Dance FM Bringing More to the UAE

15 MAY 2017

Digby and Theo from Dance FM 97.8 and Shock ME

Shock Middle East, which launched the Dance FM 97.8 radio station in Dubai in February, is to launch a new station before the end of the year, say managing partner Theo Makris (pictured, right) and head of station Digby Taylor (left).

Eventually Shock plans to have four to six FM stations broadcasting out of the Emirates.

Taylor and Makris are tight lipped on the format of the upcoming station, except to say it will be a recognised Western brand, will fulfil a need in the market and – they hint – will appeal to a slightly older audience.

“What I can say is it’s something the market has been waiting for, and it’s a brand that everyone will take notice of,” says Taylor.

The licensing deal hasn’t yet been finalised, but, he says, “the ink is drying”.

Shock has also not yet decided where the new station will broadcast from. Dance FM is beamed across the UAE from Umm al Quwain, which is also the transmission base for Indian station Big FM, launched by television broadcaster Zee Entertainment in January. And it is possible that the new station will build on Shock’s existing relationship with its licensor in that emirate.

Shock is also launching an app for Dance FM. As well as streaming the station, it will also broadcast Dance Urban and Dance Smooth, interspersed with advertising but without presenters. A fourth stream in the app will broadcast ad-free, uninterrupted top 40 hits. This last will not be a loss leader, says Makris, but is a way to gear up for future plans. Just as ARN has recently launched a slew of digital stations as brand extensions of the Dubai government broadcaster’s existing FM channels, Shock’s app offering will endeavour to keep listeners loyal for longer. ARN’s management like to talk about “time spent listening”, or TSL; Dance FM’s founders speak about keeping listeners “in the family”.

Although Western music stations in the UAE tend to be either more youth-oriented top-40 channels such as Virgin and Radio One or play more middle-of-the-road dad rock such as Radio Two, Makris says he hired Taylor to help him fill a hole in the market.

Dance FM, he says, is taking some of its audience from competitors such as Radio One, Channel Four and Virgin. But, he adds, “we are attracting listeners who wouldn’t particularly listen to those stations because they enjoy [our] music and the format, less talk, the competitions.”

Makris talks about his own transition from listening to the Spice Girls at 14 to becoming a dance convert at 16 and starting to go clubbing at 18. “Our core demographic is 20-40 years old,” he says. “But our reports have been received back as showing strong figures from 18 years and up, and I think that is a lot to do with Channel Four and Virgin being very much teen focused. … I think there is a transition period when you go from being in school, listening to pop music, to wanting to be cooler and getting into dance music and broadening your horizons.”

Dance music is the largest format in the world, he says. It is worth $8bn a year, including downloads, festivals and all other revenue streams. All other musical genres are declining, he says.

Dance music is not exclusively Western, adds Taylor. “It crosses demographics,” he says. “Dance music in India is huge. It’s massive in India, it really is. If you look at what the demographic of [the UAE] is, you’ve got 80-82 per cent of the population [from the subcontinent]. It would be pointless us launching a radio station targeting 18 per cent. The homework was done.”

Also key to Dance’s offering are guest DJs. “There is a massive trend here,” says Makris. “You don’t have top 40 hit artists coming into the UAE or pop artists, every single week.” Dance DJs do regularly visit, though, and Dance FM puts them on air. Its main broadcast studio in Shock’s Dubai Media City offices has a mixing desk in situ.

Evening is when the station plays dance music for the die-hards. During the day, it is more mainstream, while still being dance. Think Top 40 with other genres stripped out.

International DJs also produce sets for the station. They are produced abroad, packaged and sent, but between the songs the DJs reference the UAE, so there is a localisation aspect. Dance FM is also the only station that currently carries BBC Radio One’s flagship dance music show The Essential Mix, after Taylor and Makris signed a deal with the UK state broadcaster.

Dance FM will also carry outside broadcasts. Not just from within the UAE, but also from major events abroad, including Ultra Music Festival in Miami and Tomorrowland in Belgium. Summer will be busy. “We are doing live programming from the Gumball Rally,” says Taylor. “Dave Cleary is actually going to be broadcasting ‘Loud and Cleary’, actually doing the [evening] drive show for the whole of the week from a car on the Gumball Rally. So he’s either going to be in the back of a Mercedes or the back of a Roller, going from Riga to Mykonos doing a show.”

The numbers are doing well so far, say the station’s founders. They have been measured twice by Ipsos, and listeners have risen 40 per cent. Dance FM will also be audited by an upcoming Nielsen listenership survey to be launched in the second half of 2017.

DanceFM Team

AUTHOR

When we set up Dance FM 97.8 we wanted to bring a voice to the UAE’s passionate fans of dance music.