The glory days of radio in the Gulf, when it could rally the community rather than simply create empty fanfare, are fast eroding.

As Gulf FM stations turn to nostalgia the real expat voice is lost in the airwaves
Features Home and Away Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 19:06

By Archie S

After a day of blaring cacophony, relentless banter and onslaught of commercials, 9pm on the UAE’s radio-waves comes with a tinge of romantic nostalgia.

Most radio stations (and there are a number of them here now; some opening shop and others shutting down with equal frequency) get into the blues mode at 9pm.

That is the time most people are home, while the so-called blue-collar workers too are back from their shifts, trudging home tired and knocking out flat on their bunker beds.

Bachelor pads have started coming to life – the night is young, as they say - with the ‘doctor’ (the ‘code-name’ for the bootlegger) delivering to doorsteps the day’s drink.

A good number of others, however, would be still be on their way home, caught in the Dubai-Sharjah traffic backlog.

They tune into the radio.

And lo!

You hear a sweet whisper.

It is a woman in her soft, husky, kind, oh-so-understanding voice, bantering with a phone-in listener. It is a privilege for the common folk to go on air, and radio stations know it best.

At 9pm, the tone and mood are different. This is the time for titillation. And so the RJs peddle nostalgia like nobody’s business. They talk about love, lost love, lack of love. They talk of home in a wistful tone that would make one believe that Kerala is indeed God’s Own Country.

They paint that picture of paddy fields (where we no longer work) and of green hills (that we have swiped clean off its trees). They talk of temple ponds and mango trees. They even invoke the age-old Appu and Ammu. They patronise without relent. They offer wise counsel on life. They comfort suffering souls. They become pastors of the RJ-kind, sans the loud incantations.

And we phone in. We listen intently. We try to picture the RJ, shot in misty hues, dressed in white like an angel, landed on earth to soothe and wipe away our tears.

Humbug!

Their saccharine-sweetness sucks. The artificiality of ‘wanting to be nice and good and kind’ irritates you. And you know that it is fake. It is the through the lowest common denominator that radio stations set out to earn a few bucks more through SMS messages.

But why rant against an innocuous programme that does no harm but only ‘brings hope’ and titillates?

The reason is simple: The glory days of radio in the Gulf, for the sheer intensity of its ability to rally the community rather than simply create empty fanfare, are fast eroding.

Today, radio creates icons and stars, and serves as their stepping stone to movies,or vice versa for the out-of-work stars. Radio has also become the PR vehicle for film promotions.

News is compulsorily peddled, but mostly as read-outs from the online editions of dailies or tie-in voice-overs from Kerala’s television channels. What ought to be insightful analyses have become stage-shows of the regular ‘voices’ – usually television journalists– mostly indulging in a patting-each-other’s-backs charade.  

Some venture into so-called CSR via radio, but these are attempts at marketing channels rather than of any higher noble intent.

The fundamentals of good radio – diction, style, content and the works – are going out of the window.  The serious intent of radio, with its responsible writing and commitment is giving way to utter commercialism where emotions are peddled in lieu of SMS revenues.

I am not being wistful. I am not endorsing the dramatic flourish that some of our erstwhile radio stalwarts had. I am not dissing the new for the old.

The fact is that radio today is dumbed down to ridiculous proportions. And for a community that finds its real voice in airwaves, this relentless pursuit to titillate, thrill and make everything filmy and frivolous, is a lost opportunity.

You could argue that the FM culture of commodification is a logical response to the changing face of the expat Kerala community. After all, the young generation wants none of the fuss; they want instant gratification – and FM channels deliver it with all gusto. 

But in the frivolousness of the FM culture, has the expat community of Malayalis lost a good friend in the airwaves? The answer is open to debate. But until we arrive at an answer, all we’ll do is tune into the 9pm shows and have our day’s fix of titillation. 

(Archie S writes for a living and loves all things film. He lives in Dubai.) 

Home and Away is a series of reader contributions on the lives and concerns of Indians living overseas. If you have a perspective on NRI life and communities you'd like to talk about, write to rakesh@thenewsminute.com.

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