More men have been getting in touch with their romantic side during the movement control order (MCO), observes DJ Lin who hosts the love show, Suria Cinta, on Malay-language radio station Suria.
“I’m actually quite surprised because a lot of people say it’s the women who are usually more romantic and expressive with their words, ” says the 43-year-old deejay who has helmed the show for 20 years now.
Suria Cinta (weeknights and Sundays, 8pm to 1am) features a segment which gives listeners a chance to dedicate messages to that special someone in their lives.
“And these messages our male callers would share during the MCO can be quite long. They could be in the form of love quotes, poems or just heartfelt words, ” she elaborates.
DJ Lin, who is also Suria’s programme manager, is talking to StarLifestyle about the effect the MCO, which began over a month ago, has had on local radio shows.
From changes in listenership patterns to major shifts in the day-to-day routine of radio deejays themselves, we uncover how Malaysian radio stations such as Suria and 988 are adapting to the MCO.
As radio stations fall under the “broadcasting” category in the list of essential services determined by the government, Suria and Chinese-language station 988 are allowed to operate during the MCO.
But it’s not exactly business as usual for the radio stations, as strict precautionary measures must be observed.
For example, adhering to social distancing rules, only a maximum of two radio deejays are allowed to be in one recording studio at any given time.
988’s breakfast show, Morning Up (weekdays, 6am to 10am), is hosted by four deejays – Chan Fong, Joycelyn, Emily and Aaron.
“We’ve divided ourselves into two pairs, ” says Chan Fong. “So in the first week, one pair will go on air from our studio and the other pair will prepare and produce content at home. In the second week, the pairs will switch places.”
And that’s not all. “Those two radio deejays recording from our studio actually sit far apart from each other, ” explains Chan Fong.
“And when it comes to our microphones, there’s a removable cushion cover that we slip on before using and slip off immediately after. Every deejay has their own.”
DJ Lin shares that Suria also takes similar precautions – only two deejays are allowed at a time at the studio.
The radio stations try to keep the amount of workforce entering the studio to a minimum. 988 estimates 70% of its deejays are now working from home.
But having at least one person at the studio is still necessary as he or she needs to answer calls from listeners (deejays at home won’t be able to do that as calls are made to the studio).
DJ Lin, who anchors her love show alone, heads to the studio almost every day to offer her callers a shoulder to lean on.
Asked if her family members worry about her having to go to work during the MCO, she replies: “Of course there is some worry, but they know I’m not going out just for fun. They understand I have to do my job. So they would always remind me to wear my mask and so forth.”
Additionally, guest artistes and speakers – who are usually present at the studio – are now interviewed via phone or video calls instead.
Recording from home
Working from home has its fair share of difficulties too. Cassey Soo, who anchors 988’s evening programme Power Show (weekdays, 4pm to 7.30pm) from her home, says setting up a makeshift recording space was tough.
“It was challenging trying to put everything together. Sourcing for a professional microphone, finding a software that syncs with my laptop and learning how to record and edit in a short amount of time was quite overwhelming but with the help of my 988 colleagues, I managed to do it, ” Soo explains.
Soo says interacting with her co-anchors remotely isn’t a challenge for her as they’ve developed a strong rapport over time. “The only problem is, some of us have slower internet speeds. So there would be a lag in conversations at times.”
It’s not just technical difficulties that Soo has to navigate through.
“When you’re living with someone else, they have to be understanding. When you’re recording, it has to be absolute silence. No cooking, no slamming of doors. So they have to put up a lot with us, ” she reflects.
On top of that, there are other factors working against her that she has no control over.
“Usually, there are sounds of dogs barking, cars driving by or someone mowing the grass and you have no control over all that. So the only thing I can do is pause the recording and continue after the sound has stopped.
“I think our listeners heard a dog barking once, which we weren’t aware of during recording.”
With the initial teething problems out of the way, Soo says she has gotten the hang of things now and is adjusting well to her new work environment.
Change in listeners’ behaviour
With many Malaysians working from home during the MCO, naturally, they tend to wake up later. This, in turn, means listeners are turning on their radios a little later too.
“Callers usually flood 988’s breakfast show around 7am. With the MCO, we receive a lot of callers around 8am, ” notes Chan Fong.
