Why is the Malayali diaspora in the Gulf fascinated with radio shows?
This year marks the Silver Jubilee of Malayalam radio in the UAE. In the Gulf, radio presenters or RJs, are akin to celebrities. Most of them have amassed a humongous dedicated fanbase—who not only assist them by raising millions during Ramadan charity events but also do crazy things like sending 150-page letters.
So, how does this communication platform thrive in this instant information age?
Sruthi K S, a former journalist who spent a few years in Sharjah, really understands the subtle nuances of this phenomenon. She explores the Malayali expatriate community’s quarter-century-long infatuation with ‘all-things radio’ via a recently released anthology of essays titled On Air.
To really appreciate how deeply the 25 lakh-strong expatriate community in the Gulf values their regional radio programmes, one has to look back to the ’60s. The then gushing oil wells in the region led to a mass migration of Malayalis looking for better opportunities.
Yet, little did those blue-collar workers know that it would result in decades of complete disconnect from their Motherland—ISD calls were expensive, letters/goody bags reached sparsely, no regional TV existed, and daily newspapers arrived days after publication, if at all.
“But, all that changed in 1992 when Ras Al Khaimah Radio’s RJ K P K Vengara started broadcasting in Malayalam. Since then, they’ve found a direct lifeline to Kerala. Over time—while being stuck indoors all-day due to the heat or being caught in gridlocked traffic for hours—radio show hosts became engrained into the ‘pravasi Malayalis’ daily itinerary ” begins Shruthi, who edited the book containing essays from 23 different RJs including Mithun Ramesh, who holds the Guinness Record for co-hosting the longest marathon radio/music show at 84 hours and 15 minutes.
With the advent of online radio and declining ad rates looming overhead, two amongst the previous 12 AM/FM stations in the region closed down. “In this 144-page book, we find out that old/young RJs across the GCC remain hopeful about staying on the airwaves. These essays aren’t just about the birth and growth of radio in the Gulf Peninsula. They showcase how presenters also recount some heart-warming incidents that urge them to go back on air every day,” concludes the 30-year-old.
On Air is priced at `150
Details: 0497 2761200