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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Pearl FM: How the UAE's only radio station for kids found success in an increasingly digital world

The radio station not only gives a voice to kids but also offers invaluable advice to parents

Children are regular contributors and even present shows on air. Courtesy Pearl FM
Children are regular contributors and even present shows on air. Courtesy Pearl FM

When Pearl FM, the region’s first and only radio station dedicated specifically to children, launched in 2014, you could have been forgiven for doubting the wisdom of starting a traditional FM radio station in an increasingly digital world.

Would the UAE’s hi-tech kids be interested in what they might consider a “boring old radio station”, especially considering the wealth of iGadgets they have available to them these days?

Apparently so – Pearl FM has become a mainstay of Dubai family life, attracting 350,000 listeners from the ages of 4 to 14 on a weekly basis, according to a recent IPSOS survey.

Giving a unique voice to children

Station manager Hussein Al Atoli began his broadcasting career in television, with a variety of roles after his graduation from American University in Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication, from hosting to strategy development at broadcasters including Nojoom TV and CNBC.

He admits he noticed some big differences when he made the switch to radio, and not just because the picture had gone. “It is a very digital age and traditional media is struggling to keep up in some ways, but radio has a unique ability, not only to entertain and inform, but also to be a vital part of the community,” Atoli says. “Pearl FM isn’t just for children – we have shows presented by children too. We give them a unique voice.”

Station manager Hussein Al Atoli says Pearl FM has a unique voice. Courtesy Pearl FM 
Station manager Hussein Al Atoli says Pearl FM has a unique voice. Courtesy Pearl FM 

The station also regularly takes its work into schools with campaigns on issues such as bullying, and the educational community evidently sees the channel as a vital resource. “We had one principal who got in touch. He’d been listening to the children who present our shows talking about all sorts of issues, and he wanted to hear more, he wanted to come in and talk to them, and try and get input on how he should be implementing policies at his own school.”

Appealing to parents as well

The station aims to not just appeal to children, but to their families as well. One of Pearl FM’s most popular shows, Atoli tells me, is the weekly Mum’s Café, which invites mothers from a variety of cultures and backgrounds on air alongside relevant experts to discuss the burning issues of the day. The advice for parents doesn’t stop when the radio is switched off.

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“We hold workshops for parents too, on all sorts of topics,” adds Atoli. “We recently held a workshop on emotional intelligence. With social media and the digital world, kids have so much more to deal with today than we did, and that can cause anger and confusion, so we tried to look at that with parents.”

Luckily, it’s not all about meaty subjects like bullying and emotional intelligence at Pearl – the station’s campaigns and workshops look at the brighter side of life too. “Of we also cover lighter topics too,” says Atoli. “We had a workshop session before Ramadan looking at nice treats parents can cook up for iftar, and that was great fun.”

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Of course, Pearl FM is at heart a commercial venture, and for all its community work and good intentions, Atoli freely admits the community can’t be the station’s sole motivation – bills still have to be paid. Even here, however, the station seeks to be a bastion of community spirit and is very selective about which brands it will work with and give advertising space to on the airwaves.

“We want to be responsible with the brands we partner with too, and parents can trust us there,” the station manager says. “Of course we’re a commercial concern, and we rely on advertisers to survive, but we would never partner with an unhealthy brand that we didn’t think was right for our listeners. I don’t want to name brands, of course, but unhealthy food for example, that’s something we don’t do.”

Pearl FM is available across the UAE on 102FM and at www.pearlfm.ae