Yup, back in the day. I feel about 70 years old writing this, but hey, it’s a good story. Care to listen?

While going through old files, I came across the picture you see above (minus the Prisma abuse). It’s from my days at FM101, one of the oldest radio stations in Pakistan. I was a radio presenter, did two hour-long shows four times a week, and had a great time.

I loved radio – still do. Back in the day, right after I had completed A-Levels, I was interning with Zindagi Trust. It’s a social initiative, headed by Shehzad Roy, which educates underprivileged children in Pakistan. I’d like to think that I pursued it for the good cause, but the reality is that I had a MASSIVE crush on Shahzad Roy, and joined the organisation in hopes to meet him.I did meet him, and was so awestruck that I couldn’t utter a single word. One of my few dumb-wit moments.

I am still a fan. Do you really blame me? He sings like a dream and looks like THIS!
I am still a fan. Do you really blame me? He sings like a dream and looks like THIS! Image courtesy – Dawn

HOW I GOT IN

Anyway. So, I was working with Zindagi Trust, and FM101 was an important and very supportive partner of the organisation. One day, I went along with my then boss, Naima Zuberi, to FM101’s office for a meeting, and somehow the conversation turned to my love for radio and how I would love to be a radio presenter. The man we were meeting (I can’t recall his name for the life of me – sorry) suggested that I come over for auditions, and give it a shot. He said ‘my nasal voice will do well on air’. I didn’t know whether to take it as a compliment or an insult.

I was 17 then, and wanted to be everything – airhostess, RJ, teacher, astronaut, economist, editor for Cosmopolitan and a businesswoman with a 9-digit bank balance. At the same time, I didn’t know what I really wanted. I was just going with the flow. All I had was confidence, and little care for failure.

I arrived at the studios a week later, and was a little overwhelmed when I looked at the console. FM101 had couple of floors in a tall building in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. It was like many other government buildings – grey, exploited and dirty. Insides were comparatively cleaner. What made it spectacular was the studio on rooftop – it had floor-to-ceiling glass windows all around, and the high vintage point offered a distinct view of the entire city. It was a beautiful sight. That was probably the reason I went ahead with auditions and gave it my best.

Management liked it, and soon I was on the airwaves. I used to be in a sound-proof room, with an assistant producer outside to screen calls and help in case of bloopers, and a producer who generally hung out in his office and listened to shows on-air.

LIVE ON FM 101

For first three weeks, I was only allowed to receive messages, and not calls. It’s a standard procedure, and I was very happy with just messages. I couldn’t believe that anyone would bother to listen to ME. I was just an ordinary girl, with a rotten taste in music, but people did tune in and messaged. THey had no idea but I felt like a rockstar!

As my shows were always live, my producer had to censor a lot of stuff in the first few days. Swear words (like shit), saying brand names aloud, male fans overstepping limits, and the works.

The music stations play are mostly pre-defined, just so that the same songs aren’t played again and again during the day. I had a request hour on Friday, where I pretended to not look at messages that requested for horrible songs. I treated it as my hour – so evil. I am sorry.

One of the most fun part of the show was playing with the console. The number of controls on it was truly impressive; I didn’t use most of them though. I used three – to switch from talk time to songs, and one to manage volume of the background music.

My only regret – I wish I had kept recording of them. At that time, I didn’t even know if it were possible or that I might need them later. How I wish I could retrieve them somehow.

WHAT I STRUGGLED THE MOST WITH

Language. My producer would have given me 5 red cards per show if he could. I was asked to manage a minimum 60% Urdu and 40% English ratio. It was a struggle. Also, my accent is very desi (and Gujrati background only makes it worse). So my ‘r’ was all over the place, and very few found it endearing.

Also, FM 101 is a very typical Urdu station. I didn’t make many friends; most just treated me like that new kid in school, whose shoes other students don’t approve of. And someone had told someone that I got in through ‘referral’. I wish! Have you met my dad?

THEN WE BROKE UP 🙁

Couple of months later, life got really busy – university started, I took up a part-time job at Women’s Own and I had to let go of riding the airwaves.

Later, I tried really hard to get in to the then cool station, FM 96, and bugged a friend, Ali Ansari, relentlessly to get me an audition. Being the nice guy that he is, he did his best, but I wasn’t cool enough to get in *wails loudly and then snorts*

HOW MUCH DID I EARN?

If you are wondering if radio pays well, I was pretty psyched to earn Rs.500 show back then. I got Rs.1500 as pocket money, so it was a big deal for me to earn decent dough via radio shows. And you know I like shoes and bags right? Also, I did fit into a lot of ready-to-wear clothes back then sigh those were the days!

Please note that my station paid the absolute least (maybe something to do with minimum wage law). A few friends in radio confirmed to earning Rs.1500 per show.

That pretty much sums up my experience behind the mic; if you have any questions or comments, happy to hear and tell you more.

Thank you for reading – I know it’s a terribly long post. If you need coffee, let’s get in touch. I am buying 🙂

(P.S. I only remember Urooj Naz from FM101, who now does a show on Samaa FM. She was an absolute sweetheart, and is still on the airwaves. I can surely learn consistency from her, along with many other things).