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 visited Iran.
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 Live.”
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.
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