Radio stations stay on air

Ary Hermawan says the survival of radio stations depends on their ability to define their listeners and to stay competitive

The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

By Ary Hermawan

Jakarta --- The television, Internet and perhaps even the smartest cellular phone today were evidently not invented to make the radio obsolete.

The audio broadcasting industry has survived amid the declining and diverging listenership, finding clever ways to cope with new kids on the block -- the iPod, mobile phone multi-services and web log.

British historians Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, who researched the social history of the media, describe the phenomenon.

"As new media were introduced, older ones were not abandoned but coexisted and interacted with the new arrivals".

In the same way that the e-book will never replace, but complement, its print predecessor, the same is happening between radio and its new digital rivals.

Radio, like its elder brother, print media, is still loved and honored by die-hard loyalists.

The younger generation, no matter how much they have been exposed to dominant visual culture, still eagerly await their radio idols airing each day.

Video, history has shown, never really did kill the radio stars.

Why and how does radio manage to survive?

"Radio is far less demanding compared to other media," said Farhan, a radio DJ who has hosted a number of popular television programs.

"When you watch television, it demands that you sit in front of it and do nothing but watch. The case is different with radio -- you can listen to it while taking a shower, driving or working."

Farhan, who left Hard Rock FM in 1994 to focus his career in the television industry, made a firm decision to return to radio when he took an offer from Delta FM to host the Deltanesia morning program.

Radio professionals believe it is the nature of radio that has prolonged its existence.

"Radio is capable of building an intimate relationship with consumers. This is something that other media are incapable of," said Nia Soewardi, assistant vice president for network programming at Masima, the holding company of Prambors, Female and Delta FM radio stations.

Used by revolutionaries and orators as a means of propaganda in the first decades of the twentieth century, radio's listeners have now become more divided in that they are no longer the single mass they were once understood to be.

"We are now aiming at specific types of listeners. Amid stiff competition with other media, including fellow radio stations, we are required to be exceptionally creative," Ramako radio station program manager Bayu Setyo Nugroho said.

Car drivers and commuters in general are perhaps the main radio consumer group today. Live reports from radio reporters and "citizen journalists" (listeners) have relied heavily on commuters and motorists looking for an escape from the traffic and floods that have paralyzed Jakarta recently.

This is of course plausible since watching television, or reading news on your mobile phone are impossible while driving. One might never have predicted that car sales would determine the fate of the radio too. The prime time for radio broadcasting is therefore equivalent to the peak hours of traffic.

"Most people listen to the radio when they are going to work and on their way home. These kinds of people have become our main market," Bayu said.

Defining its listeners is the key to radio's survival.

Masima has Prambors to cater for the energetic, creative younger generation, Female Radio to indulge female listeners and Delta FM for the middle-aged.

Some radio stations focus on products, like Elshinta with its newsy content, while others target communities with certain musical inclinations -- including jazz lovers, classical conservatives or blues fanatics.

Radio is coping and converging with the internet and mobile phones by using sms to allow listeners request songs, and by providing live-streaming services online, allowing listeners to 'tune in' while at work.

Joining the competition, however, is not enough. The survival of a radio station in a capitalistic world is also determined by its competitiveness, Bayu said.

Players in the industry have to fight for a small piece of national advertising cake which has been taken by the television and the print media giants.

"The quality of our program content is hugely important," Bayu said.

However, Nia said, while advertisers have been lured to new alternatives in spending their money, Masima had managed to escape sinking into the red.

"Our company revenue continues to grow annually," she said.

His company could still book a 30 to 50 percent increase in revenue from advertising each year, Bayu said.

The profits, it would seem, are only for the competitive since nationwide, radio companies' share in media advertising expenditure was estimated to have dropped from Rp 612 billion (US$66.5) to Rp 533 billion last year.

As competition gets tougher, the relationship between industry players also becomes more pugnacious and apparently Darwin's "survival of the fittest" rules.

According to the Indonesian National Private Radio Broadcasting Association (PRSSNI), there are currently 38 private radio stations in Jakarta and the door has been closed for newcomers to acquire new broadcasting licenses.

Bayu said the trend was no longer that Jakarta-based radio stations were expanding their businesses into other regions -- successful radio broadcasting companies have begun entering Jakarta to get a bigger slice of the national advertising cake.

"Newcomers are eyeing ailing radio stations and waiting for their demise," Bayu said.

"Each year, we see at least one radio station go."