| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Pearl FM in Dubai

We go behind the scenes at the UAE's first radio station aimed at children

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© ITP Images

Pearl FM is the first radio station in the UK aimed directly at children and families. Victoria Bentley heads down there to find out what it’s all about.

The look of amazement on children’s faces when they hear their voice for the first time is just brilliant.’ Jeff Price, co-founder of Pearl FM believes that radio can transform lives, both for children and their parents. Sitting in the bright, brand-new Pearl FM studio, he is passionate about this new venture: ‘We had 12 children in here recently for the UAE Compassion Campaign. They spoke so eloquently about collecting donations for Syria. Two of the girls were Syrian. They have lost family, they have lost all their homes. And yet all the time they were on the radio they were smiling and happy.’

Pearl FM launched in October 2014, set up by co-founders Nick Watson and Jeff Price. The studio is within the new Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children, just off the Al Wasl road. It is the first radio station designed for children in the region, currently broadcasting in English, but with plans to launch in Arabic this year.

Jeff’s history is in hospital radio, and he has long felt a calling to set up in children’s radio: ‘Everything I have done since 14th April, 1993, has been towards launching the Children’s Media Network. I was motivated by the death of British toddler, Jamie Bulger, who was kidnapped and then killed by two ten-year-old boys.

‘These two boys had no concept of right or wrong, or love. And that’s what motivated me to get up and try and do something about it. The original concept was to set up a media network for under-privileged children and get them off the street.

It has taken Jeff 21 years, but he has finally achieved his dream, alongside co-founder, Nick Watson. He explains the history behind the launch: ‘I had been working with Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein. She is a patron of an event I do annually called Reaching You Party in the Park. I’ve got a little boy with special needs and it is all about raising awareness for kids with special needs. Her Royal Highness Princess Haya has been my patron for the last eight years.

When we presented the plans for the radio station to her, HRH Princess Haya said we had given them the missing link for their vision for children in the UAE. It’s been an amazing journey. We are very privileged to be here, and we are very thankful to the government for giving us the support that they have.’

How Pearl helps families in Dubai
‘In terms of parents, we want to offer a support network,’ explained Jeff. ‘If you think of what it takes to raise a child, there’s no end to the conversation. We’ve talked about child abuse on the radio, we do a regular feature on child protection and cover cyber bullying.

‘We had a local gentleman in once who had a diabetic daughter. We said to him we were doing a programme on diabetes and he was very keen to listen with his daughter. He was able to listen in private; one-on-one, the radio becomes your friend. This is important in a place like Dubai when we are all away from friends and our family.

Nick agrees that Pearl FM should support parents: ‘I think it is very important to raise awareness on certain issues. Loneliness can be an issue here. I’ve got two kids, and they were both born here. Our parents aren’t here with that initial help. We want radio to act as a resource, to get the information they may not be able to get at home.’

He also wants to support healthy living: ‘My background is in health and fitness and my personal aim here is to promote wellness in the region. Healthy eating, trying to get kids to move. There is such a huge problem with obesity and diabetes in the UAE and across the world.’

Schools love it
Every week, Pearl FM do their morning show from a school in Dubai and it is going down a storm. ‘We are getting great feedback from school of the week,’ said Nick. ‘We go out to a school every week and ask students lots of silly questions – what would you do if you were principal for the day? Some of the answers are very funny. A lot of the kids are already listening to Pearl and knew what we were going to ask them! We have just released an app so that grandparents can listen from outside the UAE.’

Future plans
The Children’s Media Network may be young but Jeff and Nick’s project has already received interest from India, the Philippines and the United States. They hope to launch the Arabic service soon, and perhaps even move into television. But for this year, these enthusiastic guys just want to get Pearl FM on ‘everyone’s radio dial.’ Their highlight so far? ‘His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum came to see us on National Day,’ said Nick. ‘His first word on seeing Pearl FM was wow! That’s pretty cool!’

By Victoria Bentley
Time Out Dubai,

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