Here in the SF Bay Area a reality of life is the commute. Stuck in traffic in the morning, stuck in traffic at night. Mornings are better because of one thing. FM97.3 Alice. I first became a listener 5 years ago when the station first began a new format, after being introduced to a lunchtime concert by an unknown singer (at the time) Billy Mann. From then it was the banter, the hip cool modern city verbiage of young people having fun doing something they loved.
Recently though, I've heard a name that sounded oddly familiar. It wasn't obvious at first. Occasionally I would even think I was hearing it wrong and let it go, but one day it gave itself up and away like a glorious light shining in through my tinny car stereo, “Hooman…”. Excitedly I listened again each day for that name. You see, to me, this is great, it's not a big deal in the grand scheme, but it's really great to hear an Iranian name spoken in the mainstream of a morning commute radio show.
Hooman is part of the “crew” (isn't that awesome!) called the “Sarah and No-Name” show from 5:30 to 10:00 am weekdays [FYI: If you Click Sarah@radioalice.com to send the show an email during the mornings, Hooman promised me he would read your email on the Air!]. Hooman is the Go-Fer, the organizer, the movie reviewer, the “go and get it done now dammit!” guy for the show. You may feel he takes some amount of Goh for it, like during the Hooman-Free-Zone, but it's all in fun and no one gets hurt, and he manages to get his licks in every now and then.
Take this year's No-Rooz for instance. Hooman was able to get the day acknowledged (wish I could say the same for Google, Thanks a lot guys!) for the whole show and played Iranian music and had food and Iranians all over calling in to wish everyone a happy No-Rooz. On the air! During the commute! In full Stereo! For that one day, for that one accomplishment, he is a stud in my book, having done more to get us on the mainstream cultural map than anyone in a while.
When I called him to ask for the interview you are about to read, he was awesome, nice, polite and well… just plain awesome. He loves what he does, and what's cooler, is he makes no apologies for being who he is, an Iranian.
This isn't a “Hugh”, “Homer”, “Henry” or “Hobart”.
This is HOOMAN! Dig it.
Q. How did you decide to go into radio? How did you get there?
A. Throughout of my life, music has played an important role. I was raised seeing the San Francisco Symphony perform every other week from the age of 6 to 13. I then gained a great appreciation for jazz and of course pop and rock music followed. Music has always had such an impact on my life that I felt like I needed to do something in that field. I originally moved to Chicago and got a job working for ELEKTRA RECORDS in the promotions department. I then decided to move back home to the San Francisco, Bay Area.
Q. It's an almost impossible business to break into, how did you do it?
A. That is very true and worse I wanted to break into the #4 radio market onto the #1 morning show, where an estimated 750,000 listeners are tuning in every day with no “on air” radio experience at all! Most people including ALL the talent at my radio station have paid their dues in smaller markets or at smaller radio stations. I was unemployed for two months when I moved back to San Francisco. I applied to 14 companies varying from record labels to TV and radio stations. During that period I heard a “morning show” that was so unique, in that it was genuine but most of all totally relatable. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be part of that show. Through a stroke of luck and divine intervention, I met the program director of the station. After taking my phone calls every week for two months, he finally gave me a job at the station, which pretty much consisted of folding t-shirts, passing out key chains, and filling the gas tank of the station vehicle. As soon as I got my foot in the door, my goal was to learn every piece of equipment from the mixing board to the cart machines to the editing workstations. I wanted to know it all. I came to the station every weekend and just practiced until I felt like I had become a master at that piece of equipment then I went to the next thing. I got reprimanded many times for being at the station and even kicked out and sent home from the place I work at on occasion because I technically wasn't supposed to be there if I wasn't working. But that didn't matter, I'd come back the next day and stay longer. A position as production assistant opened up with the morning show at ALICE, after begging the program director and the morning show producer if I could do it until they found someone permanent they decided to give me a shot. Because ALICE is owned by CBS, and big corporations are notorious for taking a long time in the hiring process, I did that job every morning side by side with the morning show from 4 AM to 10 AM for 5 months at $8.00 an hour. In other words a back door was created partially by me and partially by the morning show which eventually got me "on air”.
Q. Tell us what you do on the show, the cast, who they are, what they mean to you. Why you like them
A. I originally started on the show as the movie critic, but because we do have 4 hours to fill every morning my duties then expanded. After a truly unique interview with Forrest Whitaker, Sarah of the now “Sarah and No Name” morning show insisted I interview every celebrity that comes to town but unable to make it into the station.
As a result I got to interview Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Sting, Woody Allen, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alanis Morisette, Kate Hudson, and Cindy Crawford to name a few. I also do street bits where I improvise and spontaneously interact with the fine people of San Francisco.
This part of the job cannot be described, it has to be heard. The morning show really consists of four characters and a producer. The morning show is called the SARAH and NO NAME morning show. (And yes his name is actually NO NAME). They are the brains and head of the operation they set the tone and choose the stories that get addressed on the show.
I think now would be a good time to really give credit where credit is due. There is no doubt that I worked hard to get where I am but unfortunately in this industry that is not enough.
It is because of the generosity of one person Mrs. Sarah Clark that I am in the position that I am today. She gave me a shot when literally everyone around her was saying, “are you crazy, he sucks!” So she, by far is the most special person to me at the station, for if Sarah weren't fighting for me every month for an entire year I would not be here today. Sarah's co-host is No Name. He is the newest member of the show (started June 21st 2002). He's loud, intense, and has an almost Zeus like energy.
