggest accomplishment so far?
For me, it’s a certain peace that I have within me that I’m contented and happy. On a day-to-day basis, I completely live in the present. I don’t worry too much about the past. Just because my present is good, my past looks good. I don’t worry about the future because I know everything will be okay as I’m already doing good in the ‘now’. That’s my philosophy. When you reach that point where you genuinely live in the present, it makes sense.
You are an avid foodie. Where and how did the passion for food develop?
(Laughs) I think one of the words that I very closely identify with is ‘passion’. It is not only food that I’m passionate about, but several other things.
I have developed my passion for food over the years. For me, local food is what I really like. When I visit Pune, I have Misal Pav, Vada Pav and I don’t really go to quality restaurants.  

Are youngsters still eager to enter the FM industry? Do they harbour dreams of becoming RJs? Any advice for them?
Yes. Historically, traditional media focus more on logistics. Content creation is the major part of media. It’s all about monetising and getting clients to fit in, and clients also don’t want straightforward thoughts. They want integrated stories. It’s about understanding the consumer and creating content accordingly. The creative role is very, very critical. It’s no longer linear. It reflects the society and the target audience and also positively influences them.

That said, radio doesn’t only contain RJs. There’s a full fledged team that works behind the scenes. Programmers, copywriters, brand managers — all these roles are very important for the success of the company.



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