When it comes to UK Asian radio, its the brand Sunrise Radio, which comes up first. As the first commercial Asian radio station in the UK, Sunrise Radio after 30 years continues to rule the market as the leading commercial station in the country. BizAsiaLive.com caught up with Tony Lit, Managing Director of Sunrise Radio to get the lowdown on the station’s success, challenges in the market and his recent MBE award in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
It’s a huge year for Sunrise Radio as it celebrates its 30th anniversary on-air, how would you describe the journey?
The Journey has been a roller coaster one which you would expect for any media business to last for 30 years. Thankfully there have been more ups than downs and we are still number 1 across the nation as a commercial Asian radio service.
What do you think the success formula has been to retain audiences despite the competition from other radio stations and platforms?
The success formula is simple, be inventive, original thinking, anything is possible and aim to make it happen. Without question put your audience needs at the fore front of every strategy and you will achieve your goals.
The station has shed away with the “old image” it was perceived as, with new station imaging and younger presenters. While it is attracting younger listeners, has it not alienated your avid older listeners?
Every now and then you have to shake the tree and freshen things up. It’s easy when you’re always on top to believe you’re giving the listeners what they want after all you’re number 1, however, we have proved over the past five years that our audience was ready for, and wanted a new, fresher service from Sunrise Radio. Our listening figures have shown that our latest team of talented radio personalities are number one in the commercial Asian radio sector. I really don’t think we have alienated anyone we are just making sure we remain relevant within current times, it’s called evolving.
Competition is always healthy, though I feel there are too many community radio stations. I think that community radio stations should be exactly that, run by volunteers, funded by donations from the particular community and not commercial in anyway or funding possibly coming out of the BBC licence fee.
During your tenure as Managing Director of Sunrise Radio, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
There are always challenges small and large, that’s when you realise as the MD the buck stops with you. Essentially, staying on top is always a challenge, one I never take for granted, however, I would say when we were going through the process of applying for the re-licensing of our London service in 2014, that was a pretty big challenge. There were a number of other operators who also applied for the London licence. During this period my team showed their strength, we all came together tighter than ever, fought our corner, subsequently we were victorious and quite rightly so, as we demonstrated back then and since that Sunrise Radio is the best commercial Asian radio station in London and now across the country, so Ofcom was absolutely right to re-award the London Licence to us.
With so many memories and highlights from the past 30 years, which stick out for you as the high points?
There are so many memories, from my father’s first broadcast on 1413AM in west London, the many events over the years – melas, shows, and in particular the Asian Lifestyle Show which was ground breaking. The many big competitions we have run over the years, giving our listeners the opportunity to win cars, big cash prizes, jewellery and luxury holidays just to name a few. But the biggest highlight is knowing the difference Sunrise Radio has made to British Asians in terms of giving them a voice and a cohesive service which was their own. This in turn allowed the entrepreneurial spirit of British Asians to shine through with Sunrise their commercial radio station championing their products and services.
Competition from rival stations including an explosion of community radio stations are giving much choice to listeners but shrinking the advertising pie, what’s your take on this?
Competition is always healthy, though I feel there are too many community radio stations. I think that community radio stations should be exactly that, run by volunteers, funded by donations from the particular community and not commercial in anyway or funding possibly coming out of the BBC licence fee. They are in my opinion having an unfair impact on local commercial radio stations up and down the country which have to pay the full analogue and DAB transmission fees without concession .
Launching on the national digital radio multiplex has been quite a costly decision due to the slow migration to digital radio sets, how do you feel?
Yes the migration to digital radio has been slow. Digital radio has been around for approximately 20 years now and its extremely costly, however, digital listening is now matching that of analogue services. I took the decision to launch Sunrise Radio nationally on digital/DAB as it has always been a market leader and first on new media platforms, for example Sunrise was the first radio station on Sky in 1991. Digital/DAB is challenging but it’s down to Ofcom to ensure that radio services like ours, which without question broadens the choice for listeners, are given an opportunity to broadcast as national or regional services and not priced out of the market by the multiplex operators.
It’s a unique media with a bright future that offers the listener more than just music and entertainment, to many listeners it’s like a good friend speaking directly to each of them and that’s why its continues to buck the trend with radio listening overall,
The Asian television sector has changed considerably, how much of the reduction in spot rates on TV affected Sunrise Radio?
Radio and TV are two different media, each having its own unique strong points, it’s not all about the price. The question the advertiser has to ask is what is the best media avenue for me to market my business. In many cases it’s both radio and TV, they actually complement each other well. It’s very simple the best rated radio stations/TV channels should get the biggest share of advertising spend as accountability is everything in a congested market place. My advice would be don’t be penny wise and pound foolish .
As an industry senior, how do you think things will change in the way we consume radio and is it a sector that is declining?
I think media is always evolving and, do I think radio is under threat? I don’t believe it is. It’s a unique media with a bright future that offers the listener more than just music and entertainment, to many listeners it’s like a good friend speaking directly to each of them and that’s why its continues to buck the trend with radio listening overall, up consistently year on year. It’s a bit like your favourite sport, you have to watch or listen to it live and that’s the magic of radio it’s live, you just don’t know what’s next, a funny story, a competition or a super hit song. Radio is the perfect companion as you go about your daily business. I suggest you ask anyone in the arts who has ever encountered radio in their professional career, they may have gone onto to do great things on TV, in film or in theatre, but their love of radio never leaves them it’s the most personal of all media and therefore attracts a very loyal audience. You have TV channel surfers and internet Surfers but invariably most people have one or two favourite radio stations and that’s it .
How challenging do you think this year will be for Asian radio stations like Sunrise Radio with or without a Brexit deal?
Business is always a challenge, and yes Brexit has bought uncertainty to the economy but I am optimistic that the issues will be resolved and things will quickly look up. Business has to carry on and to do this companies have to keep marketing their products and services in tough times as well as good times. So life goes on as they say, I don’t fear these hurdles just tackle them head on .
Congrats on being awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours List, when did you first to hear about this?
A letter arrived at home at the end of last year. It was a wonderful and unexpected surprise, a little surreal and very humbling. I never quite know what to say when I get asked about this by friends family and colleagues, to be honest like I said it feels surreal and sometimes I just forget that this great honour has been bestowed upon me until someone comes up and congratulates me but I am ever so grateful and look forward to taking my mum to the palace .
You’ve done a lot in the community, not just on radio, television and events but also locally, how do you feel about your work being recognised?
That’s just it I do my work and always give it my best, I feel I’m very lucky to be able to work in an industry I love (most of the time). It’s a real honour that my work, ethics and contribution to society have been recognised, it’s a great feeling. I’m very lucky and blessed.
Where do you see Sunrise Radio heading over the next 12 months?
We’ve had some wonderful feedback since we have been broadcasting nationally and Sunrise is now in its 30th year, so we shall continue to push the Sunrise Radio brand with a few celebrations along the way and continue making a meaningful impact into the lives of our listeners .
Any final message?
Final message I would just like to thank all those who have been part of the Sunrise Radio journey over the past 30 years. Past and present team members, our commercial partners and of course our wonderful listeners. Thank you all for supporting us and from a station which was a first when it launched on the 5th November 1989, to station now recognised by many as an institution not only in the United Kingdom but across the world. What’s that famous strap line?… “Sunrise Radio-The Greatest Asian Radio Station in the World”.