Indonesian radio stations battle it out with streaming giants

Indonesia's radio stations are on the edge as they battle digital streaming giants that gained a following during the pandemic

Felix Martua

Felix Martua

The Jakarta Post


Time to digitize: Prambors FM embraces the modern era by launching a YouTube channel, a downloadable mobile application and a partnership with other digital-focused applications.(YouTube/Screenshot) (YouTube/Screenshot)

December 2, 2022

JAKARTA – The two-year global pandemic and the surge of digital streaming platforms have put Indonesia’s radio stations on edge. Some of them, however, have decided to adapt and embrace the changing times.

Anggie Gerhana, currently the announcer and music director of 102.3 Rase FM Bandung, discovered an unusual phenomenon after the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic: The number of listeners tuning in to his radio station, to his surprise, had increased significantly.

After giving it plenty of thought, Anggie concluded that, “We had no choice but to stay at home, especially during the pandemic’s early days.”

“Everything we did was restricted. Listening to the radio became an alternative medium for people seeking enjoyment,” he said.

Anggie acknowledged that, technically, Indonesians could enjoy their favorite songs on digital streaming platforms (DSPs) such as Spotify and Apple Music. Still, there remained one significant element that made radio a preferable music agency to DSPs among some listeners.

“To enjoy streaming platforms, you’ve got to prepare your [internet] quota first. Then, you’ve got to subscribe to them. Even when they’re free, there’s likely some limitation to what you can enjoy,” Anggie continued.

“On the radio, however, we get to enjoy everything free of charge. All in one—music, entertainment, information.”

Friendly match: Anggie Gerhana, currently the announcer and music director of 102.3 Rase FM Bandung, describes the dynamics between radio stations and digital streaming platforms as akin to a “love-hate relationship“. (Courtesy of Anggie Gerhana) (Courtesy of Anggie Gerhana/.)

DSPs: Friends or foe

Considering how 102.3 Rase FM Bandung happens to be one of the older radio stations in the city, the key players behind it have had their work cut out for them. The current music landscape has considerably transformed compared with when the radio station first went on-air officially back in 1989. The surge of DSPs, in particular, has become a complex problem.

“It’s like a love-hate relationship. Streaming platforms could be our friends or foes,” said Anggie, laughing. “If they and [radio stations] could coexist harmoniously, it could forge a mutually supportive relationship. Radio is rooted in airwaves, whereas a streaming platform is rooted in the internet. There’s something that a radio has that a streaming platform doesn’t, and vice versa.”

DSPs might easily replace the radio for listeners willing to spend a small sum to enjoy a complete music catalog. However, Anggie observed how, repeatedly, there was “a certain magic” that made radio irreplaceable.

“When we’re driving down the street or dozing off, and our favorite song suddenly plays on the radio, there’s a different ‘feel’ that the listeners experience compared with when they hear it on the streaming platform—especially when the song has a nostalgic element to it. A song that is so ‘you’ in its heyday,” he said. “When you hear it on the radio, all the memories kick in.”

To digitalize or not to digitalize?

Subhan “Bani” Wibisono, the operational manager of 103.5 Sun FM Banjarmasin, had a slightly different view. Considering how his radio station first went on-air in August 2020, Bani and his team understood that a few innovations were necessary. For instance, the radio station launched a YouTube channel, an internet-based radio streaming feature and partnered with Duta Mall Banjarmasin.

“From the very beginning, we were determined that what would set us apart from other radio stations would be the digital aspects,” Bani told The Jakarta Post, adding that, unlike most radio stations, 103.5 Sun FM Banjarmasin currently employs three different producers.

“Two producers are in charge of the programming whereas the other one is in charge of the digital content,” Bani added.

To stand toe-to-toe with the abundance of digital podcasts, Bani and his team also make sure his radio station’s talk show programs feature “the best people—on either the local scale or the national scale,” he said. Case in point, the station’s Wanderlust program, focusing on travel and tourism, has invited prominent figures such as Trinity, the writer of the travel book series The Naked Traveler.

Prambors FM has also embraced the digitalization of radio. Its YouTube channel has amassed more than 177,000 subscribers and at least 508,000 followers on its Instagram account. The radio station is also available as a downloadable mobile application. In addition, at a certain point it partnered with Tencent-owned music streaming service JOOX and TikTok-owned music creator platform SoundOn.

Serving as the head of digital, Iqbal Tawakal underlined the importance of “transformation from the conventional to the digital”, though this might be easier said than done.

“Prambors FM has been around for 50 years, which means its challenges are bigger. Our parents are still tuning in. And when it makes changes, there must be some resistance,” Iqbal told the Post.

He continued, “We must adapt and shouldn’t put up resistance. If we resist, we’ll lose—including financially. Secondly, just see it as a lesson to learn. I believe that collaboration can make us bigger and bigger—as long as we know how to determine the proportions.”

Still, Iqbal acknowledged that a degree of competition nonetheless existed.

“Radio doesn’t talk too much now. It’s less wordy, more condensed, and leans heavily on music. It’s because of the DSPs. There’s a rivalry there,” he remarked.

Young, outspoken, and ‘bored’

88.4 FM Global Radio Jakarta approached the changing times slightly differently. In mid-2022, the radio station launched a live music event on the terrace of Sarinah dubbed GlobalKustik. The weekly concert featured popular acts such as Rendy Pandugo, Kaleb J and Nadin Amizah.

Serving as the program director, Dita Putri gushed over how GlobalKustik had managed to draw in the younger generation to the radio station.

“You can say that this is one of our attempts to ‘sharpen’ how we are the radio for the youth,” Dita told the Post—a feat she cheerfully described as “a surprisingly successful experiment.”

Offline music showcase was attractive enough for digital-minded teens.

“[Younger generations] are super tricky—that’s why our concept is perhaps different from the other, youth-focused radio stations,” explained Dita.

“One, the music we play, compared with our competitors, is what the younger people are into. Two, our tagline is Your Number One Music Station. Therefore, we try to deliver the catchiest tunes so that the listeners will stay with us. At the very least, we want them to think, like, ‘Oh, the songs [on this radio] are awesome!'”

Whatever instigates the changing times, Dita is sure of one thing: The current generation “gets bored easily”—especially teens.

“The [younger listeners] are quite vocal about what they like and don’t like. If they don’t like it, they’ll say, ‘Stop talking so much’ and ‘I don’t like your music.’ So, we try to mix-and-match with what they need, the information that is relevant to them and broadcasts that are not so wordy,” she said.

The audience for radio might have regenerated. That said, radio, like in the old times, could still be where the next big pop star is born.

“I think it’s still possible, although it might need some extra work. But the possibility still exists,” opined Dita.

Young and hungry: Dita Putri, the program director of 88.4 FM Global Radio Jakarta, says the current, younger generation is “super tricky“ to navigate. (JP/Felix Martua) (JP/Felix Martua)

Place in this world

Will radio stations continue to exist? Bani was confident due to a straightforward reason. “There’s a personal touch that a radio builds with its listeners,” he asserted.

Anggie shared a similar answer as well. “There’s a sense of closeness that continues to be a signature trademark of radio. Radio stations possess the quality of approaching and communicating with their listeners personally,” he enthused.

Dita also believed that the key to relevancy was the human element. “Streaming platforms have no announcer, and radio announcers are one of the keys that make our listeners stay and feel comfortable,” she said.

Iqbal, however, was slightly cautious. Radio might continue to exist but under specific conditions.

“The government has shut down analog television. The same thing could happen to the radio. In five or 10 years—who knows when?—the FM frequency could be shut down and we would go full-on digital. The same thing happened in Norway in 2012,” he concluded.

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