Memoirs of a Radio Jockey
March 8th, 2015.
I’m sitting here on the eve of a big announcement about a new phase in my life. I didn’t think I’d get emotional about this, but I am. My eyes are tearing up and I have to bite my lips to stop tears from rolling down my cheeks. I have a few things to share so please be patient as you read this story. I hope it inspires you. On the 12th of March 2015, a chapter in my life comes to a close. I retire from my on air duties on City 1016 – The UAE’s No.1 Bollywood Radio Station and I take on a different, wider role within the Arabian Radio Network.
Many of you who know me might be surprised at this decision because you know how much I love radio. My journey has been a long and amazing one. For those of you who don’t know how it all happened, here’s the complete story. While I have mentioned only a few names in this blog, I’d like to add that there are many others who have been instrumental in molding my life. A long time ago, my brother and I used to love listening to FM in Chennai. There was a station that played English music in the evening and all the kids listened to the show. I remember one day when listening to a show something silly happened on air and I remarked - “Hey I could do that job better than him.”
That was a silly, childish statement because that was far from the truth. Interestingly enough, my dad who had just returned home from work overheard us talking and said, “If you think you can do the job better why don’t you apply to the station?”
That pretty much shut me up and stopped me from further commenting on radio shows. Those words however resonated in my mind and two years later while I was in my second year of college, I decided to walk into the radio station and ask for a job. I was young and knew no one in the media. I had nothing to lose and was bold enough to walk up to the security desk at All India Radio, Chennai. I walked up to the armed security guard and said I wanted to become a radio jockey. When I think back, there was no strategy. There was no plan. I was just a bold teenager who walked up to a radio station and asked for what he wanted. If I had been turned down that day, I would have, like most people, believed that achieving one’s dreams was only possible for those who knew someone who could make it happen.
Instead, the security guard asked for my ID, signed me in and asked me to go to the first floor to meet Mr. Gnanaprakash. I did. He was a kind gentleman and was taken in my enthusiasm and offered me the opportunity to because a presenter on Chennai B (an AM Channel almost no one listened to). The slot was at 6:15 in the morning and I would have to come in for training for a month. The show that would run from 6:15 to 7a.m would also have a news program in between.
I jumped at the opportunity.
Every morning I would wake up early and head to the radio station and observe the other presenters doing their job and learn. I learnt a lot. Everything was new to me and I asked lots of questions. After a month of training I was given a show that was on once a week. I remember someone asking me which station I worked for and when I responded, he said that he’d never heard of it!! To the best of my knowledge the only person who listened to the show was the duty officer and Mr. Gnanaprakash. This did not deter me. I would get there early and select my music and write my script. The script needed to be approved by the duty officer and a sort of discipline came into my life. I knew this was what I wanted to do. I was so passionate about radio that I asked for more work. I started getting the opportunity to make radio features. I would get paid for only one feature a month, but I wanted to do more and was willing to do them for free. I ended up doing several features and one was even nominated for a national award. While I did not win it, I did learn radio production.
You have to remember that just because I was doing more work it did not mean that more people were listening to me. This was a government-sponsored station and had almost no listeners. The cool guys were on FM. That is where we all wanted to be. I was however told time and again that I could not be on FM because I was still not a graduate. A second year student on FM was unheard of because this was a Central Government job and one needed a graduate degree and also needed to clear the national auditions at that time.
Ecclesiastes 9:11 says “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
My time came when overnight 8 presenters on the primary FM Channel in Chennai quit. Auditions were not scheduled for at least 6 months and the show had to go on. I received a call from Mr. Gnanaprakash asking me if I could do a show on FM. This was a dream come true. As an FM presenter, you had listeners, you got paid more and you did not need to write a full script and get it approved before you went on air. I jumped at the opportunity. There was one catch though; I could not use my real name because I was active on the local cultural scene and if other college students heard that a non-graduate was on FM Radio, it would cause a scandal. I thus chose to go on air with a pseudonym – The Crazy Kookaburra. Yes, we all do stupid things in life. The great thing was that since no one knew it was me, it did not matter. A few months later I felt that the Crazy Kookaburra was a bit much and chose a quieter avatar – Morpheus. Yup, Matrix was the big thing then and the name stuck. Every Monday evening Chennai could tune in to listen to Morpheus who had a cool email address – Morpheus@airchennai.com. At that time no one at the station felt it was a conflict of interest and as long as I would pay for the email address on my own, no one had a problem with it. I would respond to every email I received and take email requests as well.
During the course of my time at AIR Chennai, I met Krishnan who had a profound influence on my life. Krishnan taught me to respect the people who made radio possible. They were not the people in the limelight but who did their job every single day to make radio a part of people's lives. I was AIR for a while and the show was popular, people listened to me and I often ended up bumping into people who had heard Morpheus. I never told people I was Morpheus and would hear from them first hand what they really thought about the show. The only down side was that this was not a career. I would get paid INR500 per show but I could only get a maximum of 4 shows a month. Meanwhile, I completed my graduation in Chennai and had the opportunity to move to London for my Masters. I took up the offer.
n London, I studied hard and partied even harder. At the end of my course I was offered a job with a work permit. This was something that was hard to come by in those days and so I accepted. As a Business Analyst, I was far from the amazing world of radio. Fortunately and yes that is the word I use…fortunately, the company I worked for laid me off. I was the last one in and the first one out. I eventually got another job but during that period of time, I got thinking. What was it that I wanted to do with my life? The thought that was on my mind was that I would work for 4 more years, get my PR in the UK and then go back to India to do radio. Ouch!!! Why was I going to wait for 4 years to do something I loved when I could do it right now?
