x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Radio station for students, by students

Two men with laptops and an idea to unite their fellow students have developed an always-on online radio station.

Mina Zuberi waits to go on-air as Muhammed Ali Jamadar ends his show on Campus Radio, an online project they produce in an apartment in Sharjah.
Mina Zuberi waits to go on-air as Muhammed Ali Jamadar ends his show on Campus Radio, an online project they produce in an apartment in Sharjah.

SHARJAH // In a corner of his friend's bedroom on the 20th floor of an apartment block in downtown Sharjah, Muhammed Ali Jamadar sits between two laptops speaking into a microphone.

As he selects a playlist of music from the computer on his left, he also fields a constant stream of comments on his Twitter accounts through the machine on his right, while always keeping up a repartee of jokes and announcements. Welcome to the studio of Campus Radio Middle East. Launched two months ago, it is the first online station specifically for students in the UAE; set up and run by students for students.

Mr Jamadar, 22, who founded the online station with a fellow student, Ritesh Jeswani, 21, to unite the student population and to make their voices heard, is one of the seven radio jockeys who host daily live shows. "There's a huge culture of lethargy among students, but we make up a disproportionately large percentage of the population," Mr Jeswani said. "We should not be an ignored crowd. We provide a source of income as well as unlearned opinion, but currently the student body is disjointed. We wanted to create a platform for everyone to connect."

Campus Radio certainly has a potentially enormous target audience. According to a survey taken by the British Council in June of last year, the UAE had 91,154 students enrolled in 96 public and private colleges and universities. Only 24 per cent were international students, which means nearly three quarters are residents. Mr Jamadar said most live with their parents, which could stunt their personal growth. "At high school we formed cliques and stayed in small social circles. Unfortunately, because most of us didn't move away, these cliques remained when we went to a university. The link between students that forms when everyone lives on campus is missing," he said. The two friends, both students at Manipal University in Dubai International Academic City, came up with the idea for a station at the beginning of the year. All their spare time and savings were spent on realising their dream. A somewhat modest investment of Dh8,000 secured a laptop, microphone and special software. For the next three months, they travelled to most of the universities in Dubai and Sharjah to drum up interest among fellow students. Soon they had a team of 18 volunteers, and Mr Jeswani drew up a programming schedule ensuring 60 per cent of air time would be dedicated to information and 40 per cent to entertainment. Paying Dh545 for streaming through an external server from the UK, they began transmissions from Mr Jeswani's bedroom in March. The station went live on April 9th and streams music 24 hours a day. Live shows run from 7pm to 1am on Sunday to Friday, and on Saturdays they start at 11am. Listeners can tune into a variety of programmes, including music request shows, news and sports updates, celebrity gossip and current affairs talk shows that discuss topics ranging from the education system in the UAE to plagiarism, career fairs and volunteering opportunities. "But it is not just about doing the shows," Mr Jeswani said. "It's about managing feedback, doing research and planning the format for the rest of the RJs." One presenter, Noora Nasrallah, 25, attended universities in Dubai and Beirut. She said the student voice was taken more seriously abroad and hoped Campus Radio would encourage politicians to listen to students and hear their views. Mr Jamadar monitors all content and navigates his way through legal loopholes. "We are self legislated," he said. "Naturally we do not swear on air, we use radio edits of songs and watch what we broadcast. We follow the same guidelines given to radio stations by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA)." As it is an online site, they do not need an antennae and are not in breach of broadcast laws. All music has been bought through legitimate online portals and they clearly state if events mentioned are for people aged 21 and over. Since the launch, listeners have grown from 700 to a maximum of 11,000 per week, and on-air giveaways of CDs and theatre tickets helps grow the fan base. "They are students, so they know how to talk to us and they understand us," said Rasika Thapa, 20, a media and communications student at Middlesex University Dubai. Zoha Jaffar, 18, said she relied on the station. "They play music we like, they talk about things we want to hear about and they put us in touch with each other." In the long run, Mr Jamadar and Mr Jeswani hope to hand over the project to new students, and eventually secure their own radio frequency. "The dream is for someone to take it on-air, but the most important thing is for students to be in control of it," said Mr Jeswani. aseaman@thenational.ae