Radio gaga: When celebs turn RJs

With radio’s new RJs now including biggies like Vidya Balan, Kareena Kapoor and Karan Johar, Maithili Chakravarthy finds out what happens when heart to heart discussions connect you with a celebrity you always thought would make a great bestie.

It’s the age of the celebrity. Actually, there’s a celeb in my soup. In my newspaper, on Page 3, and now the very familiar voices of Bollywood can be heard on prime time on a radio broadcast. For two seasons, Bollywood’s favourite go-to guy – Karan Johar – extended his talkative charm from TV to the radio – playing that 2 am friend who tells it like it is. On a show on Ishq 104.8 FM ‘Calling Karan’, KJo played your friend, philosopher and guide, who heard you out, told you off and diagnosed your problems like a seasoned professional. The show was about love and how desperate times needed desperate measures aka ringing up a star, seeking the voice of experience – i.e. Johar’s.

Many called in to offload their stresses on KJo – someone whose films also deal with love and emotions, seeking advice from the man himself – someone who’s known to be great at playing cupid on home turf, Bollywood. “Ours is a channel dedicated to love. When we planned the show about people calling in to ask for relationship and love advice, we thought who better to host it than Karan Johar.

Radio gaga: When celebs turn RJs

The radio is a simple medium and we wondered how the simplicity of the medium along with having a big star on board to host a chat show would work. But it really did work. On the other hand, Karan himself was equally interested in hosting such a show. He gave listeners a lot of time and really got into the details of the problems they had called in with. He was able to forge a great connection with both the audiences and advice seekers,” says Shradha Singh, Programming Head at Ishq 104.8 FM.

Another show on the channel named ‘What Women Want’ brought on air the worldly-wise and pointed Kareena Kapoor Khan – where the actress discussed topics with celebrity guests asking them for their opinion on issues that have been at the forefront of feminism for many decades now. From actresses to women film directors to make-up men and fashion designers, Kapoor-Khan went about asking questions with the sole aim to know how women can deal with issues that bog them down.

She quizzed the experts for their opinion on everything from extremely cliché women’s lib stuff to very recent concerns such as opening up and saying those two dreaded words ‘me too’, to whether patriarchy had led women to feel they deserve lower pay for work that a man would ask way more for, to society’s obsession with fair skin and how it pushes us into self-defeating patterns of using beauty products that only make us feel uglier, to whether the inclusion of item songs in movies is one sign that the script sucks.

Celebrities on the radio is a way for stars to merge their worlds with yours. To meet their audience half way, and to tell their audience that their stories are eternal fodder for what’s shown on the big screen. When a Kapoor-Khan or a Johar decide to talk about subjects that concern society at large, it’s revelatory of the fact that people with influence are willing to bring under the scanner issues that can be disconcerting and uncomfortable for most people to address. Whom to marry? Whom to dump? What’s the right foundation for my skin? Basically, ideas of inferior, superior, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable filter into the decisions of many people, and by bringing ideas of equality, justice and personal freedom into the conversation, celebs on the radio sound like that friend who paid a visit, who you poured your heart out to. “Since Karan and Kareena are friends, I’m sure they discussed her foray into the radio as a medium.

The show was about celebrities’ takes on what women want out of life. We got tremendous response both on the radio and on YouTube with millions of views and thousands of likes. We shot and recorded the episodes at the same time, however the webisodes were uploaded later on, while the show was live on radio. The project was also financially feasible for us since Kareena is extremely popular and we got Dabur Amla to sponsor it. People see Karan regularly on TV with his show ‘Koffee with Karan’ and reality TV shows (where he is one of the judges) but for Kareena this was her first time on a completely new platform,” continues Singh.

In November 2014, actress-model Pooja Batra launched a radio channel in the US for homesick immigrants from India. In an attempt to cater to those bereft of desi music it was reported that Batra would double as an RJ, while looking after the radio station’s operations and rope in her friends to play RJs as well – model Deepti Bhatnagar, photographer Ash Gupta and author-filmmaker Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla. The humble medium would surely have been a crucial way to stay grounded – and let chirpy RJs take you back home – especially in a country that loves its cars, its inimitable gas guzzlers.

“Celebs have been on radio for years now! Interviews, talks, specials, they’ve done it all. They have and will continue to do so. But if they are doing full time shows their celeb value will slowly reduce. Listeners will lose interest in them. Celebrities need to stop being celebrities to actually connect with listeners,” shares Prasiddhi Khare Mishra, an RJ at AIR FM Rainbow 101.9 Hyderabad.

Radio gaga: When celebs turn RJs

‘Dhun Badal Ke Toh Dekho’ on 92.7 BIG FM with a sprightly Vidya Balan as its host, which will go on air on March 25, also aspires to touch millions by deeply rooting itself in issues that are a big part of the national consciousness. Subjects such as adoption, mental health, modern day parenting and child abuse are likely to be analysed and discussed and interspersed with Balan’s own thoughts – possibly converting grave and serious topics into happy-go-lucky discussions where life becomes a breezy ride with the wind in your hair with the radio belting out tunes.

“The medium is definitely seeing a resurgence with the emergence of celebrity hosts like Karan, Kareena and Vidya. I think it is a good business model for radio stations but certainly challenging for existing radio jockeys. Till today, radio jockeys had a star value of their own. Now with movie celebrities coming in, the pressure on regular hosts will be much greater – adding to the air of competitiveness, where show ratings will indicate which shows are more popular. However, it is important to see for how long this model can sustain as celebrities don’t come cheap and radio channels can sell only a limited number of spots,” says Mehak Ankar, former programme manager and radio host at Singapore’s Hindi radio station Masti 96.3 FM.

Till then, keep tuning in!

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