We've all heard of behenjis turned mod. But now, you have the mod turning behenji. Go 92.5 FM - the only one of 4 private radio stations in Mumbai which played a mix of Hindi and English music - has gone 100% desi.
As the popular old Hindi number goes... Yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kab hua? Aur kyon?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You build a brand for 10 years, a brand that actually had an identity because it was 'different'. Go 92.5 started out playing primarily English music. A couple of years ago they tweaked the station in an attempt to widen the listenership base.
So the RJs switched from playing 'mostly English' to 'a lot of Hindi, peppered with English' and you know what, it worked just fine. The Hindi songs they chose to air were the 'acceptable in a disco' variety - 'Woh Lamhe', A R Rahman, Raghav, Jay Sean, Rabbi Shergill, Kailash Kher.
The chatter was still in English, and different from the chatter on other stations. Jaggu and Tarana in particular excelled at talking about nothing at all and still keeping you entertained. The USP of this duo was they sounded completely at ease with each other, completely natural. Nothing was scripted or staged. The accents weren't put on and neither were the 'personalities'.
Even something as mundane as the 'traffic update' was more interesting because of Jaggu's inane comments which would generally start with, "See, what I don't understand is..."
Jaggu and Tarana reflected the attitude of so many of us who 'think primarily in English'. But, we're no longer enslaved by Western music - many of us prefer all manner of item numbers to the Billboard top 20. Which is why the first shift by Go 92.5 went down all right.
It's like Indians who call themselves 'non-veg'. Except for some of the hard core meat eaters, most are OK with vegetarian food forming 80% of the menu. But the occassional chicken or fish sure brightens up their day.
Go 92.5 gaya...
But now, everything has changed. Some smart alec has studied the market and decreed: "The numbers are in the Hindi market. Hindi gaane hi bajaiye please. Hindi mein hbi baat kijiye please."
The result is a sad and soulless transition from a vibrant station with a small but loyal listener base to a me-too product willing to forgo all its old listeners, in the faint hope of attracting a few new ones.
I realised something had 'changed' when I told my driver, "hamara station laga dijiye" and he said - that's what's playing. And it sounded just like Mirchi!
Bombay Addict has a heartfelt blogpost on the 'makeover':
Eventually, Go also increased its Hindi content... yet, English songs were still played often... Go92.5FM still smoked competition on all counts - quality of music, quality of RJs, everything. You just have to listen to the shrilly, loud, accented RJs of the other stations to appreciate Go. I didn't even waste my time doing that comparison.
Cut to the present. Sometime last week, Tarana started to speak Hindi more than usual and I thought I was hearing a tad too many Hindi songs. And today, Sunday, 9th April, I woke up to "Chura liya hai tumne" instead of T-Man's Old English songs on his Sunday Brunch show. So I'm guessing Go has gone full Hindi.
Yep. Not only do they go "full Hindi" they now run contests where you can win merchandise for films like "Aryan - the Unbreakable" starring Sohail Khan. A film which has flop written all over its brawny forehead.
In fact, the first thing that Go did when it decided to 'change over' was interview Himesh Reshammiya. Nothing wrong with that (I shall need an entire post to do justice to the Himesh phenomenon), except they did one of those 'tussi-great-ho' interviews... where they were so very careful not to 'offend' their super sized ego guest.
Very forced and unnnatural - and that has been the tone of the J & T banter ever since.
For one, Jaggu has limited Hindi capabilities and even Taraana doesn't sound like Taraaana when she talks now. It's like she's translating the voice in her head when she speaks and something is lost in the process.
You know what they say about wannabes... When you see a behenji turned mod, even though she may be wearing the hep brand of jeans and get the hep 1000 buck haircut - you can still tell she's a behenji? Well, it's the same with the mod going the behenji way.
If I want to listen to Mirchi, I'll tune into Mirchi. Or Radio City 91 FM or even Red 93.5. A better strategy might have been to simply steal a couple of star radio jockeys from other stations!
I'm guessing Jaggu & Tarana will soon bow out, like Malini and Glenn have. Maybe Shruti will take over and people like me will carry CDs for 'drive time'. But will ratings drastically rise? I see no reason for Mirchi or City listeners to switch...
And if that is the case, 3 months from now, Go will probably sigh, "We should've stayed true to ourselves". Ab na ghar ke rahe, na ghaat ke.
It's all about money but...
At the end of the day, yes it is about making money, but money can be made out of selling a smaller but more premium audience. English newspapers in India, which have far smaller audiences than regional papers, operate on that principle. There are successful examples on TV as well - CNBC, NDTV but yes, MTV did go behenji and achieve more commercial success.
The need for Go 92.5 to go 'mass' can be traced to the fact that it's recently got a large amount of funding. BBC Worldwide Holdings recently invested Rs 31.8 crores in Radio Midday. Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has also invested 10 crores.
So now the station obviously wants to go 'national' and hence made several bids under 'phase 2' of FM licensing. Go now has licenses for Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad and Chennai.
Radio Mirchi has emerged as a successful multi-city radio station model - both in terms of listenership and revenues. But marketing theory and common sense say that challengers to Mirchi cannot adopt the exact same model. Mirchi's strength - and weakness - is its mass base.
As Nisha Narayanan, former Head-Programming of Radio City, Bangalore, observed on exchange4media.com:
When you offer 10 channels in a metro, and four in smaller towns, the only way to survive will be through channel differentiation. Research shows that 70 per cent of listeners can’t differentiate between one FM channel and another based on content. This definitely will have to change...
And it's not like the Bollywood formula will work everywhere:
FM is a local medium and it has to have a local flavour. It’s really not a good thing for the larger networks to go in for the same -- or similar -- content across the country. It may sound like a cheaper option in the short run, but if you don’t talk about local issues in the local idiom, you can’t engage your listeners and you’ll lose their loyalty. You will end up with bland, mass-market cookie cutter programming, which turns people off FM altogether.
I think the original Go formula could have worked in Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and even Delhi. All these cities have a fairly large audience of young people - students and professionals - who would relate to a station that spoke their language and aired more diverse music.
As a friend who works in Radio Mirchi commented on the Go strategy,"In the obsession for greater revenues, they didn't realise they had a winner..."
Ah well. Coke once tried to be a Pepsi and then returned to its original formula. The same just might happen with Go. Until then, they're gone, as far as my patronage is concerned!
P.S. Over 1500 listeners have signed this petition. If you feel strongly, so can you. I don't think anything will change, however, until the ratings come in and there's no significant improvement. Or, advertisers give Go 92.5 a thumbs down!