Dubai: "I had a dream, and money wasn't going to get in the way," says 22-year-old Ritesh Jeswani, co-founder of Campus Radio ME, the UAE's only online student radio channel.
The dream of creating a music station for students, by students, was born in 2008.
Three years later, that dream is Jeswani's reality.
His Campus Radio has evolved into a 24-hour music station hosting at least seven live talk shows on any day and five genre-based shows, featuring prominent musicians and genres in the region.
Last year, the young entrepreneur also won Lenovo's Edgy Business Thinker contest.
"I was still a student in Manipal University in Dubai in 2008 and wanted to get students more involved in creating platforms that they could participate in, air their opinions, and wind down to after a long, hard day at school," said Jeswani. After investigating the costs of creating an on-air radio station, Jeswani realised it wasn't realistic amounts of money involved. "All I had was Dh10,000 in my pocket. That's all I could afford as start-up capital."
The result was an internet-based radio station for which Jeswani, along with co-founder Mohammad Ali Jamadar, fork out £210 (Dh1,225) a month.
A team of 28 youth operate out of a single laptop, attached to a mixer, which streams the music to a Canadian company called Stream The World, which then streams it forward to the rest of the world.
Although Jeswani first went on air on April 9, 2010, it wasn't until last month that the station found its own identity. "The first six months were trial-and-error based. We learnt from our mistakes, as much as from listener feedback. We took the theoretical approach to opening an organisation by doing plenty of surveys and research. It was vital for us to understand our listeners' needs," he says.
Unlike commercial radio, where the target audience spans across different age groups, student radios operate differently. "We know that our listeners range in the 15-25 age group. Whatever we stream online must be something they can instantly identify with," he says.
"Our research indicated that there are no radio stations in UAE that focus on heavy metal and hard rock, or drum n' bass and dubstep, genres that students love dearly."
As a result Campus Radio has introduced specific shows for these genres.
With the main challenge being non-repetitive tunes, combined with a minuscule budget, Jeswani and his team have to come up with creative means to obtain the music they need, at minimal prices. "We buy bulk packages off iTunes, and work in partnership with other student radio stations internationally by sharing music licences to reduce our overheads."
Although Campus Radio has no online advertising at the moment, it is a concept the team is hoping to introduce in the near future. "Now that we've sorted out our identity, overcome teething problems, have a full-fledged staff, understood our audience and finally moved out of my bedroom and into a professional set-up at Dubai Festival City, we can start focusing on profits," says Jeswani. "All we need is to create an awareness of our existence to an audience beyond student campuses."
The channel currently has nine DJs on air representing the variety of cultures in Dubai. "Our DJs are a mix of Mexican, Pakistani, Indian, Saudi, Chinese, Welsh and Australian, making it easy for just about anyone to identify with us," says Jeswani.
"Naturally, the ultimate dream is to have an on-air radio station dedicated solely to students and their issues. We're happy being an internet radio station for now, but my dreams are bigger," says the 22-year-old.
Unlike other radio stations in the UAE, Campus Radio toots to a different tune. "Our prime time begins when everyone else's ends," explains Jeswani. "Since we only air on the internet, our listenership begins when students are at home. Prime time is from 9pm to 1am. That's when kids are at home, working on assignments, or Facebooking. That's when they're listening to us.
"Surprisingly, exam time is busy for us, since students are always at home and often finding ways to do everything other than study. Our phone line rings non-stop with requests during exam season," he acknowledges.
Along with playing the non-commercial music that teens enjoy, Campus Radio dedicates many hours to interactive debates and bringing on student guests. The Wire, which airs Sunday to Wednesday from 9pm to 11pm is a student-oriented show highlighting issues and featuring interviews with student speakers from various local universities. The show discusses subjects vital to student life such as quality of education in the UAE and how to deal with student finances. From 11pm onwards is The Curfew, which Jeswani hosts himself. "It's a requests show with wind-down music, stuff that's slightly more mellow," he says.
CRME currently has 42,000 listeners per week, of which around 38,000 are from the UAE. And it's a number that's been growing steadily.
"Some day I'll achieve my dream. One day Campus Radio ME will be the UAE's first on-air radio station that's totally student-oriented. Our channel receives an average of 4,230 clicks per day. With numbers like that, eventually, someone will notice us. Some day, we'll make it big. We'll be the united voice of students in the UAE. We'll be everything I dreamt we would be," says Jeswani.