We cannot really say that it is history repeating itself, but there is a familiar smell and in the Arab world in general, there is no smoke without fire FULL STOP! Some time back, there were murmurs within the clan about Coast Radio (Fujeira) being in a spot of trouble; not only rumours of nonpayment of wages, but also the niggling transmission problems that has dogged the station. (For international readers; Fujeira  is in the United Arab Emirates, over the black Al Hajar mountains from Dubai), I also suspected that the Murads out at Ajman, the current kings of ‘sock it to me baby’ independence and Channel 4 FM, had bunged Fujeira Media a wad and Emirates Neon Group (ENG) a wave and proceeded to take over the running of the station. (Ajman is another Emirate just down the road from Dubai and very nice it is too, See other articles on this blog).

In retrospect, the now standard press release, as printed in every paper and web site word for word, refers to the tie up as ‘joint cooperation’, but who is actually holding the joint has yet to be revealed as of this little missive. So prior to Coast’s subsequent demise last week, I thought perhaps it was time to pay a visit to the Emirates and sniff out the current scene; introduce Francis Currie round the place and have a word with my old mate Mekki Abdulla of Mango Media and the rather outgoing son of Channel 4’s owner, Mohammed Al Murad.

Mekki has his finger in a lot of things, but no one but he is ever sure quite to what extent and he has a history with Channel 4. However, Mekki is a lovable chap and very upfront and I do adore him, no matter what others might reserve about him; but then he doesn’t pay me either. (Joking Meks). This time however, he was a bit stirred but not shaken when I mentioned the CH4 take over ahead of any official announcement and was not so forthcoming, but as much as he might hide, he cannot keep much from me and his demeanor was quite telling. Mohammed Murad on the other hand asked me to wait a few weeks until the dust settles and then I hope to get to talk to him for Pro Audio.  So until something happens, or someone gives me the nod, I cannot bring you any news. The fact is I really am not sure anyone knows what to do with Coast as is. Make is a rock station? Well I have my strong ideas on what to do with it and pop rock would feature as a back drop only, but we’ll have to see.

Meanwhile the DJs are finding time to mull in the Malls over coffee and almost proudly announce their redundancy. If the grapevine is true, the likes of former ‘every station’ DJ Rick Houghton is still receiving monthly film star wages in excess of 4 Lak because of his contract. So what was all that about nonpayment of salaries?  Hey Rick, you’re buying next time.

I met up with my old mate Jeff Price who also happens to be between stations and I paid for the chino. Malcolm Taylor was also supposed to meet me, but last heard was abducted by an alien on his way to me. I met with Vikram Dhar of Gulf News Radio 1 & 2 and all the crew and I’ll write about that next. I had dinner with a rather good copywriter by the name of Kellie Whitehead and many other old friends who have nothing to do with radio and media at all. I also got smiled at a few times by an extremely attractive, what I assume was an lady of the night on Sheik Zayid road. I say ‘assume’ because I don’t speak the lingo of the night and besides I am generally transparent to all sexes with the fairer ones finding me completely invisible.  So all in all a good trip, but I do have motive and it is all to do with radio.

The thing is, Channel 4 out of Ajman has one hell of a signal which actually pumps around the entire Arabian Gulf from ground level and in summer can be heard in Bahrain, some 300 miles away. The troposphere has a lot to do with that, but there are other elements involved.  This is much more than you can say of any other station in the Gulf, with their antenna up mountains and on top of high rise. I know how CH4 do it and have advised others in the area on how to do it as well, but absolutely NOBODY listens because broadcast media, its principle, the platform, the art, is perceived as having no eclectic value, so the in house electrician takes care of most of the installations. Low power, hiss and the very frequent ‘essing’ and imbalances on air go unhealed because nobody cares or understands it.  It is only what the gob on air might utter that attracts attention and that can be traumatic and very sudden for the offender. The geeky men behind transmission theory, cable standing waves and so on are mostly small podgy things with little round John Lennon glasses and speak with high stuttery voices. From my perspective, if you want a kicking popular station, then it is not only the art of radio, but ultra important is the technical aspect as well and I don’t mean that yuckspeak crap ‘Hit Station’, so you need a resident geek to fight the modulation and capture, but which station has one?

