July 2007 – Pro Audio Magazine
Virgin Atlantic obtaining rights to fly in and out of Dubai and Sir Richard himself making the all important personal appearance, immediately prompted a flurry of interest in anything else Virgin. In the case of the newly established Fujeirah Media with their license to open two FM stations out of the Emirate, it was more an egg before the chicken affair and ostensibly the idea of Mango Media Chairman Mekki Mahmoud Abdulla. By now a credible radio consultant, Abdulla was summoned and infrastructure started appearing with ideas on how to brand the English station. An approach was made to Virgin Radio UK, but this was the wrong camp as Abdulla found out and promptly set off in the other direction out to Singapore and Virgin Radio International. Abdulla has a real story to tell as far as Gulf radio is concerned having been instrumental in the establishment of many stations throughout the UAE and now owns Mango FM in Sudan. Born in Sudan to a Sudanese father and a British Mother, Abdulla now ‘sort of’ hails from Carnforth in Lancaster where he studied mass communications at Lancaster University. He even speaks with a Lancaster accent, mixed up with some Arabic overtones. Dividing his time between Dubai, Sudan and the UK, Abdulla quips: ‘I don’t know where I am from anymore.’ His primary desire was a job in media, but bizarrely started out selling exotic fruits in England way back at the turn of the decade in 1990, when he heard a radio spot advertising for salesmen.  In 1992 he joined ‘The Bay’ FM and got the bug, explaining: ‘I had a great Managing Director by the name of Julian Allitt, a man with a vision about radio and he spent a lot of money on training me using American trainers and he was very serious about his business.’ Taking the position of Sales Director, Abdulla started to think about where he could start a radio station other than the UK, which compared to the Middle East was so much more expensive. Having done some sales work with Abu Dhabi Television prior to his move to UK, Abdulla knew the UAE well and was discerning about the advances taking place in the Emirate. Squeezing not only his time, but also his credit card limit, Abdulla traveled back and forth from the UK to Dubai every weekend, sniffing out opportunity without much initial success.
One tedious venture that led to great disappointment was the fruitless attempt to set up a station in the Jebel Ali Free Zone, causing Abdulla to all but give up. Dejected and about to get on a plane back home, his phone rang and a contact mentioned Abdulla Mohammed Murad, owner of ‘Ajman Independent Studios’, who was open to suggestions, so the two got in touch. Abdulla explained that things moved along but the partnership was complex whereby he invested in the transmitter and the antenna with Murad looking after other financial aspects. Using trusted engineering consultancy supplied by friends in the UK and a low cost Italian transmitter, Abdulla reveals the shoe string budget sequence of events that led to the launch about a year later in 1997, of the independent English language Channel 4 FM. Located in Ajman itself, with a base transmitter of only 2kw, coupled to two doublers, Channel 4 radiated from a 130 metre high mast and was clearly beamed at Dubai. Although the base of the mast is not so far off sea level, so powerful and clean was the transmission that troposphere anomalies
coupled with atmosphere inversions allowed the station to be heard 300 odd miles away in Bahrain. More recently, Channel 4’s transmission elements enjoyed a beneficial makeover and a considerable increase in output power.
Sounding relatively professional compared to anything before it, Channel 4 was an immediate success and the revenue flowed in, but the partnership was not to last. On Valentine’s Day 1999, Abdulla and Murad involuntarily decided to part company, causing much speculation and whispers in the community. ‘He exercised a clause in our agreement and that’s how it happened’ said Abdulla, adding that as far as his settlement was concerned: ‘No, it’s obviously never come through.’
Abdulla’s next move was to spend a year on contract with Emirates Media in Abu Dhabi where the idea to revamp the old ‘Capitol Radio’ was born. After some rearrangements and the release of an FM frequency for English transmissions, Emirates ‘Radio One’ and ‘Radio Two’ were launched. Although the transmission is from a thumping transmitter in Abu Dhabi, most of the programmes emanate from studios in Dubai. Abdulla continued explaining that the not so lucrative contract was fulfilled and it was time to move again.  Media City Dubai was beginning to grow like bamboo in a rain forest and he got the call to get involved with the also blossoming Arabian Radio Network, launching Free FM which eventually amalgamated with Dubai FM. Again the marriage was short lived and Abdulla started negotiations with the authorities in Fujairah.  In between times he headed off for Cairo in 2003, setting up private radio stations there, both Arabic and English, which he quips: ‘Make an obscene amount of money.’ Extremely happy with his Egyptian deal over the year he was involved, Abdulla says: ‘They gave me my money and I made enough to open my own station in Khartoum, Sudan. We are two years old this September.’  Abdulla explains that he had been trying for many years to get this off the ground adding:: ‘You need a lot of patience if you want anything to happen in Sudan, but I am passionate and I kept on chipping away, when the government really thought that I would eventually just go away, I didn’t. Once approval was given, we were up and running in 30 days.’ Channel 4 also operates a station there:  ‘They only did that because I was there.’ Said Abdulla.  He now spends half his time in Khartoum and the other half dashing between Dubai and Fujairah and what was hoped might be the launch pad for a Virgin Radio UAE, but as we know, that possibility has been abandoned. With all the uncertainty surrounding the Virgin maneuvers, it might be no surprise at all if there was an about face at some stage and Virgin started negotiating with Fujairah Media once more, especially if the other contenders decide that a Virgin tie up is not viable.
