As previously promised, I have to give some feedback on Muscat's new English-language radio station - Merge FM. This is particularly important as they have already bribed premium Omani blogsters Sythe, Nadia and Mimi with money and shiny things. The aforementioned are therefore not really in a position to comment. To be fair, Sythe has permitted me to to post some fairly snide comments next to his advertisements, and Mimi has graced MurjEffem's first advertisement with a post about FGM (more on that subject later by the way), demonstrating typically splendid integrity. Still, you can't trust the payroll vote, can you? An independent voice is needed. One untainted by financial incentive (however bribe-friendly he might be in priniciple). Enter The Linoleum Surfer.
So, there I was, up at seven a.m. which is basically night time for me, to listen to the fat Evertonian on whose milky shoulders the hopes of the station rest. And alas, I was a bit disappointed. I had hoped, after all this build up, to say that it was all terrible. Ill-conceived. Shambolic. And it wasn't. I promised to call it like it is, and unfortunately it's....OK.
Slow start I thought. I guess when it's early morning, you've probably been up all night and you're the boss so it's doubly your fault, the stress must be severe. And it was a tentative, timid and dull performance for the first hour or so. But once he'd got into it I think Mr Fisher did OK. New show, new station and new to Oman, but he'll get into it. The basic competence in knowing what he's doing and the desire to be light-hearted and chatty as a breakfast host should, is all there. Basically, one day in, this is now the least bad breakfast show in Oman. It's a good place to start, and I think it's going to get better. The music is certainly a welcome diversity compared to the other commercial station.
Moving on, I caught a bit of Rumaitha's show at lunchtime, and this is a clincher: this girl clearly has no experience whatsoever, but I don't object at all. She's smart, she's got a nice personality and the confidence to push on through the little stammers and hesitations and get the job done. The important thing is, she's Omani. Given a chance, on day one, to just get on with it. Good for her. I hear a rumour that she follows this blog so let me be the first to say: Well done Rumaitha, you did fine and you're going to be great.
That difference in attitude is really welcome - putting Omanis front and centre from the beginning. Sure, it's still a station built by and around former provincial British DJs who never quite made it big and drifted off to one of Dubai's myriad craphouses. But unlike Hi, they're not targeting British expatriate 18-25s with learning difficulties as their exclusive market. If they can manage a voice that Omanis don't feel is patronising them, they will do just fine, and so far so good. Just don't let the Brits talk about pubs and the Premier League all the time please. There is a world beyond Dover, and now they're in it, they should talk about it...
As I type, the afternoon chick with the funny name is on. Jury's out, she's nervous too and doesn't really have anything to say. But no reason to write her off just yet, and again the music's a good mixture.
Overall it's a "C" today then for Merge FM. Which isn't bad at all for a first day, and I'm sure they'll get better. By GCC standards it's all been perfectly competent so far, which means by Oman broadcasting standards it's top of the class. I do wonder whether all the radio stations make the same mistake though: if you try to serve everybody a little, you end up serving nobody well. Still, with that caveat, Merge is the best of the bunch. There, I said it. I was prepared to stick the boot in, but they don't deserve any kicking just yet. Well done.
During that turgid first hour though, I did have a spin across the dial to check out the competition and refresh my memory. Hi FM was hideous, over-caffeinated blethering and relentlessly upbeat chart hits. That Darren chap actually seems very nice, but the show and style is just so generic it might as well by a syndication. From a hospital. But here's the main competition to Merge now in my mind: there is something special about Oman FM. No really. Any DJ who can go from Creedence Clearwater Revival straight into a full length club re-mix of J-Lo's "On The Floor", and then cut it off half way having just realised how long and inappropriate it is, must be special. Sure, Merge has a much more diverse playlist than Hi (thank you!), but Smokey's "Living Next Door to Alice"? The original? That's Fike-on-the-Mic territory. And listening to the Fikester chuckling about a smutty story he's read in The Sun about Ryan Giggs, while he's decided he can't share what it's actually about on the show, is gold. Bizarre, surreal, staggeringly improper gold. I was grinning from ear to ear listening to Fike. Probably for all the wrong reasons, but grinning nevertheless. Work on that Merge FM and you might just win me over for real...
P.S. One small criticism to the Merge community: your website has a couple of dead links and several typos/mistakes. On launch day. Not good - get someone else to proofread this stuff for you; your in-house team don't write well enough themselves. Sorry. Good luck though.