Updated on: Monday, September 13, 2021, 12:10 AM IST

Level playing field for radio a must: RED FM's Nisha Narayanan tells BrandSutra


Nisha Narayanan, Director and COO, RED FM and Magic FM, sees the 68-station RED FM as an entertainment media network, where Radio is one of the many things they do in the audio, video, digital and events space. Here, she takes us through her journey of starting out as an RJ to joining RED FM, and also questions why news and current affairs are not allowed on Radio and why the industry still does not have a measurement system


I grew up living mostly in Delhi and Bombay, as my Dad was part of the Indian Navy. Since childhood, I’ve always taken a position of responsibility – be it being the class rep, or representing my class, school or college. It also meant a balancing act between the authorities and the team that I would be leading, and taking up whatever challenges came my way. At various times, I focused my energies on crafts, art, music, sports, being part of the student council… it came very naturally to me - jumping into the fire and saying, ‘OK, let me just do this’. Besides this, I've always been a very disciplined person since childhood.


I started off as an RJ with All India Radio, Delhi. I had been preparing for an exam and was so bored learning the long paragraphs that I switched on the Radio and there was this announcement for an opening and I instinctively applied for it. I got called, got shortlisted and then there I was, right in front of a mike! My understanding of media was very limited when I made my first foray into it. But I truly enjoyed it. I wanted to know not just about how an RJ speaks, but the whole business of Radio and how it is run. That passion led me to a Chevening Scholarship in media and journalism. For a time after that, I was in PR, then a documentary film-maker, journalist in the news and current affairs scene, etc... Soon, I realized my heart was in Radio. I was doing a lot on Television, having taken on a media consultancy role that allowed me to take up projects and do things in a more entrepreneurial way. But I really wanted to come back to Radio and explore it. Radio at that time was picking up – it had moved to private FM and commercial FM - and I decided to be a part of the private FM scenario, though it meant a nine-to-five job. Although I tried my best to remain a consultant, to set up stations across the country, I had to join Red FM. It involved incessant travel - about 28 days a month, I’d be living out of a suitcase. But some of my biggest learnings in the Radio industry have been while travelling to different cities to launch RED FM. Every city comes with different challenges. You gather different insights and they grow you as a person. You’re a summation of all the experiences that you've gone through.


We are no more a radio station. Our vision clearly is to be an entertainment media network, where Radio could be one of the many things that we do, in the audio, video, digital and events space. All of these are proper business verticals that we have built over a period of time, contributing to the growth of the company. That said, I am a firm believer in diversity and inclusion, and the fact that RED FM network is about local radio stations. When we talk of a 68-station network, we are there present locally in 68 different cities, breathing, living the local ethos of that city. That is an extremely powerful tool. We've built a lot of regional IPs, as there is huge power in regional content, and we are focusing a lot on that. Apart from regional IPs, our focus is on promoting independent music, creating brands out of raw talent... Besides Bollywood, there is new music coming in, which is a lot more experimental, fresh to the ear. Ours is not a cookie-cutter style of programming. We've got some excellent response so far, and we hope to be as consistent as we can. We have to embrace digital as well as video in a big way. The competition has never been RED FM versus Mirchi versus BIG FM or anybody, it's against technology and platforms. Why would anybody listen to Radio when content is available freely on other platforms? The only reason they would is if they get good, engaging content. Going forward, for RED FM, Digital will be a very strong arm of not just content and putting content out there, but also revenue, besides concerts and events.


The journalist in me is truly unhappy that a medium as powerful as Radio is not allowed to air news and current affairs, and wants to push for policy change towards allowing it. The Radio industry also desperately needs a measurement system. Having no currency is extremely debilitating for the industry. We need ease of business. There's so much more that Radio can do. The policy-makers need to ensure a level playing field for Radio to compete with other mediums. I can say very proudly that the entire Radio industry is full of very passionate, very aggressively creative people across all brands. A few policy changes and a little tweak here and there and this industry will really thrive.


I got married into a family of Radio professionals – both my in-laws and my husband come from a background of Radio. As a family, we cover all Radio between us - from community radio to public service broadcasting to commercial radio! My mother-in-law, who was with Travancore Radio during the British Raj (it later merged with All India Radio), would say, “On your deathbed, you should never think about the many things in life that you never did. You should go out there and do what you really want to do.” The whole philosophy of never holding yourself back and chasing your dream has stuck with me all my life. Therefore, I believe in taking more risks. I always challenge norms. I don't think I can do anything if I'm not passionate about it. I'm a person whose hobby converted into a career. I don't feel I'm doing a job and am truly passionate about it. It’s important to create a body of work that you can leave behind as a legacy, and that thought drives me.


I'm a very, very shy person, contrary to popular belief, and I'm an introvert, preferring to remain behind the scenes. I hate public speaking, and avoid it as much as I can. But communication to me is not about the right language or the right words or good oratory skills. It is about expression. If a leader has a vision, he or she must be able to express that vision. When I took on the leadership role, it was very important for me to express what I think to my team members. There's no way I can lead without my team understanding my thought process. Apart from work, it's a lot easier for a person like me to express on Instagram, for instance, because I don't really have to communicate with someone upfront. Expression is more powerful than communication.


My core is discovery. My entire life has been about nurturing or discovery, or sometimes a marriage of the two. I am excited about a whole lot of things, ranging from holistic sciences to well-being, to Ayurveda to designing. My designing is not limited to sarees or attire, but includes furniture, jewellery, spaces… I am a trained classical music singer and dancer. I love writing poetry as a hobby as well. Besides, I love animals, and want to do something for shelter homes and dogs. When I joined the corporate world, I was told to dress more ‘corporate-ish’. But I decided to wear sarees and still be ‘corporate’ in my work. Does it make me any less professional? Does it make me less capable? No. Handloom is such a strong part of India, and I'm truly Indian.

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Published on: Monday, September 13, 2021, 12:10 AM IST