The country’s FM spectrum is congested, and attempts to free up some of the spectrum for new players is proving difficult
Anton Komolov has been a leading personality in the Russian radio and television landscape for more than 20 years. After working as a host for Biz-TV and MTV, he joined commercial radio station Europa Plus as morning show host in 2002. A couple years later, he began co-hosting an evening show, which after many transformations, became known as the “Radio Active Show” in 2011. The popular program, which Komolov hosts alongside Elena Abitaeva, airs nationwide weeknights and draws in a good portion of Europa Plus’ 22 million listeners per week. For Komolov, who has won numerous awards for his work, the key to success lies in listening, being open-minded, curious, having a sense of humor, and a “quick brain.”
RedTech: Can you give us a brief overview of the radio landscape in Russia?
Anton Komolov: Russia’s radio landscape is very competitive. There are three big holdings, which manage the most popular stations and own the biggest part of the market. European Media Group (EMG) includes Europa Plus, Retro-FM, Dorozhnoe Radio, Radio 7, Novoe Radio and Studio 21, and has the largest market share in the country. Three of its stations — Dorozhnoe Radio, Retro FM and Europa Plus — are in the top five in Russia. Europa Plus has held the number one spot for 13 consecutive years.
RedTech: How did you get started and what led you to Europa Plus?
Komolov: It was a long-long time ago…when the sky was blue, and the grass was green! In 2002, I was invited to host the station’s morning show “Tolko-Tak” (“Only-Like-This”). After two seasons of the morning show, I started an evening show that was originally called “Polnaya Versiya. Bez Kupur” (“Full Version. Uncut”), which was the first evening talk show on the network. Since 2004, this evening show has evolved, and it’s now called “RASH” (“Radio Active Show”). I’ve been hosting it with co-presenter Elena Abitaeva for almost 10 years now.
RedTech: How would you define your on-air style?
Komolov: Well, I like chatting with listeners. I like to be ironic and to laugh with — not at — the audience.
RedTech: What makes your show different from others?
Komolov: We cover various themes during the show. They’re not exclusive at all, but the perspective is unique.
RedTech: Describe your approach to connecting with your audience.
Komolov: We aren’t too serious, not too boring, not too aggressive and so on. Easy talking, a lot of humor — that’s cool for any person after a day of work, when everybody is heading home.
RedTech: Russia is a vast country with different time zones. Does that complicate the show?
Komolov: Yes. And sometimes it’s a bit inconvenient. We start at 8 p.m., so for example in Ekaterinburg that’s 10 p.m. and in Khabarovsk or Vladivostok it’s 3:00 a.m. It’s challenging to be an evening show and pre-morning show at the same time! The worst thing about this, however, is that a part of our audience can’t be with us live. Some of the bigger cities in our network have started to air our show one day later but at 8 p.m. local time.
RedTech: Has coronavirus impacted the way you interact with your audience?
Komolov: Coronavirus has had a great impact on the Russian economy. And our industry has suffered a lot. Advertising on the radio decreased during the first months of lockdown. It’s slowly starting to recover now, but we are still far away from pre-lockdown’s levels.
RedTech: How has the health crisis changed the way you make radio?
Komolov: Not much. We had some short periods in 2020 when we produced RASH remotely. Both Elena and I set up mobile studios in our respective apartments. This was the best option, considering that the other option was to not have the show at all. Still, it’s much easier to work from the radio studio where you can actually be with your co-host, since it’s important to see and to “feel” a vibe of your show, to be in the same mood.
RedTech: What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a radio personality?
Komolov: It’s easy to say, but maybe not so easy to do: You have to be sincere and natural. You have to love your job. Be open-minded and be interested in and curious about different perspectives on life.
RedTech: What has been your biggest accomplishment in your career thus far?
Komolov: I’ve received some professional awards, but it’s also very important for me to get feedback. I like to hear what people on the streets (or elsewhere) think. If they like our show, our style of talking, our jokes, etc., all that information is useful.
RedTech: Do you have any regrets?
Komolov: Actually, no. I’m a happy person. As somebody wise once said (either Confucius or Elon Musk…): Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. I think, I’ve found mine.
RedTech: What do you wish you had known when you started out?
Komolov: Be ready, your path could be much longer than you expect!
RedTech: What are your unique skills that have helped you become successful?
Komolov: As I mentioned before, being open-minded, curious, having a sense of humor and a quick brain. You have to have a great response during every chat.
RedTech: What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?
Komolov: After nine years of hosting RASH, we’re still making the best evening show in Russia. And in my very humble opinion, it’s the best radio show overall, not only in the evening.
RedTech: Who were the people that you looked up to or inspired you in this industry?
Komolov: When I was a student and listened to the radio. It was when commercial radio here was just starting out and the industry was in its infancy. There weren’t a lot of “stars,” but I liked guys with a sense of humor, who could be easy, light and funny on the air.
RedTech: Have you faced any setbacks as a radio/TV personality and how did you overcome them?
Komolov: In general, I believe the main setbacks for TV/radio personalities entail working on a show you don’t like or aren’t satisfied with. Then you can only wait, work, practice and upgrade your skills and, of course, do something to realize your dream-projects.
RedTech: In many parts of Europe, radio stations are increasingly incorporating visual radio in their mix. How important are images for your radio network?
Komolov: Europa Plus launched one of the first online and interactive studios in Moscow. It can be used for different purposes. For instance, we invite guests, arrange live concerts and so on. Europa Plus also streams video 24/7 on the internet
RedTech: How important are podcasts to Europa Plus?
Komolov: RASH has had its podcasts on the main podcast platforms. We have a very relevant format for podcasts — about 25–35 minutes of discussion on various themes without music.
RedTech: How should radio evolve in the face of fierce competition from GAFAM?
Komolov: Radio now is an instrument for providing audience with content. Radio in general is losing listeners, not dramatically but consistently and gradually. So each station has to discover new ways to reach its audience, wherever this audience is — the internet, a mobile app or via traditional listening.
RedTech: In Western Europe, DAB+ is growing each month. Have you heard about the replacement of FM? What about Russia?
Komolov: The radio industry here has discussed this issue. But the general opinion is that DAB+ is very hard to implement in Russia. The country is huge, and the implementation of DAB would technically be complicated. My personal opinion is that the internet is a better solution for radio than DAB+. If you have stable access to fast internet, then one doesn’t need digital radio. They can listen to their favorite station via streaming or a mobile app. In fact, for me, it’s not a matter of technology but of content. It really is true that “content is king,” and in the long-term, the winner will be the best content maker.