988 Chan Fong has found his apprentices

988 Morning Up host Aaron Chen. photo: handout

When radio stalwart Chan Fong announced in April his search for an apprentice, little did he expect that 988 radio station would be inundated with more than a hundred applications!

Having 28 years of broadcasting experience under his belt, Chan’s name is practically synonymous with radio industry in Malaysia.

As the No.1 personality in the local Chinese language radio scene, Chan probably should not be that surprised that his talent search campaign attracted industry newcomers and broadcasting professionals alike.

“The response was overwhelming and I was very impressed with the quality of the entries that we received. Most of the applicants have what it takes to be a DJ,” Chan exclaimed in a recent interview.

He is, of course, best-loved by radio listeners as the deejay who dishes out Agony Aunt-style advice on City Heartbeat, 988’s longest-running show which airs every Friday night from 8pm to midnight.

During the day, Chan hosts Morning Up, 988’s breakfast show which airs from 6am to 10am on weekdays.

Although the campaign was dubbed Chan Fong’s Apprentice with selected individual getting the opportunity to co-host the morning show with him, Chan, 49, revealed that its true objective was to recruit new radio talents for 988.

And that was why the campaign ended up producing not just one, but four apprentices: Emily Yap, 34, Aaron Chen, 26, Lizz Lee, 36 and industry newcomer, Mark Lee, 26.

They were chosen from six finalists who had to undergo two months of training, on-the-spot tests and various challenges in their bid to win a seat next to Chan in the studio.

The finalists were put through a crash course in DJ skills throughout the month of May, where they had to learn everything from programme planning to news reading and even personal grooming.

Eventually, it was decided that Emily and Aaron would join Chan and programme executive-turned-DJ Joycelyn, 27, on Morning Up.

Meanwhile, the other two apprentices have each gotten their own shows, which go on air every Saturday.

Lizz, who already has prior experience with television and radio, is hosting the parenting show Little Baby, Big World from 11am to 1pm.

While Mark is hosting the lifestyle and entertainment show Saturday Night from 7pm to 9pm.

988 DJ Chan Fong (2nd fr L) with his Morning Up co-hosts (fr L) DJ Emily, DJ Joycelyn, DJ Aaron. Photo: handout
988 DJ Chan Fong (2nd fr L) with his Morning Up co-hosts (fr L) DJ Emily, DJ Joycelyn, DJ Aaron. Photo: handout

What’s new

In all his 28 years in the industry, Chan says he’s never really done any mentoring or taken on an apprentice, nor has he been asked to take someone under his wing or provide full-time guidance like he is doing now.

In fact, he is rarely involved in the hiring process when it comes to getting new radio deejays or co-hosts for his shows on 988.

“All this while, the company has been doing it and I’ve never participated in any training process as extensive as this. Usually, I’d give my opinions and suggestions, and then we’d just take a vote.”

So, going through the audition and training process was also an interesting new challenge for him.

Chan is happy to report positive changes on the morning show itself with the inclusion of these fresh faces.

Morning Up is, of course, more visually appealing now. And, with young people comes fresh ideas every morning. We make use of a chat group to discuss new topics to bring up.”

According to Chan, from 6am to 7am, the show focuses on international news. Then, from 7am to 8am, the discussion moves on to local issues and heavier topics.

“We try to keep things light when we kick off the early morning banter. We try not to start off with anything too heavy, as we have to consider that there are school-going children listening to the radio while on their way to school in their parents’ cars.

"So, we strive to produce informative content, because we want to provide our audience with valuable knowledge. We also offer a different angle, so hopefully everyone can benefit,” he said.

Although Morning Up is a four-hour show, Chan only helms for the two hours between 7am to 9am.

He says he is confident that his three co-hosts have the ability to run the show in his absence.

In fact, they are settling in so well, Chan can even afford to focus on his popular show City HeartBeat on Fridays; he leaves the hosting duties in the hands of his capable proteges on Friday mornings.

