All you Nile FM fans are in for a treat, because we met up with none other than Mark Somers, of The Morning Show, to get the scoop on how the Brit ended up in busy, smoggy Cairo, what his favourite—and least favourite—parts about being a radio presenter are, and his alternate-universe-job as a ‘bayya3 fel koshk’.
So, how did you first get into radio biz?
I was always interested in being a radio presenter; when I was young, I used to listen to the radio all the time and there were certain people that I used to listen to and think, ‘oh, I’d love to be able to do that’.
In England, where I grew up, there was a thing called ‘hospital radio’ where they have a station in the hospital for the patients. You’re supposed to be sixteen to do it, but I kinda told a bit of a lie when I was fifteen and pretended I was a year older; so I joined the hospital radio and volunteered, and that really gave me the ‘want’ to do it.
What did you start out doing? Did they put you on air straight away?
They used to have a ridiculous thing called ‘the chemist rota’, and I had to read out—on someone else’s show—a list of pharmacies and what time they were open; so I would tell people what time their pharmacy was open so they could pick up their meds. *laughs* It sounds ridiculous. I haven’t told anybody that for such a long time. So they would say, ‘here’s Mark, with the chemist rota’, and I’d say, ‘and you’re local chemist on this street is open at this time….’
Is this what you’ve always wanted to do?
Yeah! I mean, I acted a bit in a few plays at school, and at one point I thought I could be a singer. Maybe that was not my thing…. *jokingly* But of course, before my voice broke, I had a beautiful voice.
But yeah, I used to be in a band. Apart from that, this is what I’ve always wanted to do. And so when I left school, at sixteen, I used to send demo tapes to radio stations, and eventually I got someone who said, ‘come and try out and do a show’. I asked the boss at the time, ‘have you got any tips for me? Any do’s and don’ts?’; and my boss said, ‘do be good, don’t be crap’. And I think that’s quite good advice, really.
So how did you find yourself in Cairo?
It’s a weird one! It would be 2011, and Egypt was on the TV a lot, and then this job was advertised. I’d been a radio presenter for about 13 years by that point, and I just got to the point where I wanted to do something different—I wanted a change. And there was this job advertised online for a station called Nile Fm, in Cairo, and I thought, ‘well, that sounds interesting’. So I thought I might as well just send a tape, and a while later they got back to me and another few months passed and they wanted me to come over. It took a while for my work visa to be sorted, so it was January 2013 [when I started]. So overall, it took a year and a bit from me sending my application to me actually coming and starting.
And what was it like for you when you first moved here? Did you have culture shock?
Do you know what—it wasn’t much of a culture shock. It was kind of what I expected it to be—busy. But I found it exciting; for the first time, I felt like I was doing something really different, and I just embraced it. I think in Britain, often people are trying to be ‘too cool for school’—everyone’s worried about what someone else might think, whereas here people are very open and friendly. Like, if you go somewhere like London, which has got like nine million people and Cairo has 20, it’s so different to what Cairo is [like]. There are places that are dodgy, but for the most part Cairo is a very warm, friendly city.
And I love the cafe/restaurant culture—I love that people go and sit, and they’ll eat and have drinks with their friends and shisha, and they’ll spend a good six hours sitting there. If you went into a pub [in the UK] and sat there with a beer for six hours, you’d be thrown out! *laughs* ’Buy some drinks, or go!’
So it was a nice culture shock.
What about with the language?
*Laughs* Language was a bit more difficult. Sometimes at work, everybody’s in a group and chatting away, and I think, ‘if I go and stand with them, they’ll feel like they have to talk English’.
I should be fluent in Arabic by now, but being typically British I’m not very good at putting the effort in. But I know the bits that I need to know—bad words, if someone’s calling me a bad thing, I know how to get around, how to order food….
So, what’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you while doing the Morning Show?
The weird thing about doing any show, is that as soon as it’s done, you forget what you’ve said; I can’t really remember the things we were talking about this morning. Sometimes after the show we have to put together a promo for the next day’s show, and Sally will sit there and say, ‘come on, it was only five minutes ago…’
One thing that’s nice about doing the show, is that people that call in to take part in games and stuff, are really nice, and whenever someone texts in, it’s friendly and funny—that’s what’s so good, so much content for the show comes from what people say, and what people say is often far better than what we could ever say. The other day we had someone on the phone, and I just started to laugh—I don’t know what it was, but I just couldn’t stop; it was just something about the person that made me laugh.
