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They are young, witty and have the gift of the gab. RJs are the city's new celebrities. PRINCE FREDERICK talks to the voices that rule the air

CALL THEM what you will. Disembodied voices. Jockeys without faces. Voices in the air. But Chennai's new radio jockeys (RJs) have begun to attain an almost celebrity status.

Until recently, FM radio was the preserve of All India Radio. The recent entry of private FM channels Suryan and Radio Mirchi have opened up new opportunities for these young men and women in a profession that appears to have a tremendous growth potential. "Radio jockeying will soon find a place among the most sought-after careers," says Niladri Bose, consultant, Radio Mirchi.

How much do they earn? What qualifies them for the job? And what does it take to be a good radio jockey?

"A good radio jockey tunes in to the little things that others miss," says RJ Suchitra (Radio Mirchi). "Radio jockeying is not just about gushing and tongue-in-cheek remarks. It is also about keeping people informed."

"Even when you are off the air, it makes demands on your time. You have to stay up-to-date by browsing the Net, reading books and magazines. You will also have to woo the muse by brooding over your script," say RJs `Kadi' Dheena and Nataraj (Suryan FM).

"A friendly and interesting voice is a necessary attribute, but not an all-sufficient one. The RJ must be able to research his own script and break it into interesting modules. Humour is the lifeline of radio chatting; the RJ cannot afford to compromise on that. In most cases, a radio jockey has a talking time of just six minutes in a programme spread over an hour. The challenge, therefore, is to find something witty to say and then say it clearly and directly in a manner that will leave a mark," says Sharath Chandra, station head, Radio Mirchi.

"RJs get selected not so much for their voice as for their personality. A good voice is a bonus. If you are a shrinking violet, you'll feel out of sorts as an RJ. But with proper training, even such personality wrinkles can be ironed out," says Niladri, who conducts workshops for aspiring RJs.

A radio jockey is a person who talks nineteen to the dozen and still makes sense, and has the resourcefulness to strike up epideictic flashes at will. RJ Chikki (Suryan FM) was drawn to radio-jockeying because she likes the sound of her own voice. "A talkative nature" is the biggest tool of the trade.

As of now, private FM radio has a lightness about it and it draws heavily from the entertainment sector. "Ninety-nine per cent of entertainment comes from cinema. It is for this reason that FM channels ally themselves to celebrities from tinsel town," says RJ Sujatha (Radio Mirchi).

Should an RJ, then, be concerned only with entertainment-related trivia, and "turn mute" to the serious or disastrous things happening around him? No. RJs are not expected to do an ostrich. They have to dwell on unpleasant things that are happening in the city. They have to invite opinion on such subjects. "RJs also play reporters as they meet experts for sound bites on issues," says Suchitra. In this context, the only demand placed on them (RJs) is that they discuss these issues in a way that make them (the issues) more interesting. And, most importantly, they should guard themselves against expressing their opinions in a fashion that is considered annoyingly pompous and dogmatic. Among the other prerequisites for radio-jockeying is the ability to choose the right words and phrases and enunciate them clearly. RJ Panapakkam K. Sugumar (Suryan FM), who holds an M.Phil in Tamil literature, and Nataraj, who studied the subject at Loyola College, speak in chaste Tamil. Speaking Tamil peppered with a Sri Lankan accent, RJ Yaazh Sudhakar (Suryan FM) displays shades of the legendary RJs Mayilvaganam and K.S. Raja of Ceylon Radio. These three RJs enjoy an avid following among listeners who have a fetish for classical diction.

A good RJ works on his diction in an endeavour to match it with his listeners' preferences. RJ Senthil clips his diction of all rough edges when he anchors "Mirchi Gold", a programme targeting listeners in the higher age group. "I also see that I do not step on their toes. Even the humour is tempered and put across in such a way that they like it."

RJ Ajay Titus (Radio Mirchi) anchors "Total Udaans", a three-hour programme targeting teeny-boppers and college-goers. Ajay is pursuing an MSc degree at the Vel's College of Hotel Management, Pallavaram. Every day he takes a train from Kodambakkam, where he is domiciled, to his college. "The train has been my learning ground as students from many colleges use that mode of transport. I pay attention to their `lingo' as they chat with their friends. The words and phrases picked up in this manner are introduced in my programmes."

An RJ needs to have his ear down to the music ground. Yaazh Sudhakar throws some light on the songs he plays. At AIR, RJs hosting the Western music programmes have a music library to ferret numbers from. RJ Shamini Ashok, however, is equipped enough to play a lone hand - she brings her own CDs and plays them. The idea is to provide music straight from the racks.

Are any educational qualifications required to become an RJ? Shiva (RJ for Radio Mirchi) has not entered the portals of a college, but he is numbered among the most creative RJs. His "Mirchi Talkies" is a sell-out. Interestingly though, most of the RJs are high achievers in the educational arena. Suchitra, Senthil and RJ Chitra ( Suryan FM) are MBAs. `Kadi' Dheena is a mechanical engineer. Chikki holds a Master's degree in physics. "I wanted to enter the IT industry, but the 9/11 cataclysm put paid to my hopes," says Chikki.

Some RJs have a compelling curriculum vitae. Before turning RJ, Suchitra wrote copies for an advertisement agency and also managed a portal for an IT major. To this day, she writes for the print media. For good measure, she hums for films. RJ Radhamanalan was a copy-writer and then a journalist, before taking up his job with Radio Mirchi. RJ Kanmani (Suryan FM) juggles novel writing with radio-jockeying. If you are in college, you do not have to keep your RJ dreams on hold. Give it a whirl by enlisting for the auditions. Some RJs do a balancing act - between the blackboard and the music-mixer. RJ Priya (Suryan FM) is a sophomore at SIET. Another example is Ajay Titus.

Is radio-jockeying a lucrative profession?

Though the salary may not be gathering increments the way the numbers in the Fibonacci series do, the remuneration is good enough. "The profession is paying enough. An RJ can command a salary from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 70,000 depending on factors such as experience and market value," says Niladri. "More importantly, radio-jockeying will open up numerous vistas in television and films."

Reason enough to float on air.

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