With Oman to its north and south, Fujairah is a small Emirate on the Gulf of Oman side of the peninsular which tips at the Straight of Hormuz.  Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Ra’s Al Khaimah are on the Arabian Gulf side of the straight. Modern Fujairah is perched at one of the few sandy places where the dramatic Al Hajar mountain range does not cascade into the sea. The jebal (mountain) is defined as a western and eastern range, with most of it in Oman territory, but a substantial part of the foothills and some stunning peaks lie between Fujairah and Sharjah and to get to either from either, you must go
through them. Until recently, Fujairah was always considered the quiet member state, but there is now a noticeable drive to liven the place up and get in on the media act. Hence the formation of Fujairah Media and the immediate setup of the two new FM stations.  ‘Who you gonna call?’
Well, Ghostbusters may not be such an obscure service if you continue to read the story, but first on the authority’s list was Abdulla’s because of his track record in the industry.
Currently, the studios and offices are being fitting out in Fujairah and it is not only radio set for launch from within, a television station is well under way also Arabic programmes are up and running from studios in Dubai, but for time being, the English service is still on test and consists of random pop songs from the output of an off the shelf PC running Windows Media Player. The studios in Dubai are linked back to Fujairah using a Prima ISDN codec.  The transmitters and indeed the entire transmission link are Italian from ‘R.V.R. Elettronica S.p.a’, a company that has a strong reputation in the region and indeed have the majority of installations.
It is still unclear in more ways that one, as to which FM frequency the English service will use because it has changed a few times as they test for interference. Quite how many frequencies are available to them in UAE is unknown, but asking for frequency in any other Gulf state is like asking for paella in a Chinese take-away.
A Virgin or any other name out of Fujairah would certainly be heard with transmitter and 80 feet mast perched high in the inhospitable and very black ‘Al Hajar’ mountains. The total height is almost 1,000 metres above sea level and by far the highest point of transmission for any commercial station in the area. Another radio mast on a slightly higher peak sits about half a mile away, but this reportedly belongs to the Oman military and is only accessible by helicopter
With a maximum official power output of 5KW per transmitter, the signal would be hard pressed to navigate the very high and extremely rugged terrain that separates the two Emirates. To overcome these difficulties and reach their intended target Dubai, some nightmare logistics had to be dealt with. Without using the obvious pun, Abdulla and his team along with his absolutely fearless and some might discern lunatic Sudanese technician Rami Azza Gaafar, took to the mountains and went exploring. Miraculously they found an eerie, isolated spot high in the middle of these fearsome peaks, smack on the borders of Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Oman. Believe it or not, there are little border markers out there, no roads, no water and very little civilization, but there are tiny little stick markers, which obviously mean something to someone, but to most I can assure you, if you are not sure about your visa, be very careful where you tread.
Very worthy of mention is the fact that this antenna installation is a marvelous feat of engineering without the aid of anything that remotely resembles modern technology. With Mars looking like a tranquil meadow compared to this location, National Geographic would have a field day and obtain enough material for a riveting programme detailing this structure’s evolution against all odds. In quite possibly the remotest place
on the planet, two transmitters, sit at the bottom of the mast in a purpose built concrete bunker at the top of this isolated peak. Between the transmitters sits a combiner, which as the name suggests combines both frequencies and pumps them up the mast to the antenna array. Three doublers sit in the rack, amply covering the station’s power requirements now and in the future. Eight antenna arrays point to Dubai on one side of the mast with another four arrays pointing in the opposite direction at Fujairah. There are multiple ports on the wave guide which feed each section of the antenna arrays.
