When it comes to UK Asian radio broadcasting, Raj Baddhan has created ripples in the industry over the years with execution of the highest standards and an exemplary understanding of listeners’ needs. In December 2020, Baddhan quit Leicester based Sabras Radio, to join as CEO of London’s popular media giant, Lyca Media, which operates Lyca Radio 1458, Lyca Gold 1035 and Time 107.5FM.
Initially, the move was deemed risky by some due to the company’s turbulent period over recent times. Not only that, shifting from a successful outfit like Sabras to Lyca Media during coronavirus, was questionable. However, nearly a year into his tenure, Baddhan has relaunched Lyca Radio, replaced Dilse Radio with the UK’s first retro Asian music service, Lyca Gold, and is focussing on innovative marketing initiatives on the digital front, including social media and events.
BizAsiaLive.com caught up exclusively with Raj Baddhan for more.
You made the shift from Sabras Radio to Lyca Media at the start of 2021 – 10 months ago! What made you take this leap?
As much as it was a very difficult decision for me, it was the case of ‘now or never’! During my 14-year tenure at Sabras Radio, I took the station to new heights and more importantly, made it the ‘go-to’ station in the Midlands. When I was approached by the Lyca Group, it took me a good few months to come to my decision. The opportunity was not only exciting but at the same time challenging to have the opportunity to turn around two of London’s key Asian radio brands.
What’s been the biggest surprise of this move and also the biggest challenge, on both a personal and professional level?
The biggest surprise was how quick I settled into my role of Lyca Media CEO. I wasted no time in getting down to business. Initially, I thought, being in the lockdown (coronavirus), my plans would’ve stalled. However, this worked in my favour; to work on the stations’ sound and get the foundation right. Since then, I’ve built layers upon layers to get to where I am. The biggest challenge was settling into a role with a completely new team & getting that same team to share my vision.
On a personal note, the move from Leicester to London was emotional. Leaving my Sabras family behind and building a similar infrastructure at Lyca Media, albeit on a bigger scale, was always going to be a part of the process. Thankfully, this didn’t take too long & now I have a team of fantastic passionate radio individuals and talented broadcasters.
RAJAR is coming up later this month and it’ll be your first at Lyca Media. How do you feel and how are the preparations going?
RAJAR is an industry standard metric for the radio industry and, going by the response my two Asian stations have had since we rolled out the changes, I’m looking forward to seeing what the numbers say.
Like anything, changes take time to embed and therefore a true reflection of the output overhaul will be evident over the next three-six months.
Nevertheless, RAJAR or not, we are here to make good radio and give Asian Londoners the solid and refreshing output they deserve, with strong content and trusted radio personalities.
One of the first things you did in your early weeks as CEO was to bring in a fresh wave of presenters to Lyca Radio. According to you, why was this important to do?
Over the years, Lyca Radio – the flagship brand under Lyca Media – was suffering from inconsistencies and it’s positioning was pretty vague. I wanted to bring in presenters to define the way forward with good voices and a robust output. Furthermore, it was important, that I put my personal stamp on the output.
Prior to me joining Lyca Media, my vision was clear for the two Asian radio brands. As much as it’s always sad to bid adieu to presenters, it was time to make an impact with fresh voices from the outset to fit in with my vision.
A commercial version of BBC Asian Network was attempted previously with Club Asia Radio and that collapsed. Young Asian listeners are not attractive to advertisers as they are with in the same way as older listeners.
More recently, Dilse Radio has been rebranded as an official retro music station, Lyca Gold, completely moving away from the talk/debate show format. In your opinion, why was this change necessary for both the audiences and for the station itself?
In the radio industry, we all know that running a speech-based station is a pretty expensive format – if done properly. Not only that, finding good talk presenters is challenging. It needs to be done similarly to mainstream stations like LBC – the output, the social media, the studio interaction with live elements. When I joined Lyca, I looked at the overall business model and unfortunately running a speech-based format for Dilse Radio was simply not viable.
On the flip side, we know Asian radio generally is consumed more by older listeners. A commercial version of BBC Asian Network was attempted previously with Club Asia Radio and that collapsed. Young Asian listeners are not attractive to advertisers in the same way as older listeners. Young Asians tend to switch between various platforms and radio stations and this can could be troublesome for advertisers. Having a station targeting an older generation was always something I wanted to explore. At Sabras, I had plans to open up a digital ‘golden oldies’ station but it didn’t materialise so the opportunity to replace Dilse with a retro format was too good to miss!
The Dilse Radio brand was confusing. It was a speech station, mixed with music from all genres. I wanted it to have a clear and transparent identity, along with a simple name. And that is how Lyca Gold came about. Moreover, the name is understood by everyone in the radio industry, including mainstream agencies. It’s funny as it takes nine months to produce a baby and, in the same time frame, it’s taken me the same time since I joined Lyca Media to launch Lyca Gold as the UK’s first Asian retro music station.
Also, we know how popular retro music in general is. Moreover, the response for old-skool songs is much more than some of the newer tracks. However, having a full fledged 24-hour retro Asian music station and another 24-hour station filled with recent tracks, covers a large percentage of the audience listening to Asian radio. With this, listeners are more likely to switch between my two Asian radio stations that offer distinct outputs, unlike my rivals.
There have been a number of brand collaboration announcements in recent months with particular shows and just generally with Lyca. You’ve definitely been making some noise! How much importance do you place on such stakeholder relationships and tie-ups?
Collaborations and partnerships are an ongoing process to strengthen our relationship with various brands. Furthermore, it’s important we reach out to everyone and extend our support, be it events at community or national level.
We’re also renewing relationships with big brands like Tilda, State Bank of India, ZEE, Shana, ICICI, Tariq Halal among many others.
The announcement of Lyca Gold was a big one. Do you have anything else up your sleeve this year that the listeners and stakeholders can look forward to?
Our primary focus is in setting the trend in the digital space with a strong presence via digital platforms including mobile, website, podcasts and smart-speaker.
Over the next quarter, listeners will be able to experience a whole new feel of Lyca Radio & Lyca Gold online, with a strong digital presence.
You’ve made a return on-air also with the flagship ‘Drivetime’ show, how are you managing to juggle between managing the business and the on-air responsibility?
Returning to presenting with Lyca Radio’s ‘Drivetime’ show was always the plan. When I left Sabras Radio, I knew listeners were keen to have me be back on-air. I took a five month break before taking to the air with the ‘Drivetime’ show in May. Not only has it been a success with listeners, the responses from sponsors like ZEE TV has also been incredible. It’s also the only show in the UK that features exclusive Indian and Pakistani TV star interviews. Recently, I exclusively interviewed a number of ‘Bigg Boss 15’ contestants before they entered the infamous house – it was a first for a UK radio show.
Along with the move from Sabras to Lyca, you also made a return to the capital. How have you found London life when you’ve had the time to relax a little?
I’ve always wanted to move back to London. I used to run ZEE Radio back in 2008 and working in the capital was truly rewarding. Now, having a bigger mandate running three large radio stations in London, & being able to reside in Canary Wharf, I can’t ask for anything better.
Lyca Media operates three key London radio stations including Lyca Radio 1458 targeting an audience of 25+, with music from artists like Arijit Singh, Shreya Ghoshal, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Atif Aslam, Sunidhi Chauhan, Diljit Dosanjh and Guru Randhawa, among many others. Lyca Gold 1035 is a station aimed at a 40+ audience with music from artists like Mohd Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Talat Mahmood, among many others. Time 107.5FM is an English station broadcasting to a local community in Romford, Essex and the surrounding areas.