Forget about Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, “The Simpsons” character who runs the Kwik-E-Mart. He is not typical of Asian Indians who have emigrated to the United States.
This population is growing about 100 percent every 10 years, 10 times the national average according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But it’s the qualitative statistics that are more interesting.
Almost 40 percent hold masters, doctorates or other degrees, five times the national average. The median income is $60,000, the highest of any ethnic category measured.
One in every 26 Asian Indians is a millionaire, said Merrill Lynch in a 2003 survey, and there are 41,000 Asian Indian doctors in the United States, as noted in an American Association of Physicians of Indian origin report.
Advertisers go where the money is, so why isn’t there a radio network that serves this affluent market?
(click thumbnail)David FrerichsTechnologist
“That’s just what we’re doing now,” said David Frerichs, president and executive producer of Radio NRI.
The service’s programming currently is heard on the Internet, Sprint and AT&T music phones, an AM station in Silicon Valley, and the subcarriers of several FM stations near San Francisco and in New York and three cities in Canada.
There are two 24-hour program channels and several long-form individual shows being offered for syndication, suitable for populating new HD Radio multicast channels. Radio NRI is also available through AOL Radio.
Frerichs, 38, calls himself a digital media entrepreneur; his name may be familiar to Radio World readers because he also is a former marketing and management executive with audio technology companies SRS Labs and Coding Technologies.
“I have been working in Internet media since the beginning, and in 2002 I was looking around to start a new service.”
His background, he says, gave him several key insights: vertical content has value; IP, mobile and multicast are now viable radio business models; and content, not technology, is what makes people listen.
“I didn’t have a ton of money and didn’t want to compete with the big guys like AOL, so I decided that instead of going big and broad, I wanted to go vertical, and I discovered this particular market, Asian Indians.”
In 2004 Frerichs took a trip to India and found the radio market there to be different from the United States.
“FM radio had just been deregulated. With a population of about a billion, India then only had about 20 private radio stations,” he said. “I talked to a lot of people there and met some who were working in music TV and radio to talk about syndicating their programming.
“Instead, we decided that nothing was a good match and that the best bet was to create something custom just for Indians living abroad. So we did.”
The result was Radio NRI; Frerichs is the founder and primary shareholder.
Its Web site says NRI Media aims to provide “quality radio programming for the global desi community,” using a colloquialism for South Asian immigrants and their descendants.
NRI stands for “non-resident Indians,” another name for Asian Indians living outside of India. All of the programming originates in India and is brought to the U.S. via Internet.
“The fact that I am not Asian has not hampered the station’s progress,” he said. “Radio is radio. I leave the vast majority of programming decisions in the hands of the programming team, usually a wise choice regardless of the audience profile.”
The company has a staff of two in this country and seven in India, with various contractors and partnerships to handle sales, marketing and other efforts.
“Radio jockey” Cary Edwards handles a weekly four-hour show called “Hindi Top 40 Countdown,” other weekly top-40s in Tamil and Telugu and “Entertainment News of India,” which is delivered in three five-minute daily segments.
Paloma is another young talent Frerichs hired from the world of TV, making her first foray into radio.
The announcers on Radio NRI use English, but the music they play may be in any of dozens of dialects spoken in India.
“We do this because English is a common language in that country and it lets us reach out to music explorers of all backgrounds,” said Frerichs.
“We broadcast our first show, ‘Indian Music Update,’ in 2006, and it’s still on the air. In 2007 we launched the ‘Radio NRI 24/7’ and ‘Bollywood Classic Hits’ continuous program channels.”
Genres listed on its Web site include Bhangra, Hindi, Kannada, Punjabi, Tamil and Urdu.
Getting down to business
“We’re like traditional radio,” said Frerichs. “We sell spots. I want to scream to the world about radio and how it is something you listen to, not something you watch.
“The whole idea of selling banner ads for radio is a nightmare, a big mismatch and irrelevant. Now the HD Radio guys might go that way and this is a sure way to get listeners to rip the radios out of their cars.”
Frerichs believes radio has two strengths: it was a community long before FaceBook, and it is something people can use while doing something else.
“Personalities on the radio have a rabid fan base, creating a natural community. Radio has just forgotten this,” he said.
“The other potent power of radio is that it is great background. If you’re in your cubicle watching YouTube and the boss comes in, he’ll hammer you. But if you’re listening to the radio, then he won’t get upset because you’re still doing your work.
“We may do some ads on our Internet page, but we believe radio’s power is audio.”
Since Radio NRI is a new service, it is just now beginning to reach an audience of sufficient size to attract advertisers. He estimates the company reaches about 300,000 North American homes with its content.
“We are still in our launch phase, so it would be premature for me to tout any specific advertiser successes,” he said. “Most of our customers to date have been smaller-scale advertisers who are already targeting the Indian community.”
So what is its benchmark of success?
“Profitability,” he said. “We are not there yet but very close. Real success will come when we get the luxury brands to sign on.”
What about RIAA licensing? Are Asian Indian artists affected?
“No,” said Frerichs. “Indian record labels are not a part of that, but I do pay royalties on the music as does anyone else with a legal Internet stream. I had to do the negotiations in India directly.”
Part of Frerichs’ vision for success includes using HD2 and HD3 channels. He was an early advocate of multicasting, part of his work at Coding Technologies; he gave a presentation at NAB four years ago arguing that content differentiation would be the key to success of HD Radio.
“Radio stations make a mistake when they make their extra channels derivatives of their main format,” he said. “That says they’re in a defensive position. They think their main channel isn’t good enough to keep the audience engaged.
“They should be saying, ‘We had one stick; now we have three. What is our best opportunity to make money five years down the road?’ I think the best way is to have three very separately programmed channels.
“And that is where we come into play. If we were on some HD2 and HD3 channels in major markets, we would be able to sell a strong local audience to our advertisers, and we want to make such licensing arrangements in the future.” The company isn’t yet ready to announce any multicast deals, however.
Frerichs is not too worried about competition for the U.S. Asian Indian market, because in his eyes, there isn’t much out there.
“If there are 13,000 radio stations in the U.S., and Indians represent about 1 percent of the population, there should be at least 130 stations with this type of service, but there are only a handful,” he said.
“And the stations out there are amateur-sounding. We want to have Indian content produced with western standards.”
Radio NRI can be heard online at www.radionri.com. Over the air, its programs can be heard in certain time slots on KYAA(AM) in Soquel, near San Jose, Calif., as well as on the analog subcarriers of several FM stations in Berkeley, Calif., New York City and Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg, Canada.