Jockeying for listeners

August 23, 2015

FM radios and their RJs who are producers, script-writers and presenters rolled into one

Jockeying for listeners

Life in the mid-nineties may not seem exciting in retrospect but it did provide entertainment avenues where one was exposed to healthy and refreshing experiences.

The launch of the FM radio in 1995-96 was one such event which created a ripple of enthusiasm among the youth in particular. Nothing can match the anticipation of listeners. Some famous RJs were household names: Aijaz Qureshi for his Drive Time show, Salman Tariq for the Ghazal Night show, Junaid for an English show were amongst the popular ones who claimed to be ‘family members’ of many listeners and callers.

Who can forget the regular callers, a majority being girls, spending hours dialling tirelessly to get through the UAN? Regular callers include Dr Ijaz Waris who got recognition for his eloquence and literary taste and went on to become a professional television host. These names were stars -- talked about, fought over in colleges and idealised by many. A monthly FM Magazine where listeners got to see the faces and read personal interviews of RJs was much sought-after among the youth.

One often thinks what happened to the good old days of FM. According to Saeed Wasiq, senior broadcaster and RJ Ghazal Time at FM100, "Sixteen years back when I joined FM, we had trainers from Radio Pakistan. There was a lot of emphasis on language and extempore programming. A lot depends on your own capability, general knowledge and interests. That is where we are having trouble -- today’s RJ is the producer, script-writer and presenter. Every programme slot has its own requirement and demand. For an evening drive time show, a crisp voice would do but talking fast is not the requirement in every slot."

Fasi Zaka, senior broadcaster FM 91, says: "I think modern radio presenters are a healthy mix of excellent and not-so-good -- a reflection of how fast the industry has grown and the scramble for talent. A lot has changed from the Radio Pakistan days. This has been both good and bad. Good in the sense that Radio Pakistan had not kept up with changing tastes and the emerging youth bulge in the population mix. Bad in so far as Radio Pakistan put much more emphasis in its heydays on production and grooming talent. That is missing now because of the commercial orientation of the channels."

Misha Aslam Khan, a passionate young RJ from FM103, says: "Since radio is the most effective and powerful medium, I wanted my voice to be heard by the masses. Hence, FM was my first choice. Honestly, there is no proper training once you are through with the auditions. Everyone is taught about the panel control in the beginning, and obviously seniors and producers are there for guidance any time you need."

Today’s RJ has to choose what he wants to do with his show. There is no written script that has to be followed as in the days of Radio Pakistan. "We have to plan the show according to our wishes. There is no script and we can’t read off a paper during the show since the listeners might get a hint," says Misha.

Music is a very important component of a show. An RJ cannot conduct the show unless he/she knows about the music he is playing. "We have to keep an eye on the top charts all the time. And the background music must sync in with the content of the show at any cost," says Misha.

"Often the jockeys are not aware about the music they are playing; they don’t know the name of the movie the song is from and this is a basic requirement. And abruptly cutting in a song is criminal for me; you just can’t do that to your listener," says Wasiq.

Zaka explains that with the increased number of channels, there are a lot of avenues also because of Pemra regulations that seem to allow mostly for light entertainment content.

"But it’s important to note that commercial channels are responding to what is audience demand. People like astrology, love themed call-ins, poetry and motivational pep talks. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a fact of life when there is a commercial orientation. This is why it is important to have a public radio -- it is free of short term compulsions and can contribute significantly to the quality of intellectual and cultural life, and raise the bar for commercial entities," says Fasi Zaka.

Jockeying for listeners