Monday, October 23, 2006


I love radio. I've owned a radio as long as I can remember. Throughout my insomniac youth I smuggled my radio under the covers and eventually fell asleep to Casey Kasem or Wolfman Jack or the Ten O’Clock News. In Italy in the days before cable TV and English language anything, we had Armed Forces Radio. We got music, news, and weekend afternoons with novels, old radio serials, and talk shows out of the UK or US. College in Boston was radio heaven. My radio station was WGBH, with All Things Considered, A Prairie Home Companion, Morning Pro-Musica, Car Talk, Songs for Aging Children, and all the BBC radio game shows. Or I tuned into WERS, the hippest college radio station in town with leading edge (it was punk then) music, fantastic jazz and my buddy Carl’s classical show. When I went to DC it was all about National Public Radio and occasional AM talk radio; I spent my morning commute getting up on current events and gossip in the District. In Japan & Korea, radio was my entertainment of necessity. And choice. I didn’t have a television during most of my teens and twenties and didn’t miss it at all. Don’t have one now (though I do have my DVDs) and I don’t care.

I’ve always felt that my morning commute is better for having the radio on. CDs are nice, but rush hour just means radio to me. However, the radio in this town is utter, utter crap.

First, there is virtually no choice. My car radio gets three stations in English (Radio 2, Radio 4 and D. FM I think they’re called), each worse than the next. Most of the music is either trashy pop or bubblegum stuff from the 70s and 80s, much of which never got popular enough to make it across the Pond, and so is alien to me. Second, there is no talk radio at all. There is the occasional ‘interview’ show, but it’s either some amateur pop psycher giving fatuous advice, or a thinly disguised hour-long advert for some real estate scheme. Third, even the “favorite” station here (and therefore I suppose the ‘best’) is appallingly bad. I suffered though Thi Bidda Meex for my first few years here and put up with the silly morning shows and insipid music on my way to work. They’ve got a woman there who has the Ugliest Voice on Radio, and I even put up with her for a while, except that the late morning talk show she hosts/ed got so inane that I couldn’t deal with the awful topics on top of listening to her talk, so I turned her off (Please god she’s only spinning discs now and not interviewing any more – I even can’t bear to turn it on to find out.) Except for the hour of jazz between 9 & 10 pm that I run into every now and then (the DJ is pleasant if a bit vapid, but she has decent taste in music and knows when to shut up), these people wouldn’t get airtime on Community Free Radio back home.

I felt my commute was captive to Thi Bidda Meex until I discovered iPod and podcasts earlier this year. Now I’ve got WGBH, KQED, BBC, Radio Wales, NPR, Jim Lehrer, Washington Week, and all kinds of great things to listen to, provided I keep my iPod charged up. Which it wasn’t this afternoon. So sitting in Sharjah traffic, I decided to give Thi Bidda Meex one last go. I tuned in and caught the Beach Boys singing “Kokomo”, a catchy, 80s tune I hadn’t heard in a while. Promising. I sang along (as you do) until, three refrains before the song was over, the idiot DJ starts in yapping about something or other. He didn’t even bother to fade out the end of the song. How or why he thought what he had to say was more interesting than the Beach Boys listing Carribean islands is beyond me.

I switched it off. I should have known better. The iPod is charging up as we speak.


Blogger nzm said...

Yeah - it's pretty shocking isn't it? And I know exactly who you're talking about.

The first one is a kiwi with a cringe-worthy accent and thankfully not all kiwis speak like that.

The second is a wannabe American with her sultry voice laying it on so thick that's it's enough to make me want to turn it off. However, as you say, the music that she chooses is her saving grace.

We don't listen to any radio now, preferring CDs in the car, or no music at all - just talking to each other.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Grumpy Goat said...

Have you ever experienced the dubious delights of QBS? The Qatar Broadcasting Company, or possibly Corporation, may be found on 97.5MHz and is the only English-language broadcast radio station available in that particular sandland.

The station tries to be all things to all men, with the usual morning music and banal chit-chat interspersed with news bulletins. The afternoon is, or at least was when I lived in Qatar, devoted to broadcasting in French. The evening broadcast is almost invariably some female DJ who pretends to be American and regards the national broadcasting station as a means to massage the egos of her personal chums.

Aside from one hour a week each of folk, blues and jazz, and the occasional imported panel game, there is very little on QBS worthy of broadcasting.