How do you handle having to go on air when you’re having a bad day, or in a mood?
The thing about doing the show, is that you can come in and you’re having a bad day—something’s happening at home or you’re just in a particularly bad mood about something, but it’s actually therapeutic—it makes you better. As soon as you open the microphone and start to talk and someone texts in…. It always seems to happen, actually, when you feel like you’re having a bad day, somebody will just text something and it’ll just cheer you up. So actually, the show is good; if you’re having a bad day, you can just forget about it for a few hours.
Are there downsides or tough aspects to the job that fans don’t realise?
Yeah, we always joke about that—it just being about turning up and playing songs. It’s not easy; if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
When you first start doing radio, you’ve got to learn how to communicate—because there’s a difference between chatting, like between you and me now, and talking on the radio. You’ve got to find how to get your personality across. It’s a bit easier if you’ve got two people, but when you’re doing a show on your own you’re talking to the listener, and the nice thing about radio is that you’re talking to one person—that person in their car, or at home. There’s quite a skill to that. And another part—one of the tough parts—is just coming up with stuff; we’ve been doing this show for four years now, and I’ve been doing a daily show for more or less 17 years. So, coming up with new ideas and fresh things to talk about…. Y’know, ‘Beyoncé’s having twins—let’s chat’. I feel that for Egyptian people, if you’re talking about food, you’re good. If we get into a good conversation about food, the switchboard will light up.
What’s the best part of the job?
Connecting with the listeners—definitely. You feel like you’ve done something in the morning. Being a part of people’s lives in the morning, as they’re getting the kids ready for school or the kid’s on the bus; that’s what’s special. And when people say, ‘ah, you weren’t on, *on whatever day*’ and ‘oh, we missed you’—that’s really nice.
Do you have a favourite memory?
It’s always nice when you get to meet listeners; we’ve done meals in places, we’ve had a load of students come in; to be able to have a chat with people, is always the best part of the job.
What’s it like having a co-host?
*Jokingly* Awful. *laughs* I’ve had quite a few different co-hosts over the years, and sometimes it really works, and sometimes it doesn’t work very well. And when it doesn’t work, it’s horrible—it makes coming to work hell. I’ve had situations where my co-host hated me—absolutely hated me.
Sally, on the other hand.... We met when I arrived in 2013, and I think we were both very nervous about each other, but as soon as we went on the very first morning and opened the microphone, we started chatting and did our bit, and when I closed the microphone afterwards, I remember thinking, ‘this is gonna work’—I just had that feeling that we clicked and it was going to work nicely, and it has.
So, what do you like to do in your down-time?
Well, I’ve got seven cats, which I adore and spend a lot of time with. That sounds so sad.... *laughs*
I spend most of my time in Maadi, and eating at as many different places as possible. I’ve got so many good friends here, and there are so many parties....
Do you have another talent or hobby that your fans don’t know about?
No. *laughs* I have literally no talents. Doing this job, sometimes I think, ‘what if I wasn’t doing this job—what would I do?’, and I have no idea.
I could work in a koshk—a Friday-night job in a koshk; although, any time someone asks for what they want, I wouldn’t know what they’re saying.
If you could choose another career, what would it be?
I wanna be somebody who doesn’t do very much. My mum plays the lottery in the UK, and every weekend I hope that she’s going to come and say, ‘hey! I’ve won hundreds of millions of pounds—here’s some money!’ I mean, I’d keep working—just maybe not as early in the morning. And then spend the rest of the time chilling by the beach.
Do you see yourself living in Egypt long-term?
I’d like to. I hope so. I have no desire to go back to England. I’ve been back for a holiday twice since I’ve been here. I love seeing my family, and I miss them, but I’m more than happy here.
What would happen to the cats if I went away? There are seven of them to feed!
Are there any new projects or shows at Nile Fm that we can stay tuned for?
We have got some exciting new shows coming up in the summer, hopefully. I think Nile fm is going to turn another corner this year; we’re trying to introduce some new stuff, and we’ve had some new people come in.
Valentine’s Day, there will be a special show with me and Zeinab, on Tuesday night from 10pm till 1am. Lots of prizes to give away.
You can listen to Mark and Sally on 104.2 Nile Fm weekday mornings, from 7-11am.
By Salma Thanatos Rizk