BPF caught up with Ali Beg who is the Project Manager of Awaaz FM
Mr Beg’s family came to the UK from Pakistan in the 1950’s and settled in Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Reading and eventually Southampton. He is currently working as Project Manager for Awaaz Community Radio. Having lived, worked and studied in the city, it soon became apparent that the Pakistani community, although the largest ethnic group, was the lowest achievers in the area. This was mainly due to the lack of investment by local government and distrust amongst community members. As a British Pakistani, it was always difficult to see our own community being looked down upon and so when he returned from University, it was his wish to work to try and improve and excel the community in health, welfare and employment. Because he had a good ground knowledge of the needs of the local BME community, especially the British Pakistani community, including overcoming barriers (religious or customs), the task seemed easy at the time!
He is passionate about health awareness in the community and uses his experience of working with the ethnic communities as mutual collaboration with other statutory organisations. This is a valuable asset in helping to understand the experiences of service users and changing local policies in health, welfare and everyday living standards. He likes to spend his spare time with family.
- Where did you grow up and how did you get into radio?
I grew up in Southampton and am from a very poor family background where getting everyday essentials was a challenge. I was the first person in my generation to go to University and the only one to travel outside the city to study.
I got into radio quite by mistake! After enrolling on an Orthoptic (eyes) degree course at Sheffield University, I felt I needed to reach out and spread the knowledge gained to the masses rather than sit in a clinic and wait for patients to come to me. It felt like I would be seeing the same people all the time. Anyone who didn’t have an appointment would miss out on the knowledge sharing!
When I came back to Southampton, a new radio station for the ethnic communities had just started and I joined as a volunteer. I started the first British Pakistani music show on the station and slowly slipped in health and welfare advice in my shows. The audience loved it and wanted a separate show just for the ‘infotainment’ but the radio manager wouldn’t agree. After a year and a half of trying to convince him to change his mind, I felt the time was right to start your own station…. And so I did…. That’s when Awaaz was born!
- How long have you been on air?
The way the broadcasting system works is that you have to go on a trial licence before you get a full-time licence. The trial licence is called a RSL (Restricted Service Licence) and is designed to generate audience before a full licence is awarded.
I started my first RSL in 2009 and then approximately every 6 months after that until 2015 when we were awarded a DAB licence and became the first ethnic radio station in South Hampshire to go on DAB full time. More recently, we were awarded a full-time community radio licence to broadcast on FM and this service will start in February 2018. Put together with our online streaming, we will be the biggest ethnic community radio station along the south coast of England with a potential audience of 1.5 million!
- Who has inspired you the most in your life?
Without doubt, my parents. My father was adamant that I go to University and was the driving force to push me into that direction whereas my mother was the driving force in sending me to Islamic studies and learning the Holy Quran. She is also the reason why I am still working at Awaaz as she was the first investor into the business. The radio station started with just £500 that she loaned to me. Today I keep the station running in her memory. It’s my bad luck that God took away both my parents before I could show them any of my achievements, but I am proud of the fact that their spirit lives on in me and I know they are watching. May Allah bless their souls and grant them a place in Jannah. Ameen.
- What do you think are your key strengths?
Probably my commitment/passion for my project (Awaaz) and my faith. Without either of these I don’t think I would ever have succeeded like I did.
- What 4 key skills do you feel should a good presenter possess?
A good presenter needs to be confident, knowledgeable in their music and audience, have a good voice and be able to smile (even when everything else goes wrong). Believe it or not, the audience can actually feel the difference when the presenter is smiling whilst doing a show compared to when he’s not.
- How can a person get a career in radio presenting?
Join your local community radio as a volunteer. Many new and upcoming community radio stations are desperate for volunteers and would cherish the opportunity to train up new presenters. Lots of opportunities come up in the process. Many BBC or commercial stations want to see if the applicant has done any volunteering, so this is always a good start. Opportunities will come your way but in the meantime; enjoy what you are doing as volunteer.
- What is the best thing about being in radio?
As a presenter – interacting with the audience. As a Project Manager – meeting new people every day whether that is clients, business personnel or curious visitors…. It’s always inspiring to know you’ve started something that people take an interest in.
- What is the worst thing about being in radio?
Oh gosh…! That’s a tough one…. For me personally there hasn’t been anything bad… even when bad things did happen, I always laughed, picked myself up and started again… kept myself positive always.
- If you had to name one life changing song, which one would it be for you?
I love Qawwali so it would have to be from the King of Qawwali – Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s: “otheamla de hone ne navede” which I find very inspiring.
- Would you like to be on television instead and have you own show? What will it be about?
Actually, I already did have a TV show at one point. I used to do a current affairs program for Pukaar TV which was shown weekly on Venus TV Channel, but the producer/director eventually moved from London to Leicester and around the same time, I moved to Sheffield for studies, so the program ended. I wouldn’t mind doing it again if given the chance!
- Tell us about who has been your favourite guest on the show?
I think my favourite guest on the show would most definitely have been Arshad Mahmood – the Pakistani singer. I knew of him but had never seen him before and he walked into the studio about an hour early and introduced himself as someone looking to do a radio show. I went through the whole process with him before he told me who he really was…. It was highly embarrassing but funny!
- Who would you like to interview and talk to the most?
I love debate programs so all the top politicians…. I would like to put them on the spot!
- What advice would you give to people who want to get into this field?
Whilst I admit it is great fun to be on the radio or in media generally. Don’t go into this field if you don’t have the passion and commitment because you are going to need it. To be frank, more people of Pakistani origin need to get into media as we are severely under-represented at the moment, especially in mainstream media like national TV and radio stations
- What do you see in your future?
Awaaz has already started to go global; we’ve established links in Dallas, USA and Dublin, Ireland as well as Karachi and Lahore. In the future, I can see us going to more places abroad as well as making Awaaz Southampton a local station linking people nationally across the UK.