Like all local radio, the station seems to spend its life filling in time between the news. Three minutes before the hour we get a two-minute recording of Arabian oud. Then a minute of military band music that is not the National Anthem. The ten-minute news bulletin spends its entirety advising the populace in excruciating detail of all the machinations of various members of local royalty sending 'cables of congratulation' to one another.

There is great delight to be had when the newsreader encounters names of dignitaries that are unexpectedly difficult to pronounce. Normal English proves hard enough for some of the presenters: there is a tenDENcy to put THE stress on the wrong syllAbles!

At least in the UAE there's some choice in listening to broadcast radio. Personally, I tune to 89.7MHz during the day and get BBC World Service in glorious VHF. Failing that, there remains the option of CDs or tapes.

8:32 AM  
Blogger MamaDuck said...

I'm with you on this. It's the one thing that I continue to miss and really resent the absence of.

Definitely in the car, on the same tedious journey, day after day, when something intelligent would key me up for the day ahead, or tear my mind away from work (or torpor) on the ride home.

But also at home, when I'm cleaning up, or doing something else fairly straightforward, which means I'm relaxed and able to listen in for an hour or two.

The best for anyone who hasn't got an iPod is BBC World Service - if you can tune it in. Unfortunately, I only get good reception at work. At home it sounds as if it's being broad cast from the Tower of Babel just as Jehovah rained down his wrath.

I was thinking of getting an MP3 player, but it sounds as if I should follow your lead.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Grumpy Goat said...

My mistake. BBC World Service is available on 87.9MHz in Dubai and 90.3MHz in Abu Dhabi.

3:14 PM  
Blogger elle said...

I miss the radio too. We don't get much English reception in Al Ain, now and again we can pick something up for about 5min, depends where one is driving. In fact we're so desperate for some form of English radio we'd listen to anything!!

7:33 PM  
Blogger Keefieboy said...

Thi Bidda Meex. You misheard it - what they say is 'The Betamax'. For good or ill, my current Beemer has a non-functional radio/cassette (plus a new fully-functional CD player/radio that lives in the boot until such time as I can be bothered to take it somewhere and have it installed). But yeah, our local radio is rubbish, telly is worse, I read books, 'newspapers' and blogs. I don't think I'm missing anything.

10:30 PM  
Blogger trailingspouse said...

I gave up on local radio after the first month of living here; it just made me want to vomit. Many moons ago, in a former life, I used to spend half my day in the car driving around Toronto and listened to CBC (Canada Broadcasting Co - our BBC wannabe) and it had excellent talk radio. Sometimes I would be late for appointments because I didn't want to get out of the car and miss a "good" bit. I can tune into the CBC over the internet here, but it's always incredibly laid back music, as it's the middle of the night back there *sigh*.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Gnomad said...

Having talk radio would rather rely on some of the local, non-deportable, population actually having something worth saying.

I do feel that the intellectual capacity of a society is largely reflected by its broadcast media.

To be fair, the Doha Debates were actually rather good, (yes TV I know, but I couldnt think of a single indigenous radio show worth listening to in the Gulf) but they were a shining beacon amongst the usual miasma of dross.

Maybe I am being a little harsh right now, but dealing with the bureaucracy of the Magic Kingdom does rather jaundice ones views.


3:16 AM  
Blogger dubaibaggie said...

Try tuning to Dubai Eye on 103.8.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Entertaining blog! I had to comment on the radio show Car Talk. Before life in Dubai, each Saturday morning meant listening to Click and Clack, the Tappert brothers (spelling?). Jokes and tuning tips in one great program!

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah...WOSU in Columbus, OH, USA late 1970s, ending each day with Moody Blues "Late Lament" from Days of Future Past:
Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
watch lights fade from every room... cold hearted orb that rules the night
removes the colors from our sight.
Red is grey, yellow white,
but we decide which is right
and which is an illusion.

Noah Adams reading The Moon's Revenge and Polar Express, NPR and Pacifica news, late night jazz sets with local DJs, talk shows about interesting books and classical music, replays of old radio dramas, a spattering of new radio dramas .....ah.....real radio.

And here in Dubai, radio announcers who can't be bothered to learn to pronounce local place and people names, much less names and places from the international scene (Koo-fee Anne-un?), playing some sort of rap stuff they call R & B (has this been redefined since my youth?). Other stations where I tried to figure out what language was in use--only to discover that it was English all along...

7:22 PM  

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