Where a missed call turns into great radio

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

You might not have heard of Bihar but it’s a place where something special is going on in terms of radio. Assuming, of course, that you consider radio to be audio entertainment, with a human connection, on any platform. 

Bihar is a state in India. 99.2 million people live there… ­ California, Texas, Florida and Illinois all rolled into one. It’s big, and if you’re wanting to sell things, a desirable place to be. 

Unilever has things it wants to sell there: from Dove and Lifebuoy soap to Active Wheel (it’s a detergent) and Lipton tea. But there’s a problem with that. Few people read newspapers there, and television only gets in front of 20% of people. It’s hard to build a brand. 

And there’s the problem of daily power cuts. Every day, for between six and eight hours, the power goes off. A television turns from being an exciting entertainment option to a useless large black piece of plastic. 

However, Unilever Hindustan was aware of one statistic: 86% of people in Bihar have a mobile phone. Which, of course, comes with its own battery. 

So, they launched their own mobile radio station, called Kan Kajura Tesan ­ “ear­worm radio channel”, if you were going to translate it. 

It doesn’t work over data, since that would cost listeners money. Instead it takes advantage of the fact that most mobile networks in the world accept incoming calls for free: so it works by using a missed call. 

Call a number, let it ring once, and put the phone down. The system calls you back, and gives you fifteen minutes of great free radio. 

The radio station offers Bollywood music, news and jokes, as well as advertising for Unilever’s products. Cleverly, the system means you can begin to profile each listener, too ­ by asking them one question before they listen. Over time, that builds up to nicely detailed data: all linked by the person’s mobile phone number. 

Eight million people heard this station in its first six months. It’s now reached over 43 million, according to its website, after the ‘station’ was rolled out to other Indian states. The cost per acquisition is just 4 US cents. And while it doesn’t use AM or FM, it’s still just as much deserving of the moniker ‘radio’ as those that do. 


About The Author

James Cridland is a radio futurologist, and is Managing Director of media.info, a companion website to radioinfo and AsiaRadioToday.

He has served as a judge for a number of industry awards including the Australian ABC Local Radio Awards, the UK Student Radio Awards, and the UK’s Radio Academy Awards, where he has also served on the committee. He was a founder of the hybrid radio technology association RadioDNS.

James is one of the organisers of nextrad.io, the radio ideas conference each September, and is also on the committee of RadioDays Europe. He writes for publications including his own media.info, Radio World International and RAIN News.

James recently moved from North London to Brisbane with his partner and a two year-old radio-loving toddler. He very, very much likes beer.



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