Perhaps waking up later means listeners stay up later too.
Chan Fong shares there has been more people tuning into its evening programming belt. “Usually, when we go on air, we also document it on Facebook Live. The views there have doubled during the MCO for our evening shows.”
Indeed, radio shows these days aren’t just hitting the traditional radio airwaves but online too, where viewers can not only listen but watch their favourite deejays in action.
Soo comments about the rise in online listenership during the MCO: “You don’t necessarily listen to the radio only when you’re in your car, driving. You can listen to us on the 988 app for instance.”
“I think people are curious to see what work from home means for radio announcers. They are able to see you working in your pyjamas, ” she says with a laugh.
Both 988 and Suria have established a strong digital presence and are working on widening their range of offerings even more now.
For instance, some of 988’s contents are available only on its app or social media platforms, from peeling open issues plaguing SMEs to light-hearted fare like hosting a virtual supper party where its announcers slurp on a bowl of instant noodles while interacting and playing games with audiences.
DJ Lin also shares some of Suria’s digital efforts: “We just partnered with a recording company and held a concert featuring local singers like Hazama and Adira on Facebook Live recently.
“We’ve also been doing Instagram Live with top local celebs like Siti Nurhaliza.”
Most recently, through the Insta Bazar Suria campaign, the radio station will go in search of the best buka puasa offerings via Instagram and conduct reviews and interviews with the owners.
Taking care of the heart, soul and mind
Radio stations must also be quick to respond to the needs of the listeners when it comes to discussing the most pressing issues of the day.
With the Covid-19 pandemic being on everybody’s minds, 988 and Suria have made it a point to produce quality content on the subject.
From managing one’s finances during these uncertain times to tackling the rise of domestic abuse cases during the MCO, the deejays speak to relevant qualified professionals on these topics to get their views. But more than just engaging the mind, the radio stations have always been known as a place for weary hearts to find release and solace.
DJ Lin and Chan Fong have been playing Agony Aunt (and Uncle) for years, listening to problems and dishing out advice on their shows Suria Cinta and City Heartbeat (Fridays, 10pm to 1am), respectively.
Both segments have seen an uptick in callers, the deejays report.
“People unload about what their life during MCO is like and their worries about not being able to go to work and losing their source of income, ” Chan Fong shares.
“Despite the fact that there has been reports on the rise in domestic violence during the MCO, so far I haven’t gotten any calls on that.
“I have callers talking about facing some tension in family relationships. A lot of these problems have existed even before the MCO, and the MCO merely brings them up to the surface, ” he adds.
Meanwhile, the relationship-skewed Suria Cinta has seen a pattern in callers expressing how much they miss their romantic partners.
“A lot of the frustration comes from people who have just started to get to know and fall in love with their partner. Of course, they can still talk to each other on the phone but usually, they’d be able to go out and see each other every weekend.
“With the MCO going on for more than a month now, you can see why they miss each other so much, ” DJ Lin offers.
Music also has a part to play in helping listeners get through the pandemic, evidenced by a minor shift in music tastes.
“Suria listeners have been requesting mostly the same songs as before but I’ve noticed one thing – we’ve been getting more requests for spiritual songs during the MCO, ” DJ Lin points out.
“Maybe it’s because people want to listen to songs that lift their spirit up and build their faith during these times. In response to that, we’ve increased the frequency of these songs to two or three songs every hour.”
How are the deejays themselves holding up?
They find respite in doing the things they love and spending time with their loved ones at home.
“I’ve been cooking every day since the MCO started. I’m taking this opportunity to polish my cooking skills and more importantly, bond with my children, who help me out in the kitchen, ” says DJ Lin.
Meanwhile, Chan Fong offers: “My children are actually very busy with their online studies on the weekdays. But on the weekends, we’ll do family activities like bake a cake together.”
Soo, who lives away from her parents, believes it is important to stay in touch now more than ever.
She says: “My parents are in Sabah and my sister and I are here together.
“This MCO, my dad learned how to use the webcam for the first time, so that’s how we stay connected.
“I worry about them and they worry about us. There’s nothing I can do but to just let them know that I’m fine.”
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