Trip to MAST FM 103

Every morning, thousands of Pakistanis unite over the radio waves listening to MAST FM 103’s radio programs, interacting with RJs, and enjoying songs on the go.

It was a privilege to visit and watch the behind-the-scenes of a 24/7 radio station. Situated on Shahrah-e-Faisal, MAST FM 103 operates from a five-room office on the third floor of a high-rise. The tiny office rooms are misleading. At first glance, the humble office rooms appear old and dilapidated. However, touring the studios and transmission room, we really got an idea of the technology and talent turning the cogs and wheels at FM 103.

First, the transmission room seemed like a cold storage for blinking lights and whirring equipment. The broadcast transmitter, OMNIA, was breathing cold air thanks to two air conditioners mounted on opposite walls. On top of the shelf was the audio distribution system connecting the wires from all the studios and serving as the meeting point for all audio signals.

Underneath, the exciter was busy turning all audio signals to FM at 103 which the amplifier then added 150 watts to, before sending it finally to the broadcast emitter. The machine seemed to be sitting silently given the amount of complicated processing it was handling every second. The amplifier had its own power supply, kept cool by a pedestal fan. Since the transmission room is crucial to the operations of the station, it is backed by UPSes and generators round the clock.

From machine to man, we then met the talented people behind the desks. In the off-air studio, working behind a giant mixer was the production head, Mr. Tajammul Hussain, lining up a Peak Freans ad in the Win Amp playlist. He proudly explained the off-air process of logging ads and creating playlists after which we scooted off to the on-air studio.

Stepping into the on-air studio, it was a different atmosphere. Even though the radio was then playing back-to-back songs and there was no live RJ performing, the air was thick with excitement. Our own teacher, RJ Sharaf Qaisar introduced us to the broadcast mixer – a sturdy machine with a wooden frame that looked like it could take a bullet and cost around PKR 6 lacs. It didn’t take a bullet here, although it did withstand RJs tampering with its faders every hour for the last few years. Next to the mixer, shadowed in its presence, was the Telos used to take on live calls. Mr. Tajammul Hussain silenced the radio for a few seconds to show us how to take on calls and this is how our little trip made some impact on FM 103’s airwaves that day.

At 3:00pm, we were in for a surprise. A girl walked into the room and seated herself behind the mic. We were told she would read out the hourly news. Our hearts racing at the thought of watching a live broadcast up close, we switched off our phones and stood silent. With trained dexterity, she started the news anthem, opened her script, put on her headphones, and heaved a sigh. Then, it was time. Switching between music and her own sing-song voice, she narrated global and local events. As unexpectedly as it had begun, it was over in five minutes, and although, she had made it look simple, we knew better from the little we had learnt that fateful day we went to MAST FM 103.

To watch a video of the live broadcast, check my Instagram page: