In keeping with the change in audio formats and digital upgrades, Shock Middle East has revamped and expanded its studios. Programme Director Digby Taylor takes BroadcastPro ME on a tour of the radio station’s newly expanded facility at Dubai Media City
The smell of freshly applied paint still lingers in the air as we walk into Shock Middle East’s new studios at Dubai Media City. The finishing touches are being added and equipment is being installed as we tour the newly expanded facility.
Programme Director Digby Taylor, a radio veteran, says the network has invested AED 2.5m ($679,000) in the recent expansion.
“The needs of broadcast are always moving forward like a river and as new technology comes into the market, we have to invest to stay abreast of it,” he says. “Everything that we invest in is for a reason, because radio today is no longer about just listening in a car. It’s also about engaging with listeners on social media on computers and other devices, and therefore we require technologies that support social media capabilities.”
Shock Middle East presently operates three radio channels – Heart 107.1, 978 Dance and Radio Hala 95.6. Earlier this year, the company also announced plans to launch up to three new radio stations, with a Hindi-language offering under construction. While those launches are still in the planning phase, Taylor says Shock first wants to ensure that each new studio is podcast-ready.
“We will be launching podcasts on our various platforms by the end of the year.”
“We’ve got them on the table at the moment, but there will be a whole variety of podcasts relating to all topics of human interest. Our core audiences are millennials, so our podcast content will seek to cater to them essentially.”
In the meantime, the new studios include three active on-air studios, two standby studios and four production studios.
The decision to expand operating facilities is backed up with robust data and figures, as well as an aim to grow in the future. According to market analyst IPSOS, all three of Shock ME’s brands enjoy a big chunk of audience share, starting with 978 Dance, which tops the charts as the fastest growing radio station in the UAE with close to 450,000 listeners since its launch in 2017.
The dance station has increased its share of the age 15-24 bracket by 21%, and increased its audience in Dubai and the Northern Emirates by 32%. Heart 107.1 achieved a record of 302,000 daily listeners in less than 18 months, and continues to take over the capital by increasing its audience share in Abu Dhabi by 16% and in Dubai by 52%. The Heart Breakfast and Heart Drive shows have achieved a record high, increasing their audience across the UAE. Heart 107.1 gained 27% in its core age bracket of age 25-34, as well as 20% in the age 45+ bracket.
Radio Hala 95.6, Shock’s Arabic channel, has around 135,000 daily listeners, according to IPSOS. It secured a 16% increase in the age 25-34 bracket and an 8% increase in the age 35-44 bracket.
Female listenership increased by 23% across all audiences. Radio Hala 95.6 increased its dominance in Dubai and the Northern Emirates by adding a whopping 10% to overall listenership.
These numbers, backed by the intention to operate out of a central zone, were the key factors behind expanding the studio facilities. Prior to this, Heart 107.1 was operating out of a temporary studio and Radio Hala 95.6 was based in Umm Al Quwain, which wasn’t ideal, says Taylor. The new set-up has brought Radio Hala in-house to Dubai Media City.
Taylor explains that the current studios do not run on audio cabling and everything is completely digital.
“It’s all run on cat7 cabling, IP audio, which means you get no loss in quality in any way and any part of the chain from here to the transmitter.”
Each on-air studio and standby studio is equipped with Axia desks. “The new studios are equipped with the new generation of Axia IQ consoles that come with unlimited live wire. This means that we can plug in several peripheral devices as well as improve signal processing, among other things.”
To ensure every station is social media-savvy, Shock has also installed UK-based Broadcast Bionics’ Video Director solutions in each studio. With the latest version of Video Director as well as microphones and audio-controlled cameras, Shock presenters can easily put together a pre-roll of the show within minutes. The 978 Dance studio also has Panasonic cameras for recording, while PTZ Optics are employed at Heart 107.1 and Radio Hala 95.6.
“So, say in a breakfast show we have two to three presenters; as someone talks, the camera cuts to them automatically. It creates a pre-roll of the show and the presenter just picks it up for social media,” explains Taylor.
Designed for presenters to use for daily social media announcements and contests, the green screen spanning an entire wall is a distinguishing feature of the new studio. “Presenters can use this wall to edit backgrounds according to their daily activities. This was designed specifically for social media and to streamline video editing processes.”
Each station is equipped with an RCS Zetta playout system, which Taylor calls the “Rolls-Royce of playout systems” owing to its robustness. Each new studio is designed for standing, as opposed to the 978 Dance studio, which has a sitting desk at the moment. This allows speakers more vocal range and dynamic use of their diaphragm. Other technical highlights at the studios include Genelec monitors and top-of-the-range Neumann microphones, all newly installed in each studio.
While technology is important for the success of any radio station, Taylor adds that the presenters play a crucial role in keeping audiences engaged. Shock Middle East recently launched Nugget and Jade, a new breakfast show on 978 Dance.
“We’ve got a new presenter from the US; he’s from Detroit and his father is from Jordan, so he has great affinity with the area. His real name is Sam and we call him Nugget; we paired him up with Jade and created Nugget and Jade, and it’s hilarious and well-loved by audiences.”
A benchmark on Heart 107.1 is the Tim, Farris, Evita breakfast show, which is fast-paced and side-splittingly funny.
“The biggest thing is launching Radio Hala 95.6 from the studios here, as opposed to being in Umm Al Quwain,” notes Taylor, adding that one of the biggest demographics in this country is Arabic-speakers between the ages of 25 and 30.
“For the formula of Radio Hala 95.6, research told us that local audiences want to hear Arabic dance music, which is a very fast growing genre of music.”
Radio Hala also recently launched a show called NooReine which features two Arabic-speaking women, Noor and Reine – a first in the country, Taylor adds proudly.
“It is not enough for a radio station to be just a music station. Those days are long gone, because if I want to listen to music I can go to a streaming platform. The USPs of radio today are personalities and localness. So if I want to know why I’m getting stuck on Hessa Street heading toward Motor City, then I’ll tune in to Heart 107.1, 978 Dance or Radio Hala 95.6. I’m not going to get that from a music streaming platform,” he points out.
When asked what’s next on the cards for Shock ME, Taylor says: “It’s an open secret that we intend to launch more stations and events – no question to that. Simply put, we plan to grow. We don’t go into any business half-heartedly. If we’re going to launch a business, we launch it big.”