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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Radio Rossii Plans Major Overhaul

Russia's biggest radio network, government-owned Radio Rossii, on Tuesday announced plans for a major overhaul, including a new timetable, less-conservative programming and entry into the more-lucrative FM advertising market.

Unlike private commercial FM stations, the government-owned Radio Rossii cannot sell much advertising, because its audience, though large, is mostly poor: pensioners and provincial housewives who do not drive cars or own modern stereo receivers.

"We have to add the socially active audience to the socially passive audience that we currently have," said Alexei Abakumov, director of Radio Rossii. He added that the "image of Radio Rossii will be changed."

The old system of three-button kitchen cable radios, wired into every apartment building during the Soviet era, is the main delivery vehicle for Radio Rossii. It is also broadcast on medium and long wave bands, such as 261 kHz and 873 kHz in Moscow.

Its programming and transmission costs are also much greater than those of local FM stations. Abakumov said that Radio Rossii plans to start broadcasting on FM in Moscow next year.

Abakumov said that his radio's audience in Moscow is estimated at about 1.75 million people, which is 2.5 times more than RTR television's evening Vesti news program. He said that in June this year an average 25 percent share of the radio audience in Moscow was tuned to Radio Rossii, followed by government-run Mayak with 18 percent and commercial Evropa Plus and Russkoye Radio with between 10 and 15 percent each. In the regions and especially in rural areas, Radio Rossii's lead is much greater, he said.

Radio Rossii is part of the VGTRK, the government-owned broadcast company, which also produces RTR national television channel. Earlier this year VGTRK started major reforms at RTR.

In August this year, President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on the reorganization of Russia's old and expensive national radio networks, which the government is no longer able to maintain. Radio One, a radio equivalent of the former Soviet Union's biggest television station, Channel 1, currently used by ORT, is to be liquidated.

Two radio stations, Mayak and Yunost, are to merge. Radio Rossii is to be moved to the "first button" on the national three-program cable radio network. It should also be able to use transmitters and frequencies vacated by Radio One.

Abakumov did not disclose the company's budget, but he said 85 percent of its expenses go to the Communications Ministry in payment for use of about 800 transmitters around Russia.

As do television channels ORT and RTR, Radio Rossii uses an expensive and outdated system of satellites to broadcast four versions of its programming, each for a two-hour time zone.

When the new system is in place, only children's programs and literature and arts programs will be duplicated for various time zones. Two-hour blocks of news and public affairs programming interwoven with music will be broadcast simultaneously throughout Russia's 12 time zones.

Abakumov said that the news programming will become less personalized and politicized, and the current abundance of pop music will be replaced by a broader mix of pop, rock, jazz and classical. The channel will aim to maintain its high-culture programming with direct broadcasts from the Bolshoi Theater, New York's Metropolitan Opera, and the best provincial Russian theaters.

While in the past the national radio channel was targeted towards a "babushka from Tambov region, who has a third-grade education, we have to become equally interesting for a professor from St. Petersburg," he said.