Babak Yektafar talking on his show on Radio Velayat. Photo
by J. Javid
Serving the "Finglishy" community in Virginia and on
By Babak Yektafar
March 12, 1999
The writer is the producer and host of a cable radio program called
"The Silk Road Show." This program, along with its two companion
shows, "Saturday Morning Live" and "WorldView" produced
by Mohammad Ali, are broadcast live every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
(EST) in Fairfax County, Virginia. The programs are then rebroadcast worldwide
on the net (www.fcac.org/webr) every
Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (EST). You can get additional information
by checking the official Radio Velayat web site at www.mamali.com
"Something about the darkness in the middle of the day," is
what I thought when someone recently asked me about why I started a radio
show, a Farsi-language show, to be more specific. Of course that was not
the only reason, but it was certainly a strong factor. Despite more than
15 years of experience in communications, radio was the only field I had
not tried. But the idea of getting up early on Saturday, walking into a
dimly-lit room, nursing a mug of hot coffee and playing my favorite music
and verbalizing my disorderly -- and at times irreverent thoughts -- seemed
too alluring to pass up. This was to be pure vanity, just something for
my personal amusement and pleasure. Little did I know.
My radio career is another pit stop on my chosen road to the world of
entertainment and communications. "Chosen" because I did not
fall into this path as a medical or engineering flunky. For me the journey
started back in Iran in another dark room, when, as a guest, I walked into
a dubbing (doobleh) session at Studio Damavand where my uncle was directing
the dubbing of the musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". Images
of the singing Dick Van Dyke, the dramatic sight of bright desk lamps in
the midst of darkness, the seductive swirling of cigarette smoke dancing
in front of the projector light, conspired to get me hooked. Now after
years of involvement with theater, film and video production, television
broadcasting, songwriting, music recording and performing, I have started
an adventure in radio.
It started slowly as a one-hour, once-a-week show about three years
ago. The first few shows where truly fun. I had no idea what I was doing,
but I didn't care because I had no listeners. Aside from producing the
content and performing, I had to run the audio mixing board as well. I
was going to be irreverent and wild. I would speak perfect Finglish (Farsi-English)
since this was to be a program for the Finglishy generation. I would play
cool, on-the-edge music of the world. I would talk about Morad Barghi,
Live Aid, Motel Ghoo, Lesbian Dial-A-Date, Chattanooga, Planet Hollywood,
Gol Gov Zaboon and Chai Latte. I would be the Iranian (albeit less controversial)
Howard Stern. Little did I know.
When I named the radio show, I avoided the words Iran or Persia and,
thinking of our well-known character, Samad Agha, I picked "Velayat",
a term used by peasants when referring to their region. My wife was my
first guest. I wanted to delve into the subject of cultural diversity within
a marriage. After all, she is an American married to an Iranian and had
I got my first listener to call in after the sixth show. Although she
didn't call on the air, she left a message at the station about the Alborz
High School alumni gathering which I had mentioned on the show. Not a dream
first-caller, but exciting enough for me to save the message in my wallet
for almost a year -- just like a new business saving the first dollar and
taping it on the wall for good luck. (I always wondered what they did with
the blessed dollar when they went bankrupt.)
Maryam was my first non-relative guest. An ever-controversial figure
for her uncompromising attitude, she helped to develop the show. Callers
started to comment about her, although they were not always kind. Mohammad
Ali appeared on the tenth show and he never left. His name intrigued Americans
since they are only used to one Mohammad Ali, and he doesn't look anything
like my Mohammad Ali. We had recently become friends working with an Iranian
cultural organization in northern Virginia and we hit it off immediately
on the air. He is mostly responsible for the current structure of the show.
My show took its strength from mayhem, but he brought some needed organization.
He also started his own shows within Radio Velayat; a current affairs program
called "WorldView" and the easy-going "Saturday Morning
We knew that we needed some feminine presence to offset our testosterone-laden
programs. The maloos-voiced Azita and maghbool Belquis, as
they were tagged by our listeners, could not commit regularly, and so Toktam
joined us towards the end of our second year. As you may imagine, I was
intrigued by her name (don't ask!) and having seen her on television as
the presenter of a youth-oriented show, I looked forward to working with
her. Our on-air banter has worked well and the feedback has been positive.
The expansion of our team has included the addition of Mahtab and Farnaz
who help us diligently in producing, marketing and recruiting sponsors
for the shows.
My two-and-a-half-year journey with 120 shows has been an experience,
if nothing else. After spending many years away from the Iranian community,
I now find myself fully immersed in our hybrid Iranian-American culture.
There are times when I bask in the joy of this association. The benefits
include Iranian warmth and our sometimes kooky but always lovable traditions.
But then there are times when I remember why I stayed away for such a long
time, particularly when I find myself struggling and holding back anger
as I answer nonstop criticism from listeners. I recently mentioned to a
friend that Iranians can be a highly-critical and unforgiving bunch. I
even made a joke. Question: How many Iranians does it take to screw in
a light bulb? Answer: 257. One to screw in the bulb, 255 to stand around
and criticize the bulb and the screwing method, and one who says we don't
even need a light bulb. But for me there lies the challenge, since by the
same token the occasional praise and acceptance can be very gratifying.
When I first started, I wanted to change Iranians through my show and
maybe Americanize the Finglishy crowd. But I ended up being changed by
them. My Finglish has become more Farsi, and I have toned down the subjects
discussed on the show. But I know that this is temporary. I know that the
more listeners I get, the more I am tempted to push the envelope in the
hope that it will bring us out of our shells and more into the open. Who
knows, maybe as an ethnic minority in this country, we will learn to listen
and respect one another's opinions.
I have never felt at home, despite having lived in this country for
more than 20 years. But the radio show has made me feel somewhat satisfied.
I am not necessarily bound by the same rules as I would have been in Iran.
In my relationship with fellow Iranian-Americans, I can tune in and out
as my mind dictates; when it is convenient, I can be as Iranian as the
next "ham velayati", but if being and acting Iranian gets to
be an inconvenience, then I can unleash the American in me.
The next big topic of the show is going to be our "debt to society".
Do I feel that as a broadcaster I have such a debt? Tune in and find out.