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BBC-produced radio show a hit with Cambodian youths

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A cast member of LOY9’s TV drama segment, Sangha, prepares for a radio interview. Photograph: supplied

As soon as the on-air sign lit up at noon last Saturday three youths wearing headphones and mikes – two hosts and one guest – began greeting each other in lively voices, then announced the question of this week’s episode of LOY9 would be: “Can you direct your own destiny?”

The two hosts kept an eye on the production crew on the other side of their windowed broadcast booth, hand signals and electronic devices to communicate with them for the 50-minute broadcast that draws a nationwide audience on FM103.

With its 12 relay towers in the provinces, FM103 is estimated to reach about 70 per cent of Cambodia’s population, but LOY9’s aim is both more modest and bolder. Its target demographic is narrower than its broadcaster – it aims to reach those under 30, primarily those living in rural areas – but its goal is to motivate them to become more socially involved by using a mix of entertainment and education.

Its hosts are two 18-year-old university students: Pheap, who is from a village in Preah Sihanoukville, adds a rural twang; while Annie who was raised in Phnom Penh captures the city’s speedier pace in her musings. Both are on a first-name basis with their listeners.

Senior producer Ros Marie, 24, sums up LOY9s ethos as encouraging youths “to do what they can do to change their lives and society”. This includes informing them about the governmental institutions set up to serve them, such as commune councils, as well as “what their rights are and how they can participate in society”, she explained.

One hurdle, however, is that most of the youthful listeners want to talk about love.

They shy away from radio programs that focus on politics and leaders, thinking this is for older people to worry about, Ros Marie says, adding that with close to 100 radio stations in the country LOY9 has plenty of competition. To compete, LOY9 mixes entertainment with content that encourages youths to be socially engaged, and its youthful outlook is enhanced by the fact that almost all its staff and guest speakers are under 30.

“We can’t neglect our audience’s interests, but we cannot devote our entire show to talking about love every week,” says LOY9 producer Keo Sreysros. The solution is to have one show about romance a month and three on other topics. But even when they talk about romance, producers are careful to embed messages in the conversations that encourage listeners to become more socially engaged, they say.

Each week, the eight-person team (one senior producer, two producers, two presenters and three call receivers) map out topics for the upcoming show, tapping their social and professional networks for advice as well as their audience. They also follow a fast-moving format that keeps listeners attuned, mixing hit songs with short announcements about current events as well as news briefs.

Every show has at least one guest, and listeners are encouraged to call in with questions, which are always answered respectfully and with youthful enthusiasm. Because the production team is so small it requires careful preparation, intense teamwork and open communication, its members say.

Last week’s guest was Tim Kolmen, a 23-year-old student from the Royal University of Law and Economics. He was selected because of he had organised numerous social events and worked with young people in several groups.

The presenters’ role is to facilitate conversation rather than give their own views, so the guest faces plenty of pressure to deliver. Guest speakers who are knowledgeable and talkative tend to draw larger audiences and sometimes the three phone lines listeners can use to call get jammed because there are so many phone calls, Keo Sreysros said, adding that this happens most often when a celebrity is the guest.

Tim Kolmen said he noticed plenty of changes occurring among Cambodia youths.

They are less likely to leave their destiny in the hands of a god or angel, he said. “They are becoming more self-reliant. They think that success in life happens if they work hard,” he added. Besides school, youths are more likely nowadays to look for experiences outside the classroom by joining groups or volunteering, he continued.

Phone call receiver Chea Dalin, 16, starts getting calls hours before the show goes on air. She flags those between 15 and 24, the show’s primary demographic. Kampong Cham tops the list of provinces in terms of numbers of call-ins, but last week most were from Preah Vihear province.

Chea Dalin said rural youths were shyer than their urban peers when speaking on the radio. “The callers speak in gentle voices. Most of them, especially in the provinces, are still scared to speak to me [before they go on air],” she added.

Part of her job is to encourage them to give it a try. Pheap said the hard part of his job was balancing the conversation with the guest and callers, while taking guidance from his producer.

The biggest challenge is encouraging first time callers to open up. Often they are not very articulate so he has to ask them more questions and probe a bit to ensure they don’t just repeat what a previous caller said.

“Young people need a simple way to communicate. We don’t need a lot of formalities. The point is to just keep it simple so that they feel comfortable to talk to us,” he explained. “We want this simple style of conversation to continue.”

LOY9 is produced by BBC Media Action with funding from the United Nations Development Program. Besides the weekly radio show it has a television show on CTN, which is currently in production for its second season.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at roth.meas@phnompenhpost.com

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