Thanks to them there is music in the air on Zayed University's campuses

I n the weeks before ZU Radio got off the ground at Zayed University's Abu Dhabi campus, Shamma Bint Khalifa Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan would repeatedly talk into a microphone and play it back to hear her own voice. Was she going too fast? Was her modulation right?

As one among three students who had come together to start the club, a first for the university, she and her team were working overtime preparing themselves to go live on the air. "And yet we were nervous," says ZU Radio vice-president Khansa Al Blouki of her first experience as DJ.

A year and a half later, the nervousness has given way to more confidence and a sense of poise. "If I have to suddenly do a live show today, I can," says Shamma, the president.

A lot has changed since Shamma, Khansa and Jawaher Al Shamsi got together with the aim of "letting students voice their opinions and listen to the music they want".

For one, Jawaher is no longer with the radio club and eager new members have taken her place. "We had 28 applicants this semester," says Khansa.

But strict screening procedures resulted in the elimination of most, and only six were taken. So besides Shamma and Khansa, the ZU Radio team consists of head designer Abeer Habrish, designer Mariam Dawood and DJs Latifa Al Shamsi and Hasna Al Mansoori.

Club on a budget

The club, which works on a budget provided by the university, began broadcasts from a 2x2 metre studio given to them by the College of Communications and Media Sciences.

Although it gave them the privacy needed to make the first-timers feel more comfortable, it was far removed from where the students hung out in their free time.

Shamma and her friends later asked for a booth in the cafeteria, from where they currently make all their broadcasts. "Now we often get a live audience," says Shamma. "When we started out, no one knew that there was a radio service on campus."

Content-wise too, a lot has changed. "Earlier, we would mostly play music, requests and dedications." The shows were an hour long, with three shows a week.

Today the broadcast timings have jumped to a maximum of 16 hours over a five-day week. There is a lot more campus news and student achievers are interviewed.

Last year, ZU Radio hosted the Battle of the Clubs, an annual competition that pits the 25 clubs on campus against each other. The winner of the rapid-fire question and answer sessions is crowned the Club Champion.

Students also use ZU Radio to make presentations as part of their study programmes. For instance, students of advertising market their ad campaigns over the radio.

"ZU Radio is fostering a great sense of community spirit through their support for student activities," admits Bradley Young, advisor to the club.

An IT Department faculty member, Young acts as the education and technology co-ordinator who looks after the technical aspects of airing the shows.

Among future plans is hosting the ZU Radio website where even we can log in and listen to the students' shows. "A few things have to be straightened out before we go public," says Shamma. But with the university being so supportive and a "great team" in place, the goal is within easy reach.

ZU Radio Club in Dubai
From music to talk shows and campus news, there's something for everyone at ZU Radio Dubai. Started six months after ZU Radio Abu Dhabi took to the air, the Dubai club had just four students who responded to College of Communication and Media Science faculty Dr James Piecowye's call to start the club.

One of them was Farah Ali Al Sharid, now president of ZU Radio Dubai. Thanks to her shows, she may now be better known on campus as DJ Rouge. "You can call her a gossip queen of sorts," said Farah.

The club made its first broadcasts more as an experiment to gauge student reaction. Soon from one show a week, they were doing three, and more recently, eight shows a week. "More new recruits are coming in, bringing in new ideas," said Farah.

Among the shows aired is a helpline show presented by a team member aptly named Crisis. There is also a Metal music show presented by DJ D-devil. Then there are debates on a range of topics.

The club follows a simple rule that what is broadcast cannot offend, said Dr Piecowye. Another rule is that the programming must be bilingual. If the songs are English, then the talking is in Arabic.

According to Dr Piecowye, radio is a service and one of the services is to help those learning English to hear it more in another context and vice versa. "The shows are totally student-run," he said, "from content creation to the technical side of mixing the talk and music."

"When we began we didn't know anything about hosting a show," said Farah. Along the way, they picked it all up.