JV: Have all 13 years been with MediaCorp?
Andrew: The radio side of it was, yeah. When I first arrived, the plan to travel was just to do some teaching along the way, because it’s a very easy job to get. So when I first got here, I was actually teaching drama and English of all things, but then when I realized that I was going to be staying put here at least for the short term, I just decided that I couldn’t hang around and not do what I truly love to do. So I went and approached MediaCorp, and they gave me a little room and a little key and off I went.
JV: Tell us about radio in Singapore. As I understand it, the only radio stations and TV stations there are state owned, and MediaCorp is the organization that runs them. Is that correct?
Andrew: Well, that’s a very simple way of putting it. It’s slightly more complex than that, but it does boil down to the same thing. It’s very important that the government is able to have a certain degree of control over the media for their own purposes, be they benign or otherwise, generally benign. We live under a “friendly dictatorship,” I guess would be the way to put it. As time’s gone on for me here in Singapore, the best way to think about this country, especially when you’re living here, is as a company rather than a country. And it runs very efficiently in that way simply because geographically we are very small and very self contained. We have a large population, but human beings are our only natural resource, so the government’s done a very good job of making sure everyone’s happy. It’s a great place to live, a great place to work.
Yeah, media is controlled by the state, although through private companies. MediaCorp itself is obviously the biggest player. We’ve got 14 stations, digitals, all up and running. We have four TV stations, newspapers, magazines. There is competition in the form of Singapore Press Holdings who runs the major newspaper The Straits Times. And there are other competing radio stations. One, however, is owned by the armed forces, so that’s obviously under government control, and the other network of two stations, one English and one Chinese, is run by the National Trades Union Council, so that’s obviously under government control. MediaCorp is still a private company, its largest shareholder being Temasek Holdings, which is owned and run by the government. So yeah, to cut a long story short, it is state controlled; however it’s not as bad as you would imagine. The freedoms and liberties are there to be as creative as you want.
JV: What are your responsibilities there?
Andrew: As Creative Director of English Programming, I deal with a number of stations, Hot AC, CHR. We have a classic oldies station. We have one station which does news/talk, and there’s an international channel. I’m just responsible for overseeing the imaging production and a smattering of commercial production, but it’s mainly all of the station-based stuff. We actually have a separate department staffed by about 30 people which handles in-house commercials alone, but that covers four languages.
JV: That must take a few production studios.
Andrew: Each radio station has its own production studio, and that includes all of the other stations, all of the Chinese, the Malay, and the Tamil stations, as well. But what that means essentially is that we don’t have any backup on-air studios. So there’s no Studio A or Studio B. Each station just has its one on-air suite. And everything is housed in the same building, so it’s 14 stations all running out of one building.
JV: Sound like a big building with a couple hundred people at least.
Andrew: On staff total we’ve got about 600. We’re also integrated with TV as well, plus one of our newspapers is housed in the same building. So it’s a very large complex, but it’s fun because there’s always something going on. The cross pollination of efforts has also been fun along the way. I’ve been able to dabble in a bit of TV here and there apart from the regular job, so that’s been fantastic.
JV: And I suppose there’s no problem finding voice talent down the hall.
Andrew: Oh, absolutely. That’s no problem. And all of the studios are all networked quite happily. I work from home whenever I can, as well; I’m VPN’d into the system. So yeah, it’s very, very easy to get somebody at very short notice, which helps.
JV: What’s your DAW of choice?
Andrew: I’m a Pro Tools guy. It was Pro Tools I first touched in Austereo. When I moved to Singapore, I was actually a beta tester for Pro Tools back at Version 4, and it’s all I use. I desperately, desperately wanted to like the new version of Logic simply because of its portability. And we have a good relationship with Apple, me and my partner in crime, a guy named Don who I did a radio show with for a while. We had a nice partnership with Apple. They brought us in and showed us Logic. Don, who since left MediaCorp, has actually started to integrate Logic into it. But for me and for radio, just for ease of use and for editing and simply because I’m so used to it, Pro Tools is my choice.
JV: How do you think MediaCorp stations differ from commercial radio stations our readers are most familiar with here in North America and Europe? What are some of the major differences, perhaps in terms of guidelines regarding commercial matter, for example?
Andrew: Well, in terms of formats, we kind of try to follow world standards as much as possible, so there’s nothing particularly different there. But the point you make about guidelines and regulations, I think that’s where things start to get a little bit different. As far as advertising goes, it’s the same as it is everywhere — all claims must be substantiated and be able to be verified. So that aside, as far as commercials go, I find that things are probably a little more liberal, whereas in the States, it seems these days disclaimers take up about 30 percent of the promo message.
Over here it’s not so bad. The main restrictions we have are when it comes to on-air content, certain subject matters, simply because we have a large multicultural society here. We have the Malay community, primarily Muslim. There are the Indians, the Tamils, and the Chinese. Then there’s just the general Asian sense of morals that comes into play, so sexual references and sexual content really is kept at a minimum. Even innuendo isn’t smiled upon too much. And the main one, of course, is politics. We simply do not discuss politics as a rule here.
JV: What’s the cost of living like in Singapore, housing, food, and such? How much is gas over there?
Andrew: Right now we’re looking at about $1.80 to $1.90 a liter of petrol.
JV: And we’re talking Singapore dollars, so converting that to a US measure of dollars per gallon, that’s about $5.25 a gallon US. And we’re complaining about prices near $4.00.
Andrew: Well, what some people are doing these days is driving over the bridge to Malaysia where the government has a whole bunch of measures in place to keep fuel prices down for its citizens. So folks are going over there, filling up on a tank of petrol, and then coming back, although they’re starting to stem that now.