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How Do You Sing That in Arabic?

In Dubai, a New Set of Jingles Sang the Praises of the Holy Month of Ramadan

Neil Bowden We’ve all heard those catchy little jingles that sing the names of our favorite radio stations. They usually appear after we have been treated to four minutes of car dealer spots and pitches for erectile dysfunction nostrums. Just before we finally get to hear some music, out pops a cheery vocal group singing “One-Oh-Five-Point-Seven, Star-FM.”

These eight-second wonders have been around since the 1950s and usually showcase the station call letters or slogan. But not always.

In the United Arab Emirates, a new set of jingles hit the airwaves last September singing the praises of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Commissioned by and heard only on Channel 4 FM, the jingles were sung partly in Arabic and partly in English.

“The Arabic lyrics say, ‘Ramadan Kareem,’ which is kind of like ‘Happy Ramadan,'” said Program Director Neal Bowden. “The frequency and call letters, 104.8 Channel 4 FM, were sung in English. These jingles aired during the month-long celebration of Ramadan this past September.”

The sung IDs were created by Dallas-based production house TM Studios for the station, which is based in Dubai. The jingle singers in Texas vocalized the Arabic portions phonetically under the supervision of Bowden. This was done by use of a verbal pronunciation guide delivered to TM Studios via MP3.

Chris Stevens represents TM in the United Kingdom as vice president and creative director, and he was the sales account rep involved in this transaction.

“TM was already producing jingles in multiple languages each month,” he said. “As an example, ‘Kissville,’ another of their ID packages, is on the air in Portugal, Germany and on a whole load of Spanish stations.”

Start here, get there

Bowden is no stranger to international radio, having arrived at Channel 4 FM via a global route.

He started working for the BBC in Worcester, England when he was 16.

“I answered the competitions lines, mailed out prizes and did research for the morning show,” he said. “From there I moved to a small AM station, Sunshine 855, in Shropshire, then went overseas in 2003. I was hired to launch a contemporary station in Cairo, Egypt and host the morning show. From Egypt I got the call to go to Dubai, so I moved there in 2004.”

In June, 2005, Bowden was promoted to music director and changed the station’s format from contemporary hit radio to hot adult contemporary. He also handles the morning show on Channel 4 FM. The station targets an audience of Western expatriates aged 25–44. Thus, the broadcast day is presented entirely in English.

The sound of an oud

Using jingles is one way to help a radio station relate to its audience. If Ramadan is important to its listeners, it is important to Channel 4 FM.

“We wanted to do something different,” Bowden said. “We wanted to acknowledge this holy month with more than just [announcer] sweepers. The instructions we gave to TM were simple: hot adult contemporary meets Arabic.”

Getting an Arabic sound involved some musical instruments not well known in the United States.

“One of our concerns was how to find an oud [a Arabic lute] in Texas,” he said. “Luckily the guys at TM were able to locate one, and a few ideas were sent back and forth until all five instrumental tracks were approved. We opted for the singers heard on TM’s ‘Kissville’ package designed for WXKS(FM), Boston.”

Stevens noted that even with the inclusion of the oud, the musical tuning of the instrumentals was similar to Western scales.

Bowden’s general manager thought his program director was a little crazy when the idea was first broached.

“But listener response was amazing,” said Bowden. “This the first time anyone has used jingles in Dubai to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.”