By Sonya Rehman
In a noisy café on MM Alam Road in Lahore, two of Pakistan’s most well-known radio personalities from competing FM radio stations swap notes about working in the local radio industry.
Friendly and chatty, Fizza Aslam and Sophiya Anjam’s affiliation goes back years, since both started out their careers in the midst of the local media boom in the early 2000s.
A radio jockey for fourteen years, Fizza Aslam was only 18-years-old when she began hosting her first show on City FM89, soon after its launch in the summer of 2004. At the time, Aslam states, a pioneering FM station, FM100, had just been re-launched, and radio had suddenly become an appealing form of entertainment for the Pakistani youth.
“It wasn’t a planned decision at all,” she reveals, “But listening to FM100 made me realize what a cool medium radio really was.”
Currently hosting Route 89, a show that runs five days a week, Aslam mentions that while her parents were supportive, they never expected her to make a career out of radio jockeying. “They thought it was a hobby, but over a decade later, here I am,” she laughs. “I love my job; I’ve been in the studio conducting shows while nursing a broken heart and while sick with jaundice – radio is part of my identity.”
Encouraged by a friend to give an audition at FM91’s headquarters in Lahore, Anjam took to radio like a fish to water in 2006. Today, apart from hosting ‘Drive On With Sophie,’ four days a week, Anjam also doubles up as FM91’s marketing head, hosts events outside of work and also launched her own Youtube channel, The S Stories, last year.
“Radio was very different back then,” she reminisces, “It was more about the programming and less about marketing. When I started out, we had the freedom to experiment with content and playlist curation for our listeners.”
“It wasn’t as commercial as it is now,” Aslam chimes in, “Radio is a major contender in the media sphere and it’s always an essential part of any organization’s marketing plan. Pakistani companies have realized that radio is a dynamic medium to reach out to their customers, hence they’ve begun investing in creating advertisements specifically for radio.”
Apart from dealing with her share of hair-raising incidents involving obsessive stalkers over the years, Anjam mentions that she’s had some heartwarming experiences too. One in particular, was when a father told Anjam how her voice reminded him of his late daughter. “He told me that listening to my show gave him a sense of peace, and that he felt like his daughter was talking to him.”
But working in a primarily male-dominated field and battling misogyny on a frequent basis hasn’t been an easy feat. “It was initially very difficult for me to supervise a team of men who didn’t take me seriously as a boss,” Anjam states, “It took me a long time to get to a point where I had to assert myself to get the job done. Men in our society can’t stand to see women in positions of power.”
The discrimination, Aslam and Anjam both admit, even extends to the lack of equality in pay; they reveal that oftentimes female radio jockeys are paid less than their male counterparts.
“It’s ridiculous and it needs to change,” says Aslam, “Women in our field need to demand higher salaries that commensurate with their experience and not accept low salaries just because of their gender.”
While both radio stations cater to niche audiences who enjoy a mix of English, Pakistani and Bollywood music, Anjam feels that local radio has taken a hit in the era of social media. “Everyone’s spending their money in the digital realm and contending for long-lasting presence on social media platforms. It’s a tricky time for radio these days,” she says, adding that the rise of social media influencers has also changed the game for radio personalities.
Aslam, on the other hand, differs. For her, although a visual presence is imperative, radio stands as a dependable medium which will withstand the test of time. “I’ve been on the airwaves for over a decade and my listeners have an association with me. It’s an enduring connection that has developed over the years. Having people approach you and tell you that they’ve grown up listening to you is surreal.”
“But you have to put your name and face out there as a radio jockey,” Anjam argues, “Brands these days are only interested in giving you business if you have a big following on social media – it’s all about the followers and little about the work. As a radio jockey, I need to have a consistent social media presence because podcasts and accompanying Youtube radio shows are going to catch on in Pakistan in the long-run. Radio needs a visual representation – it’s the future.”