| 13 Apr 2024
I wanted my radio to be bigger than a conventional radio: Rahoul Bhaargava founder Creative Antenna

MUMBAI: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails,” this quote by William Arthur Ward stands true for ex-RJ and founder of Creative Antenna, Rahoul Bhaargava. He was a celebrated RJ but he chose to go against the tide and create a unique radio. And, this radio did not just turn out to be a product of passion but grew into a money-making business.

Today Bhaargava’s radio usage is 40, 00,000 minutes a month and they’ve achieved this number in four years. The radio runs in 11 languages and is available across all telcos. All you have to do is dial a number and tune into this ad and music free radio.

In a candid conversation with Radioandmusic, Rahoul Bhaargava talks about his journey and future plans. Excerpts.

 Your life has had some interesting twist and turns. Tell us how it all began?

I am a pass out of BITS Pilani as a marine engineer and was in merchant navy 20 years ago. I worked there for two years, but wasn’t enjoying it. The money was great but I decided to discontinue. When I made this decision, I was clueless about my future. Finally, one day I started working at a call center as I wanted a “cool” job. Call centers were considered quite happening in 2002. I worked there for two months when someone told me that I have a good voice and should try radio. During that time, Radio Mirchi was having an RJ hunt (2004). I not only participated but also won it. This is how I got an opportunity to be an RJ.

Was radio your true calling in life?

I am so glad that radio happened. With radio in the picture, everything fell into place. I had always loved the idea of having a band in college. I loved radio and Hindi music. I used to sing in different voices. So, when I got a job in Radio Mirchi the fact that I could listen to all that music and yet be paid for it was amazing. On top of that, radio gave me popularity. My name was in the newspaper and it was my, eureka moment.

Was your family supportive of your sudden career change?

There was opposition from my parents.My parents thought that I have wasted their money. My father kept on sending me messages to get back to merchant navy. In 2006, I joined Radio City and my father decided to pay a visit to my office. Only after seeing where I worked and what I did, he was content.

Why did you decide on moving out of radio at the peak of your career?

Everything was going great till my programming head walked in and informed about some research, which demanded a female RJ in place of a male in that time slot. I was offered to be a show producer instead and I clearly wasn’t ready for it. That very moment I realised, no matter how good you become, anyone can come and change your destiny, even when you go from one channel to another. So, I decided on doing something different.

Was Creative Antenna the next step or you juggled with other professions before starting your own firm?

There were so many things on the radio, which I wanted to do in a different way. But in conventional radio, you are bound by too many policies and management decisions. The rebel in me wanted to have his own radio channel, where I could do whatever I wanted. Someone stopping my career mid-way as an RJ prompted me to start my own channel. I wanted it to be bigger than a conventional radio channel.

So, I started pitching my idea and did it for five years, but nothing happened.  In between, I started an RJing school in Pune. I had to fold it after the first batch as they expected me to get them a job as well. I dabbled before finding Creative Antenna in 2013. Currently, I am doing a lot of things under Creative Antenna but it all started with radio.

Your radio is different from the conventional radio. Tell us about it.

When I pitched my radio content to telecoms my sole submission was, in India there is illiteracy and people are not educated, they can’t read and write, but everyone can listen. Voice touches the emotions. With my experience of working in radio and listening to telephone calls, I knew what would work. So, the firsthand experience helped me understand what content works and really tickles people’s minds.

Prior to my radio, everything else sounded like a documentary, IVR on telecom. I wanted to make it sound fun. So, with my radio, I gave them entertainment from the word ‘go’. It was entertainment in unadulterated shots. My radio doesn't have music, but has movie reviews, gossip and short stories. These are two-minute packages designed to entertain the listeners. All one needs to do is dial a number from their phone and listen to it.

Providing radio content to telecoms also means not having a radio station with a name. Are you happy with it?

My service is a white label service and it’s very difficult to get into this environment because there are lot of telco norms that you need to clear. The good part is the telco promotes my service. It believes in my service and puts its name tag. So, I have a responsibility because the telco’s name is associated. If I do anything wrong, the telco will have to bear its result. This makes me extra cautious with everything I do. We are a B2B company. We are not directly connected to the end consumer, but to the clients and via them, end users.

Don’t you miss being on-air?

A lot of people who listened to my old shows always tell me to do something. But, the business consumes a lot of time and I can’t really do justice to a show right now. I am in the process of growing my company. Our top lines are touching three million dollars right now. This is the kind of growth; I have given my company that was born on my dining table four and a half years ago. My primary job is to see this company becomes more successful and provide entertainment to more people. Radio is a primary entertainment product and I want to take it to many people. So, there is no time for me to handle shows.

You claim your listenership to be better than most conventional radio stations.

Yes, today I can say that I have more public subscribing and listening to me and paying money for than the conventional radio. There are no ads. When you listen to private FM channels, you switch on and switch off. You switch the minute the ad break comes. I don’t give you any switch over’s. The reason why my radio works is, I don’t have ads, I give you complete listening pleasure and you don’t have to pay me by recharging or credit card. It gets auto-deducted from the balance. The listening is absolutely smooth. We have shows in 11 languages. A conventional radio will not give you the language you want to listen to, but my radio works because it gives you, your preferred language.

How much fresh content do you create on daily bases?

On an average, we create almost an hour of fresh content. I have one radio jockey in every language, producers who manage them. We have leased out studios in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata. My Tamil content is made in Chennai.

My wife Prackriti Bhaargava is also in radio. She was heading Bollywood desk in Radio Mirchi. She took a break last year and joined my company now. She takes care of half the operations while I take care of the other half. There is a group of talented people who do the quality check and do content operations because in telecom just recording something and putting it on air is not possible. You have to record and process in certain bit rate that matches the telecom systems and you need to put it on servers. Sometimes call patching is not proper because people dial the number, but they cannot hear the content. Hence, quality check and technical check are very essential. Only then, the content goes up. In conventional radio, I could just record something and put it on air in 15 seconds or I could just go live. Here I cannot do that. Here the process takes two-three hours.

How much time did it take you to break even?

I and my wife took some loan and we started the company, recorded the content and once things started working, we paid it off. Overall it took us around six months to break even.

The company started four and a half years back, but it’s planning started almost nine years back. Ever since I started working for Radio City, I was looking for an opportunity to do this. After Radio City, I joined MY FM for a while. But, things did not work well for me on conventional radio. I am so glad that I am not doing what I was because I don’t think I would have been happy. I would have been following orders, but with this company, I can do whatever I want. It gives me immense happiness that people have liked what I have created.