Getting to the site each day is a documentary in itself. We left the main highway which links Fujairah and Sharjah at the foot of the mountains. From there it was a scary 2 hour drive over make shift tracks and boulders, diving in and out of vast crevasses and valleys. About 30 minutes in, we could see the mast on the not so distant horizon which never seemed to get any closer as we weaved our way through Armageddon. Once we eventually neared the site, it was clear to see that the most direct route to the installation would be straight up the side of that particular mountain peak and indeed there was a track which resembled the aftermath of an avalanche. Fortunately for the meek there is a very slightly less dramatic route to the top, but it takes you another 30 minutes or so to navigate. Rami (he never uses any other name), prefers to ‘ram’ his SUV into low range and charge at this near vertical avalanche route like a bull on steroids; even then it is doubtful that you will get more than quarter way up before either flipping over or losing traction as boulders render your vehicle suspended with four wheels spinning in midair.. Fearful that this was about to happen again, the crew stared ahead motionless, frozen to their by now squelchy seats, until Rami calmly and without emotion said: ‘Not now, I only do that when I am on my own’. Clearly understandable; this is his fifth vehicle in almost as many months, the others having fallen off the mountain with him inside. In one case he rolled from half way up the track to some 500 metres down below in a shallow valley.  Emerging yet again without a scratch on him, he explains: ‘As soon as I feel I am falling, I hit the seat back and lie flat, so when the roof caves in on me it only traps me, but doesn’t crush me.’ Pictures of the aftermath reveal his truck looking like it had just passed through a combined harvester. A parachute might be the easiest and safest way to descend, but we chose the avalanche and I am actually unsure if this article is being writing on earth or in heaven, since I think we all blacked out with fear about half way down.
Rami spends most of his days and a lot of his nights up the mountain looking after the installation. He explains in great detail how he managed to haul all the bits up there, including a 20 ton generator, which looks an absolute impossibility without use of helicopters and no helicopters were used.
‘It was easy, I borrowed the Municipality bulldozers and diggers and carved the initial tracks through the rocks, then using a caterpillar tractor, I put the generator on a flat bed and winched it up.’ Fortunately, power lines run across the mountains, so using considerable intuition, a 3 phase line was tapped and sent up to the transmitter installation. Water is made or should we say collected from the air conditioning condensation run offs and when he is not sleeping in the transmitter housing, Rami beds
himself down in a make-shift wooden shed, which is a luxury apartment compared to anything else up there.
Security is hardly a problem with a 1,000 metre sheer drop all around and only the drone of the air conditioners and the mast aircraft warning lights to keep you company. There is nothing to fear if the lights go out, because nobody can see you either. However, obtaining watchmen to stay on the site has presented a problem because they have nowhere to run or hide when they encounter the ghost that haunts the peak.  Rami tells us: ‘It is fine, he (the ghost) is there every night and likes to play games. As long as you do not cover the water tank man hole, he will only play around by moving things and stealing your mobile phone, but if you replace the cover he goes absolutely mad and gets very angry.’ The sightings and accounts are credible and one wonders where this ghost came from in such a remote place?  It may have something to do with a nearby fixture, for not a mile away as the crow flies; but 30 minutes or more by vehicle, down in the  valley leading back to Fujairah there are a few old buildings which used to be the site of the original Government of Fujeirah some 60 odd years ago, before being moved to the coast and its present location. Nearby on one of the dramatic peaks is a small prison hut where prisoners were executed in traditional Islamic style, having their heads swiftly removed by sword. If this is the case, then perhaps there are many more than one ghost trotting or floating around the mountains.
On a roadside leading away from the antenna peak, you will find two very large boulders one on top of the other, which have somehow been placed there by humans, one would of thought , but Rami explains: ‘This is where the ghost lives, under these rocks, and God help anyone who moves those stones.’ It is doubtful anyone could, but like Stonehenge, they were not placed there by some freak of nature. In fact recently, in the middle of night, while on his way home from the transmitter site, Rami was bouncing his way along the carved out route when he saw two very large red eyes glaring at him from the pitch black surround. In total panic, and fearing a severe heart attack, he dropped the gear box and flew as fast as he could out of the mountains, caring nothing for the stability of the vehicle on those wild tracks. Rami recalled: ‘How I got down from there I don’t know, but I was nearly upside down most of the time racing away.’  Next day, in broad daylight Rami gingerly approach the spot where he thought he saw the two starring eyes only to reveal a step down transformer set into the rock side which the government had recently installed. The two eyes where just red marker lights, but without exaggeration, in total blackness, in the desolate wilderness, it is easy to think the bizarre.
If you are looking for a very challenging position and think you have the credentials to become a semi tech watchman exorcist for Fujairah FM, then perhaps you should apply. The job will keep you on your toes and very alert to say the least and it might be prudent to pack some strong garlic sandwiches and a can or two of holy water; or whatever else a transmission technician needs to bring the joys of radio to the masses from the mountain.



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