Durban-based Lotus FM has begun the difficult job of reversing the damage done by the SABC’s local content policy.

The controversial 90-10 policy of former SABC chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, implemented about a year ago, was disastrous for Lotus, which lost listeners in droves — and millions of rand in advertising revenue.

Now, the station has resumed playing the Indian music that made it popular, and is approaching advertisers to woo them back and stem its financial losses.

Some advertisers said when the policy was introduced last year that they were forced to pull their adverts from Lotus FM because research had shown their target audience was no longer listening to the station.

Lotus FM’s target listenership is drawn mainly from the Indian community.

Four months after the sudden introduction of Motsoeneng’s policy, which decreed that 90% of the music played on radio stations had to be local, Lotus FM had lost about 130,000 listeners — falling from an average 390,000 to 260,000.

Listeners went to East Coast Radio (ECR), Radio Hindvani and Radio Islam, among others.

The policy also affected staff morale. Popular Lotus FM Morning Rush presenter Neville Pillay left, citing the decimation of the station’s listenership as one reason. He joined Highveld Radio in Joburg.

Lotus FM station manager Alvin Pillay and marketing manager Randheer Balbadan declined to comment, saying all communications with media was handled via SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago.

But a senior staffer said management had held several meetings with staff in an effort to reverse the decline.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: "Due to the decree, we were playing South African music, including kwaito and house music.

"But as soon as we got clarity from the SABC management that the decree has been relaxed, DJs were told to play popular Indian music.

"We don’t know what effect this would have over time."

The staffer added: "A task team was formed to try and negotiate terms with the advertisers who left the station due to the 90-10 policy.

"Plans are also under way to try to reconnect with the local Indian community so that we can serve our listeners better."

Members of the Save Our Lotus FM, a pressure group that lobbied the communications minister and the SABC to consider reversing the 90-10 policy said they were overjoyed that their efforts had borne fruit.

However, the pressure group’s head, Ashwin Trikamjee, says it is too early to judge whether the station will regain its former strength.

"But many people in the community have welcomed the news. We hope the station will reclaim its position.

"Furthermore, we don’t think that efforts to play local music should be thrown out altogether," he said.

"We strongly believe that efforts to grow local music should be given a shot in the arm so that in time our stations will be able to play more local, quality music, and allow the local music industry to grow."

Kganyago clarified that the 90-10 policy was never his company’s policy, but was a directive from former managers.

He said the board had elected to abolish the 90-10 policy and revert to guidelines set by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa). These, he said, varied from station to station.

Kganyago said the public broadcaster would assist struggling radio stations as much possible to boost their ratings and regain lost advertising.

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