Wed, 13 Aug 2003

Biem, pioneer of ethnic radio

Bambang Nurbianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Anak Betawi, ketinggalan zaman, katenye... Anak Betawi, gak berbudaye, katenye... (Betawi kids are out of date, Betawi kids have no culture, that's what they say) is part of the theme song of television drama, Si Doel Anak Sekolahan (Doel, the Student).

The song is contrary to the beliefs of Biem Triani Benjamin, the third son of the late Betawi (native Jakartan) multi-talented entertainer Benjamin Sueb.

Biem -- born on March 13, 1964 -- disputes the common opinion that Betawi people are lazy and uneducated. Biem, himself graduated from the Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado, majoring in computer sciences.

He wants to promote the idea that Betawi people can develop themselves if given the opportunity.

"Of course I want to prove that the stigma of Betawi people -- that they are lazy and dumb -- is wrong," Biem, 39, told The Jakarta Post. He now controls 12 radio stations, established to support awareness of and encourage cultural diversity

The first station he set up was Bens Radio in 1989. The station focuses on the Betawi culture. It was named Bens in honor of his father, Benjamin Sueb, a noted actor and Betawi singer, who performed in the original Si Doel series.

Some of the stations were established entirely by himself and his crew at Bens Radio, while others were the result of acquisitions from other businessmen.

"As far as I know, there are no other stations like this in the country. But I believe that they could become a lucrative businesses if they are managed and developed seriously," he said.

Biem's success story is a divergence from his father's rise to popularity as he has not inherited his artistic flair.

He recalled how his father had often asked him to be in a movie, like his other brothers. But Biem had stubbornly refused because he lacked the ability to pull off a good performance.

"I can organize art events but I am not capable of being an artist myself," he said.

And he enjoys more than enough success in other fields.

With only Rp 200 million (US$23,256) invested in Bens Radio, Biem has multiplied his assets to almost Rp 25 billion.

His career in radio started after his father offered him the family business. It was handed over after the celebration of Benjamin's 51st birthday on March 5, 1990.

His elder brothers -- Beib and Bob -- were not ready to take over as they already had their own businesses.

His two younger brothers, Beno and Beni, were considered too immature to run the business.

He quit his job at a coffee factory and started without expertise or experience in his new occupation.

His father's words, "Bens Radio is me," became his business mantra, insofar as Benjamin was Betawi to the core, then the station followed suit.

Biem told himself that he must stick close to his father's ideologies. He believed that Benjamin's character embodied the spirit of the Betawi -- frank, spontaneous and talkative.

Bens Radio quickly got the public's attention. Listeners have reached over a million across Greater Jakarta, Biem said.

Bens Radio's success inspired Biem to develop other stations exploring the unique qualities of various ethnic groups. He acquired several small stations in towns in Banten and the West Java provinces including Cikarang, Labuhan and Cilegon.

Biem recalled how his father opposed his expansion idea. Benjamin feared that Biem was too ambitious. However, Biem finally convinced him that his dream was worth pursuing.

"I told him that ethnic-based radio was a great business idea. It is the nature of humans to be drawn back to their roots," he said.

Biem's theory seems to have been proved.

His radio stations can all support their own daily operational costs. Quite an achievement as the program content does not target the mainstream.

Biem set up a holding company for the radio stations, called Etnikom.

"Etnik means Ethnic while kom is the community or communications. We use the radio as a medium to explore the qualities of various ethnic groups in Indonesia," he said.

Etnikom's stations also broadcast each other's programs to promote multiculturalism.

Among his 12 radio stations are Krakatau radio in Labuan, Banten; ADS radio in Cikampek, West Java; GSP radio in Pamanukan, West Java; Leanpuri radio in Baturaja Ogan Komering Ulu regency and Kayu Agung radio in Ogan Komering Ilir regency, both in South Sumatra; 93.55 FMerak radio in Merak, Banten; Suara Cirebon 92.85 FM radio in Cirebon, West Java; and 89.7 Pasundan FM radio in Cianjur, West Java.

Biem has also started to develop a new station simply called Ethnic Radio (ER) which targets a well educated audience and broadcasts in two languages: Indonesian and English.

At almost 40 years old, Biem seems to have everything: a good business, his wife Ismarlita, and three children, Chika, 14, Gilang, 11, and Adelia, 8.

However, he still wants to broaden his role in society and decided to take part in the Regional Representative Council (DPD) elections.

He will compete for one of four seats, to represent Jakarta. The seat will be elected for the first time by the people in the April 2004 legislative elections.

He shyly admitted that his bid would be just the first step toward a political career. He secretly dreams of becoming the country's president.

And whatever he achieves, along the way he will surely reimage the Betawi people as educated and successful.