So I packed my bags. But, before I left for good, I attended as many courses as I could in London learning about radio. I had to invest quite a bit of money in doing this, but I knew it would pay off. I landed in Bangalore, a city where I knew no one. My home had been Chennai and Bangalore was completely alien to me. My brother had rented a house and I stayed with him. I wanted to do radio but radio did not know who I was. There was one radio station in town and it was a Bollywood Radio station and I knew nothing about Bollywood. Yes, I did watch a lot of movies but I was not equipped to handle a radio show on a Bollywood Station.
Bold as I was, I applied. I had not heard back from the station in while and so I went on to start a company that produced radio ads. The company was called Mud. Why, you may ask. Well, because I had given up on a name and looked down on the street and I saw Mud. True story!!! Finally, after a while, I received a call from the station asking me to come in to meet the Programming Director. I was scared that I would not be able to convince them to hire me. To make an impression I decided to think differently. I took some highlights of my CV and made a video presentation using my radio show demo as the backing track. This meant that in 2 minutes and 30 seconds, they would hear my radio show demo and would know everything they needed to know about me. After waiting for 5 months, I received my offer letter. Those 5 months were spent in cinema halls watching only Bollywood movies and learning as much as I possibly could about the industry.
The job I was offered was a Producer and host of a weekend dance show called – Disco Nights. I gladly accepted. I did not care about how much they were paying me. I’m glad they paid me very little because from day one I knew I was not working for money and was grateful I had a job in radio. I worked hard. I took on every task that was given to me and then some. In a year I ended up doing 4 weekend shows and the Breakfast Show and was promoted to the role of Senior Producer. I loved what I did. I felt I made a difference. I still remember how I was nervous before my first show and Darius waited with me even though I knew he needed to be somewhere else. He gave me a valuable bit of advice that till this day resonates in my head. Thanks D. Radio City was were I made friends for life. I met Fiona who had an impeccable work ethic. She taught me that while the world might be crumbling around you, you can still do the best radio show ever.
After sometime opportunities opened up in the market and I moved to another station and started doing the afternoon show. It was there that I discovered that I was actually a funny guy. It took me a while to find the person I was and when I found him, I started loving my job even more. I was getting paid well. I invested in a computer that could be used to edit photos and videos. I continued learning how to do different things but never really found a practical use for any of it since no one really cared. Radio was all about audio and nothing else. People knew what we sounded like but would never recognize us on the street. This continued for a while and then I moved to the Breakfast Show on the station and then a few months later the call came from Dubai. There was a station called City 1016 and they were keen on having me on board. During the interview I was told for the very first time in my life that I sounded like Saif Ali Khan. For what it was worth, I got the job. The only challenge was that it was for a weekend show and nothing else. I decided to take the risk and moved to sunny Dubai in the middle of May. When I got here, it was hot, expensive and difficult.
I started with the weekend show and the moved on to a weekday show called XXL. I co-hosted the show along with Tia and eventually we moved from XXL to Drive Master GoGo which was on air from 5 to 9 every evening. Dubai gave me the opportunity to spread my wings and fly. I acted in the first ever Emirati feature film, I started performing stand up comedy and I realized that I was a photographer with an eye for taking good pictures. At this point in time, remember that radio stations did not really do anything apart from audio. And then Fiona took over our station and had a vision to make radio more visual. I put up my hand to help in the process and started doing photo shoots for the team and photos at events. I had invested in a good professional camera and I was excited to be able to use it as much as I did. The camera I bought eventually clicked 170,000 photos in a short span of time. I converted my living room into a studio with lights that I bought after getting paid for a photography gig. The computer needed upgrading as well and a newer, more powerful one entered the house. Suddenly we started getting recognized on the streets. Radio started getting a lot more visual.
And then one day we were trying to shoot a video and my video camera was not working. I remembered that when I bought my professional camera the sales guy mentioned that I could also shoot video with it. Since we had no choice I did exactly that and that ushered in a new era of videos for the radio station. We started shooting one video after another. Today, City 1016 is perhaps the most photographed and videoed radio station in the UAE.
Soon I released that I enjoyed making films and eventually ended up winning the Best Film award at the inaugural 48 Hour Film Project in Dubai. This gave me the opportunity to showcase our film SOLUS at a film festival in the United States. The team that won this award was the best team I have worked with till date. With Social Media becoming more and more popular all of a sudden, all the things that I had learnt started coming together. The years of learning and investing in equipment had begun to pay off. After 5 years of helping the station with its visual productions, I was offered a promotion to head the Digital part of ARN’s business. I took on the role as Digital Director two years ago and loved every single day of it.
At the start of 2015 I decided that I would like to gave more time to our Digital business and in a closed room revealed to the team that I would be stepping down as the host of Drive Master GoGo with Meghana and Rohit.
When I made the announcement my thoughts flew back to so many people who helped me along the way. I cannot thank my parents enough – for their support and encouragement to follow my dreams even when they had their doubts, my rockstar brother who paid my bills for years and even gave me an add-on credit card when my salary was too low to apply a card for myself.
Before I conclude I’d like to share something from my own life experience.
Follow your dreams. Chase them! Stalk them! Do whatever it takes to do what you love doing. When you love what you are doing you tend to be more successful and a far happier person. Invest in yourself. Don’t expect anyone else to do that for you. Learn whenever you have the opportunity. The Internet is a wonderful place to expand your knowledge. Remember you are always just one Google search away from being the smartest person in the room. Don’t work for money. Money will come. Do something you are passionate about. And remember, you can’t go back and make a brand new start, you can however start right now and make a brand new ending. A chapter comes to a close. The way I see it, if a chapter does not end, the book can never be completed. My life has been an interesting journey. Everything I have learnt comes into play at some point in time or the other. I am excited about the next chapter in my book. Thank you for giving me the privilege of entertaining you. I hope I made you smile.