The next person outside of the hosts and me is the traffic lady, Kathy. She has been with Sarah since the beginning. She is a sincere genuine person who is very sensitive at times and has been known to cry on the air. Then there is the executive producer of the Sarah and No Name show, Matt Staudt. He is passionate and will do everything possible to get to #1.
I can honestly say that outside of the show I feel like I am friends with each of these people and would drop whatever I am doing to be there for them in an instant if they were in need of help. I have no doubt that this group of people…this morning show will dominate the San Francisco market.
Q. Describe this year's No-Rooz and what you did on the show?
A. Because of the open mindedness of the people I work with this year we had a total Persian celebration on the air for No-Rooz. All the music beds for all four hours were Persian songs (instrumental and singing) I brought Fesenjoon in as breakfast for the DJ's and explained how to make it. And we took phone calls from Persians in the Bay Area wishing everyone a Happy New Year in Farsi.
Q. What do you feel about Iranians and about being Iranian today?
A. I am so proud of the fact that I am Persian. The history of Persia/Iran is so rich and everything from the culture to the food to the music is truly brilliant. So many times in radio Program Directors make DJ's change their names to something that is “radio friendly.”
When I got this job, I was adamant that I was not going to change my name, I wanted the Bay Area to know that they weren't listening to another Bob or Bill or Brian. I was hoping they would scratch their heads and say “Hooman where is that from?”
I feel Persians living in the U.S., especially Persian women should take advantage of the greatness of this country and fulfill their hearts desire and as cheesy as this might sound, make their dreams come true. I really do feel that in so many ways this country is great.
Q. What advice do you have for Iranians dealing with stereotypes and discrimination?
A. I don't feel I am qualified to answer this question. All I can do is tell you how I have dealt with it. No matter how hard people try to push you down by abusing their power, don't let them. Dust yourself off and get back up, and if they kick you down again, jump up even faster.
No matter who you are there will always be people in positions of authority above you who will abuse their power and consequently demean you. It is impossible for me to tell you not to take it personally and it will likely affect your mood but no matter what DO NOT QUIT!
Hang in there, tough it out, do whatever it takes so that those people who stereotype you will not know what hit them. Ultimately if you do not quit I promise you, you will be a stronger, better individual then you thought. You will go farther then you thought possible.
Q. What seed was planted in your head to go after something creative like this, instead of the safe route like most people do?
A. There were quite a few incidences. Let me begin with my earliest memory and go from there. The first movie I saw in this country at the age of three was Star Wars. That film made such an impression on me at such a young age that I almost immediately knew I wanted to be part of something that was creative enough to make such an incredible movie.
That movie prompted me to want to be a part of the entertainment industry. After I discovered pop music I wanted to learn with a passion every detail of the music industry from record labels to the recording of an album (BTW I got my degree in Music Recording Production) to radio.
Secondly I realized at a very early age that I cannot do a typical 9 to 5 job. I need to be doing something creative and not routine. There are no two days on the radio that are even close to being similar. Being spontaneous and improvising is truly what makes life incredible.
Q. What is your background, when did you leave Iran, where did you grow up?
A. I left Iran in 1978 at the age of 3 and grew up in San Mateo, a suburb 20 miles south of San Francisco. Since we came to the United States, it has just been my mom and me.
Q. Why do you think your Mom has been so supportive or you?
A. My mom is truly the most amazing person I know. She left Iran in 1978 and came to the U.S. with $5000 one suitcase, a three-year-old boy at her side, and no visa. Despite it all, she was able to send me to private schools from 1st to 12th grade.
I know she brought me here to San Francisco so that I could have a chance to fulfill any dream I could think up. Not once did she say “Hooman choose a safe occupation like accounting or business instead”, rather she was sincere when telling me to go for my heart's desire. My entire life all I saw was a woman who endlessly gave her time, resources and whatever money she did or didn't have.
All my life her attitude was for the most part always positive and it was seeing her example of dealing with stereotypes and discrimination that taught me how to deal with it. If it wasn't for my mom telling me everyday for years “You can do it Hooman”, there is no way that I would be on the #1 morning show in the Bay Area. I am where I am because of my mom.
Q. What is you future goal? What do you want to do with this?
A. I know this might sound very vague, but I hope to eventually do something with film or with music.
Q. What Plans do you have for the show that are upcoming that we should know about?
A. Every year since I've been here (3 years now) I have gone to the Sundance Film Festival with or without the blessing of the station. I will definitely go again in 2003. I will lobby hard to travel to New York City for the MTV Video Music Awards. Ultimately I want to go wherever I can get a good entertaining story to cover. That is also fun for me as well.
Q. With all the music currently available at the station, what music are you listening to right now and what is your current favorite band/album? Why?
A. I will forever be an ultra fan of STING. I think his music is great. I also enjoy, Stone Temple Pilots, U2, Dave Matthews Band, and the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Most recently, I discovered the music of Norah Jones. Her sultry voice is very relaxing to listen to. Also keep your ears out for a band called YBS, they will be out in the next year or so, and I promise you they will make a Beatles like impact.
Q. OK, the big finish, when you, as you kids say, “Jones” for some really good Persian food, what is your favorite dish and where do you go to get it?
A. Well, I love Fesenjoon and my mom's house definitely has the finest Persian food I've ever tasted. But if mom isn't around, the only Persian restaurant I know in the city (San Francisco) is MayKadeh. The food there is excellent, and their location is even better, in North Beach very close to the radio station.
Listen to audio clips from “Sarah & No-name” show discussing this interview: “Part of mainstream”