As most of my associates know, before I became a gob myself all those years ago, Marconi was still alive and I worked for him. I started in the Royal Navy with an ambition to fly phantoms, but Harold Wilson and his red cronies (many in government now), put pay to that by cancelling the Fleet Air Arm at that time, so I went into Radio and Radar and then did the bit at Plymouth University (then Polytechnic) and joined the Merchant Navy for a few years.  So I used to be able to fix anything radio and studies dictated that I should be able to design them, but that got to be a bit brain damaging for me so I decided on coming out of the radio instead of poking around inside them. I soon got into presenting and production and low and behold no contest. Anyway, I digress.

Really and truly, I should live in one of two places; London where I grew up and just love it and should have stayed and embraced the London radio scene if at all possible and I have been very close indeed. The other is Dubai as it is the dog’s bits and I was in and out of Dubai long before buildings and real roads appeared there.  Alas, I live in and love Bahrain for all its good and bad and I have a lot of good friends, some way up the ‘oh he’s nice to know ladder’, but I never ask favours and funny enough never seem to get any either. But the Bahrainis are special friends in general and a unique nation of mostly very nice people.  There are a good few shit bags as well, but that is the world over.

So why am I not in Dubai permanently?  Well I could be quite easily, but unfortunately, my business partner is not so keen and since she controls the purse, it was becoming difficult to warrant the servicing. With my extensive connections or just the people I knew, it was quite easy to do business but by the same token, the massive influx and new bums on seats in such vast numbers, with not living there, I could quickly get left behind. You might not believe this, but I was among the first, if not the first to be little individual called to endorse Media City when it was just an earmarked area. I was called several times because of my reputation around the region and it was assumed I would be the perfect small creative business candidate outside of the big broadcasters’ league of course. Shortly after, a lady named Louis Saad spoke to me at length a couple of times trying to persuade me to move in and I really did give it a lot of thought. I based my assessments on Bahrain and the attitude to media there and decided that Media City would ‘probably not work’. Has anyone got a loaded gun I can use; I feel a self inflicted hole in the head coming on?  I was wrong, very wrong.

I have been off the Dubai scene more recently because I was extremely ill and completely debilitated for 18 months since September 07 due to a chronic allergic reaction to an injection, which we thought I might never recover from. Prior to my illness I was in Dubai every week doing radio bits, voice-overs, conferences, videos and servicing a large Mall Radio Lamcy which landed on my desk by necessity and accident rather than me going after that sort of activity.  The city was becoming very expensive, very crowded and air fares in and out starting to be a joke. It was taking six hours to go from one meeting in Media City to a Mall in Bur Dubai. Even if we were doing videos for a particular hotel, that hotel would not give us accommodation or discount because they were full and receiving premium rates as much as AED 2,500 a night. On top of that,  many media facilities moved in all claiming to be better than Steven Spielberg and quite frankly the increasing pathetically  low standards completely swamped the few good pieces around.

It was decided to opt out, but we still had Lamcy and a few old clients. What to do?  In the 80s and only on request, I used to run mall and group or network radio and it was quite intense in those days because it was all on cassette. Tim Jones, Head Honcho at Lamcy and for the Lal’s Group, is truly a great friend of mine, we are close, but that had little to do with me being commissioned for radio and advertising work for the companies he controlled, though of course it helped. In the old days, Tim was pioneering the franchising and operation of many famous high street fashion outlets in the region and he knows his stuff, but above all, has good ears and eyes for creative and professional sounding media and is a radio man through and through, he is a very big supporter of the medium. Tim likes what I do, but he drives a very hard bargain in remuneration.  Tim was at a lose end and called me out of the blue asking me to put a system in Lamcy. The previous suppliers were out of contract as I understood or discontinued for one reason or another. I discovered later that it was Rick Houghton’s company and Rick was leaving Dubai Fm to join Radio City in Liverpool.    To be honest I wanted out of it or at least some relief because it was driving me and for sure many others absolute nuts, trying to get things done there if you didn’t live in Dubai.  Also to hire sales people during this gross inflationary period was prohibitive.  Nonetheless, Lamcy was slick, the inserts well done and we controlled it from Bahrain. The advertising pie was getting bigger but smaller at the same time because more and more radio stations were opening up.

Back to the present and with the current depression, life in Dubai became very suddenly very pleasant for some and a nightmare for others. I cannot think of a country or an instance where the effect was felt so fast. The town went from massive traffic jams to near quiet paradise over night and sad for those who had to leave or circumstances made them. So what is next, if we survive, do we have to start all over again as familiar faces or will there be a massive influx of new people when the troubles die down, all strutting their stuff as if they know it all and a proclaim to be a breath of fresh air putting us old dinosaurs out to pasture?  Some of that for sure, but I think my stuff will weather it.


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