For a quarter of a century, radio and television personality Sham G Ali has been entertaining local audiences with his soothing voice and extensive knowledge of East Indian content. And he has taken his talents beyond Trinidad and Tobago's shores with his radio show TBZ-The Bollywood Zone, which has been broadcasting in Guyana, Canada and the US. Ali is also the voice behind the recent Royal Castle advertisements.
Ali chatted with Newsday about the show in an interview last month.
"I'm part-owner of the advertising agency (Market Moguls Ltd) and we have strong affiliations with (Hindi language entertainment channel) Zee TV and various media houses locally and internationally. Two years ago or so, we began producing a weekly radio programme for Guyana, and recently it started airing in Toronto and New York with plans to reach the wider Indian diaspora."
Ali recalled the show began with a business trip he took to Guyana two years ago. During the trip, he and his wife met Franklin (Bobby) Vieira, CEO of Multicultural Communications Inc, who had recently opened the radio station Guyana's Lite 104.1FM. He had worked with the BBC for 40 years and was heavily involved in the government of former Guyana president David Granger.
Vieira told them he wanted to put some East Indian content on his new radio station and suggested a collaborative effort to create a radio product.
"And we created TBZ-The Bollywood Zone and created our own brand in Bollywood content."
Ali, who pointed out he is the only TT broadcaster operating in Guyana, and explained TBZ is a two-hour package and he took some inspiration on the format from veteran American radio personality Rick Dees, known for his weekly Top 40 programme.
"It is quirky, informative and edited sharp and tight. Like a Bollywood version (of Rick Dees)."
TBZ-The Bollywood Zone features international news, regional news, Bollywood news, and historical content and all the scripting and editing of the show is done locally for the weekly programme. Ali, who also works for local radio station Radio 90.5, said the Bollywood music is mostly new content, though he does play content from the 80s and 90s.
He added the programme also reports on the Bollywood box office and has a segment called History and the Hit which provides a historical context for a Bollywood hit.
Ali said his wife, Tara Singh, general manager of the couple's advertising agency, assists with the show's production and she is knowledgeable about Bollywood content.
The show also has a birthday club highlighting Bollywood and international celebrities.
"I have maintained throughout my career that it is not about only playing music. That is just a part of being a broadcaster. But informing listeners, giving interesting, palatable content is the cornerstone of what I have striven to do over the course of all these years."
Ali's media journey began in 1994 as a marketing representative at the TBC Radio Network and crossed paths with local radio icons like Dave Elcock and Emmett Hennessy.
"That is how far back I started from. But I am still relatively young compared to some of these guys."
In 1995 he was offered an on-air position as a radio presenter at state-owned media house, ICN (610 AM / 91.1FM), which was changing its format to East Indian programming. It was there that he developed on-air skills as a drive-time host and news presenter, skills that would serve him in his long career, in which TBZ-The Bollywood Zone is the latest milestone.
Ali explained in TT there is a lot of competition in radio generally.
"There is so much electronic media for such a small country."
He said with six East Indian radio stations there is a high level of competition and this has spurred local broadcasters to push the envelope "and to be as good as they can." He added, however, that Guyana's radio industry was not at that stage yet.
Ali said that when the TBZ-The Bollywood Zone was introduced to Guyana the feedback was the show had a superior feeling and approach, even compared to the average radio show in Trinidad. He added the show has got a healthy and very enthusiastic listenership based on website feedback.
"The way it is produced and meticulously put together, researched and scripted, it takes me three days do one show."
The show is advertised in Georgetown on a billboard, but Ali noted that he is not on a billboard in Trinidad. Asked if there was any negative response to a Trinidadian hosting a show broadcast in Guyana, Ali replied there has been nothing but positive feedback. He added that for the past 12 years he has hosted live shows in Guyana and had planned to do some promotion in the country, but that was stymied due to covid19.
"As a Trinidadian, I am very well accepted."
With the show's success, Ali decided to syndicate it. TBZ-The Bollywood Zone began airing on Shabnam Radio, a Toronto station owned by Trinidadian Richard Aziz, and which has a large Guyanese and Trinidadian listenership.
Aziz said in a statement, "We at Shabnam Radio are pleased to include TBZ to our programming line-up. I’ve known Sham G as one of Trinidad’s top broadcasters over the years and his professional approach to Indian programming is exciting and refreshing”.
When the show airs Saturday mornings in Guyana from 7-9 am it is also simulcast on a New York Caribbean radio station Caribbean Radio 93.5.
"The three stations reach the diaspora," Ali pointed out.
He said the team is looking at other markets where the listenership is inclined to Caribbean, Trinidadian, or Guyanese content, including Holland, Fiji, and Suriname. They are also in talks with South Africa. Ali added they have a working relationship with Zee TV, the biggest brand on Indian television in the world, about promoting the show and they are seeking to formalise the arrangement.
"We want to have brand TT emanating from TT and have a presence with not just an Indian radio show, but a Trinidadian broadcaster doing content in the diaspora. After all these years in radio, TV, Bollywood, cultural shows, there comes a time when the local market is too small. And if you get an opportunity to go beyond that market, one should explore that."