Tony Orsten has the kind of booming, theatrical voice you expect from someone who entered the media business through the door of his college radio station. But the stories that he tells with it, from playing song requests for Prince Charles to giving one of Sacha Baron Cohen's comedic alter egos his first slot on television, are experiences that most radio DJs could only dream about. The latter experience happened in the mid-1990s, when Mr Orsten was the head of Viacom's Paramount Comedy channel in London and Cohen was a young unknown with a videotape to shop around. On it was footage of Cohen playing a crazy foreign reporter who would evolve into one of the characters on Da Ali G Show, along with the now internationally renowned Borat.
"No one had ever seen anything like this," Mr Orsten recalled. "He would go up to Americans and ask them questions that were so terrible, they couldn't be offensive - because it was so utterly appalling. We were on the floor crying with laughter." Laughter has been a constant in a varied career that officially began with a job as a production engineer for the British Forces Broadcasting Service and has recently brought the 53-year-old to Abu Dhabi to lead its new media zone.
In between, Mr Orsten managed to pick up a few British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) awards. After a stint at the British breakfast television station TV-am, he won his first Bafta at London Weekend Television, where he worked as Janet Street-Porter's "right-hand man" on the "serious" youth programme Network 7. He also worked on L!VE TV, a cable station operated by the Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) that broadcast live 24 hours a day. "It was an absolutely astonishing thing to do," he said, but added that MGN soon "turned it into a rather downmarket and salacious thing". The tabloid-inspired station is most famous for the News Bunny, an extra in a rabbit suit who would mime reactions to the news as it was being read.
After a decade running Viacom's Paramount Comedy, he took on the role of launching stations for Viacom's MTV Networks in Spain, Italy, Poland and Germany before leaving to help Skype's owners found the new internet television portal Joost. Some wondered if he could make the notoriously dour Germans crack a smile. Perhaps because of this, Mr Orsten says it is the German channel that he is most proud of. "It was hilarious," he said.
He doesn't have similar worries for the Arabs. "In my experience, which is 10 months long, I have had belly laugh after belly laugh with the population here," he said. "There is a fantastic sense of humour here, with old and young both."