It’s 8 am, and Jay has already been up for three hours. In his one man studio in the Lite.Fm offices on fifth lane, he’s hard at work. The morning newspapers lie scattered around and Jay is flipping through them looking for something interesting to talk about. (He’s already spotted a piece on Sachin Tendulkar turning down an honorary doctorate). He sits behind a bright orange U-shaped console, facing a glass window.
He’s normally alone, but only if you discount Buzz Lightyear, Spiderman and a teddy bear sitting on a shelf, keeping all the RJs company. From inside this small space, Jay delivers his signature blend of pop music, current affairs and political chat liberally laced with hilarity with the occasional stock market tip thrown in for good measure. His style has won his show Lite Cafe plenty of fans, but after being an RJ for close to a decade, he says he’s still got plenty to learn.
The last year seems to have been a challenging one for him. Having taken up a post at a private bank in their Corporate Communications department, Jay has been working “hard core days” that stretch into 14 – 15 hours of work. Passing out in front of the T.V in the night is something of a ritual, as is his mother getting him out of bed at the crack of dawn. When I first meet him, it’s on a weekend and we’ve scheduled it around a cricket match that Jay wants to catch. We’re talking about his first auditions for TNL and how it’s possible he suffers from a mild phobia – “People scare me a bit,” he says, explaining that he’s always loved radio because “you have a voice, but nobody sees you.”
Jay first got into radio when he was in school. An audition tape sent to TNL got him an interview in which he essentially sold his soul – promising to do whatever it took to keep the job. “Later I heard Lite was looking for people, so I moved across, since that kind of music was more my thing.” That was in 2004, and he’s been on air ever since – first as Jamal (“don’t ask me why”) and then later as Jay. He’s had listeners who’ve stuck with him throughout – “there’s one woman, who ten years later, still calls me Jade.”
In that time, Jay has worked at finding his own niche. Each RJ has his own style and so “you have to do something different, so that you can stand out.” Ben who used to have the same time slot helped him figure out what his USP would be. “I was always interested in talking politics and current issues,” he says, explaining that the show is rarely planned. “I pick up something on the fly and see what happens.” Listeners respond with phone calls and sms. “It’s been interesting; people say all kinds of things.”
Despite the relative smoothness of his patter, Jay will be the first to admit that “every day is a chance to discover how I can screw up.” It is his considered opinion that he still isn’t a very good RJ – “I just turn up every day and try to fill in airtime. Until the next song pops up, I’m just a clip helper.” Fortunately, he can always count on Mervyn Silva to help him out. Just last week, Jay was talking about how the Minister of Public Relations and Public Affairs was asking people to grow their own tomatoes (along with green chillies, ladies fingers and egg plant).
The Minister is always good for a few minutes of talk time, says Jay – “he’s my bread and butter, he delivers a show like nobody else can. “ Politics and politicians provide a “guilty pleasure” for audiences to indulge in. “That’s why they [politicians] end up becoming super stars, that’s why we’ve ended up voting for them on T.V shows. It’s something people just can’t get enough of.”
Music wise, Lite.Fm has slowly expanded its repertoire to include more contemporary hits. Jay himself loathes Lady Gaga and loves Taio Cruz and says that out of the new lot, R. Kelly and Adele are doing good work. Michael Buble and Amy Winehouse also win some praise from him, but Jeff Buckley stands above them all in his affections. Still, for someone whose job it is to play music, Jay can get a little fed up of tuning in. “When you’re on radio you truly don’t get to listen to music…if you want to kill your sense of music, you need to go into radio,” he says bluntly.
His idea of entertainment now is watching a movie (sometimes three a day) and analysing companies for fun. “I studied CIMA,” he explains, adding that he will look at a co mpany’s annual report just for kicks. Finance is his other great love. Aside from his CIMA, he is certified as an Investment Advisor at the Colombo Stock Exchange and is currently pursuing a Master of Economics from Colombo University. One of these days, he might just switch over to a career in that profession, but radio has its hooks in him, and he’s been finding it hard to tear himself away.
For all that he’s reluctant to leave it, he’ll tell you that becoming an RJ isn’t for everyone. Though it pays rich dividends in terms of the “emotional high you get from your audience” and the appreciation they shower on you, it takes someone committed to putting what the audience wants first. That’s why he’ll even play Lady Gaga if you ask him nicely.
Published in The Sunday Times, Sri Lankaon March 21, 2011. Words by Smriti Daniel.