A human touch still holds the mic at Mirchi Dubai: Preeti Phalke

BF Firos |
"Listeners will never share their day with a robot; they will happily do so with an actual presenter," says Preeti Phalke, Director of Programming at Mirchi Dubai, underscoring the unmatched power of human-to-human interactions in a medium like radio. According to Phalke, AI cannot replace the human touch as human presenters on radio are inevitable and irreplaceable. In this exclusive interview with Adgully Middle East, she dwells on how radio remains relevant with its unique blend of surprise, spontaneity, and human touch. She also shares her insights on the integration of AI and other innovations into radio broadcasting and the station's experience with AIRAH, its AI radio host. Excerpts:

On-demand platforms like podcasts offer vast content diversity and personalized listening experiences. In this context, how can radio stand out? How does Mirchi Dubai see AI and other technological advancements as tools for innovation and adaptation, ensuring the station's continued relevance in the evolving media landscape?

Radio is dynamic and adapts to changing times at a very cellular level. The DNA of radio doesn’t change, whether it's internet radio, streaming or AI. Radio stands out for its simplicity and accessibility. The beauty of the medium is its surprise element, the spontaneity, and the human touch. Technological advancements are mostly peripheral to the medium. AI right now can be extremely handy is creating original tracks for jingles and music beds considering copyright and PPL issues. Some radio stations are already contemplating using AI-generated voices for spots and promos, mostly with a thought of having a voice different from their regular presenters or as a syndication method for smaller stations.

Last year, Mirchi Dubai launched AIRAH, the AI radio host. How has the audience responded? Has there been any formal research or surveys conducted to gauge audience response to AIRAH? If so, what were the key findings?

Mirchi Dubai launched AIRAH as an experiment to fill into the shoes of a jock who went on her pregnancy leave. We were aware that the limited duration of the AI-hosted show wouldn’t provide sufficient opportunity to accurately assess its performance. Radio is a slow medium. It takes time for things to gain traction on radio, and three months is a relatively short period. However, the listeners in Dubai are extremely responsive to anything new on radio, and we did manage to create a dialogue while the show was on air. Some of the clients wanted to engage AIRAH in their radio campaigns, some listeners wanted to come and meet the presenter. We realized how AI is still a very Utopian concept for a layman. Because of social media and movies, most people assumed AIRAH would be a hologram or a robot or something. They were inquisitive about how the process worked. This curiosity was good enough for us.

How do listeners compare AIRAH to human presenters? What are the perceived strengths and weaknesses of each?

AI is far from intruding on the radio space right now. As opposed to other industries where AI can potentially replace human labour and save not just cost but time and effort, radio needs the human touch. Listeners will never share their day with a robot; they will happily do so with an actual presenter. Radio presenters can chat with their listeners, uplift their mood, and have genuine connections. Radio presenters will each have heartwarming stories about how they have touched a listeners’ life, how they made them laugh, cry or made a moment immemorable. AI will never be able to do that. Due to the current technology in Voice AI, the show had no interactivity because voice AI is not designed to be interactive. To be honest, listeners missed that in the three hours of the show, and we are glad to be able to bring back a human presenter.

Does Mirchi Dubai see AI as a potential replacement for human presenters, or rather as a tool to enhance the listening experience?

Radio is an interactive live medium, and voice AI is not yet designed to operate in that manner, which is its biggest drawback. AI is limited to making soundtracks and filling in for a specific kind of voice-over style right now. AI has managed to stir the music industry in both good and bad ways. The technology is still evolving for radio. As mentioned, human presenters on radio are inevitable and irreplaceable.

What will be the trends emerging on the FM radio front: such as interactive ads, hybrid radio (blending FM broadcasting with internet streaming offering on-demand content alongside live broadcasts), immersive experiences using AR, VR, etc.?

Until a few years ago, radio was a standard feature on phones but was phased out as music streaming apps became more popular. Radio is predominantly consumed during drive times, especially in cars. If radio tuners were available on cell phones, there would be potential for AI or technology to enable features such as real-time engagement, AI-generated playlists based on mood, noise cancellation, addressing signal disruptions, etc.

We currently rely on research conducted by human resources, which can be subject to biases. Personally, I anticipate technology that can provide insights into listening habits, content preferences, frequency duration, and daily hours dedicated to radio listening, all in real-time.