“I am just being practical, as it would be too draining for me to do both the early morning show and the late night show on the same day.

“The radio scene has also changed a lot compared to when I first started,” Chan admits, pointing out that there’s live-streaming, pod-casting, vox pop, and deejays these days even get to record albums and star in movies.

Get to know the new faces and voices of Morning Up

Emily Yap

988 Morning Up host Emily Yap. photo: handout
988 Morning Up host Emily Yap. photo: handout

This beauty queen-turned-television personality was the winner of Miss Astro Chinese International 2010.

Married with a one-year-old child, Yap was a TV presenter who had been hosting shows on the shopping channel Astro Go Shop.

“When I read the news that Chan Fong was seeking an apprentice, I was so excited that I immediately submitted my application,” she revealed.

Yap, who was ended her TV hosting stint in July, shared that radio broadcasting entails more work on the voice.

Being so accustomed to visual cues, she said that she still has the habit of looking around to check for the cameras before she starts the show.

“On TV, we can use facial expressions and body language as well as other interesting visual cues to help convey our message and keep our viewers sufficiently engaged. Even our makeup and outfit can serve as a welcome distraction.

“On radio, however, you have to learn how to creatively make use of your voice to express your emotions and project your feelings, because listeners have to depend on their imagination to visualise the message you are trying to convey,” she added.

Aaron Chen

988 Morning Up host Aaron Chen. photo: handout
988 Morning Up host Aaron Chen. photo: handout

He is a Mass Communications graduate specialising in Speech Communication at Taiwan’s prestigious Shih Hsin University, renowned for producing top quality media professionals and famed for outstanding celebrity alumni like Vivian Hsu and Claire Kuo.

After putting in a month’s time co-hosting the 988 Morning Up show, Chen contends that helming a breakfast show "is not as easy as people used to imagine".

He said: “In the past, people thought that you would do well as long you’ve got the gift of the gab.

“But that is not so. Because it is in the morning, the show deals with more newsy topics. It is not as relaxed and casual as evening entertainment shows usually are. One has to put more thought and analyse well before saying anything."

Chen says he has to be up by 4am, arrive to the studio by 5am to check on the equipment and prepare all the paperwork and organise other details before the show begins at 6am.

"All these are part and parcel of our job, we have to be responsible for every aspect that goes into making our show a success,” he noted.

Additionally, Chen shares that the landscape of radio has changed tremendously.

“A radio deejay is no longer just a voice and we also cannot depend on recorded segments in this day and age.

"There’s live-streaming and social media platforms that current radio professionals have to deal with.”

Joycelyn Chu

988 Morning Up host Joycelyn Chu. photo: handout
988 Morning Up host Joycelyn Chu. photo: handout

Formerly a journalist with Star Media Group’s Chinese TV crew, Chu had joined 988 as a programme executive and helped to produce shows before trying her hand at being a deejay.

She did not go through the audition and training process like the other apprentices, but worked her way in.

“Actually, I joined the 988 Happy Cruiser as a part-time roadshow crew member, when I was studying in Universiti Malaya because it was near my campus. So, I was already part of 988 very early on.

“I got to travel a lot to all sorts of places, and it was also then that I started to dabble in hosting shows. That was in 2013 and I was 21. It was all a lot of fun for me so I did it for three years.

“That was also a valuable experience because we were on the ground and we could really reach out to our listeners as we got to meet and interact with them.

“It is different from working in the confines of a studio which may leave us a bit detached from the community.

Chu says that since the morning show is four hours long, listeners may think that it is all they do.

“But, what they don’t know is that there is a lot happening behind the scenes including programme planning, paper-pushing and administrative duties that take up the rest of the day,” she explained.

Compared to her experience with online TV news, Chu admits that radio is faster-paced and requires on-the-spot problem-solving skills.

“For a live radio show, if something goes wrong, we have to think on our feet, and find a way to fix it immediately.”

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