Belarusian FM radio: the maturity age
In early 1990’s FM radio appeared in everyday life of Belarusian citizens. It squeezed out traditional cable radio stations. Since then FM radio has not just become habitual: today we dare speak about real FM abundance and, respectively, about an established radio market
The very beginning
Undoubtedly, at the beginning FM market development was determined by vast offer of imported cars, each equipped with an FM tuner: thus the starting FM audience emerged. Several years later there was a huge drop in price for imported radio recorders, which became affordable to the widest range of consumers and appeared nearly in every house. All these devices were equipped with FM tuners and this determined a rapid growth of FM audience. And only after that serious advertisers began to pay attention to FM stations. They were attracted by FM audience: young dynamic people with relatively high buying capacity.
All this happened in early 1990’s. Since then the situation has not changed radically. Absolutely all urban dwellers listen to FM as the choice is wide today. The number of those who prefer traditional short, medium and long waves, can be considered as few per cent. These are pensioners who still use old Soviet-made radio sets, or rural residents who live out of FM coverage. However, this number is steadily decreasing as transmitters are more powerful today. In a word, we can state that FM broadcasting is recognized part of media market in Belarus.
First Belarusian FM stations broadcasted music that was to their own liking; to be more precise, the music that was to their respective DJs taste. All the same, listeners had no choice. The word “format” was introduced in reference to Minsk FM stations in late 1990’s. The emergence of this word in vocabulary of program directors and publications of books on radio management were the precondition for Belarusian FM radio to switch from the age of enthusiastic talented amateurs to the epoch of pros.
Formatting Belarusian FM radio took place simultaneously with steep increase in number of broadcasting stations. As early as seven years ago we had choice between “Radio BA” and “Radio Rocks”, and today there are 17 stations in Minsk only. At the same time local broadcasting developed as well and many Belarusian towns now have their own stations like “Svoyo Radio” (Pinsk). Some Russian FM station have also expanded their coverage to Belarusian regions. “Europa Plus Novopolotsk” works in Vitebsk region and “Nashe Radio” broadcasts in Mogilev.
After notion “Format” was put as the basis for FM stations, each was expected to have its own style. So far, it’s difficult to say to what degree was it successful. According to several experts, only professional DJs can really tell the format difference between FM stations, and it is most elusive for common listeners. The reason to this lies in the fact that there are practically no specialized FM station over the Belarusian air, though it is stated in some brands like “Tunes of the century”, “Autoradio”, “Radio Rocks” and “Hit FM”. In fact, each station orients at shapeless massive audience. Most work in their own format “Hot AC/CHR”. Hot AC (Hot Adult Contemporary) is music for those of 25–50 years of age who prefer modern music and past hits. CHR (Сontemporary Hit Radio) — fresh hits that conform to HOT AC.
“Radius FM” station gives an indicative example of this: about a year ago the station switched to “urban hits” format, which implies absence of slow songs on air. Recently “Novoe Radio” switched to the format introduced by “Radius FM” too when the advantages became evident and the format was considered promising.
Recent time when only several FM station were on air and their DJs were almost gods to young audience, now seems to be in ages past and gone. 17 stations compete for the audience in Minsk today; 38 more work in other towns of Belarus. There are national radio networks, i.e. a station has its own transmitters and even studios in various towns.
Evidently, this abundance influences advertising market. Today the 17 stations of Minsk share the same advertising market that used to be the prey of two or three pioneer stations. Yet commercial stations are quite steady with their shares of the market so far. First it is due to high quality of their media products, respect accumulated through many years and sustained large listening audience. Unfortunately, there are no methods of precise audience evaluation in Belarus (and in the world, too). Moreover, a large portion of listeners constantly switch from one station to another. As a result, it is impossible to define ultimate leader or outsider. We can only assume that those stations that created the phenomenon of Belarusian FM radio are among leaders today. And it is likely that outsiders are stations that switched to FM but couldn’t manage to adopt the “FM spirit”, i.e. to aim at socially active portions of the society.
The new stage
The revolution of early 1990’s can relapse our days. Even today the Internet and satellite technologies are becoming the basis of broadcasting. Really, today this is as exotic as usual FM station used to be some day. Yet progress is unstoppable and more and more Belarusian citizens prefer to listen to their favorite programs via the Internet; satellite receivers are not perceived as “future technology” any more today.
Surely, big radio concerns and just popular FM stations are likely to last in the Belarusian radio market and it is hard to predict when FM broadcasting will be step aside before new technologies. However, there is no doubt this will happen sooner or later in the Belarusian radio.
by Denis Lavnikevich