Helen Farmer: Connecting with people over the airwaves

Dubai Eye radio presenter Helen Farmer tells Campaign Middle East editor Justin Harper the many things she loves about her job

Sometimes I forget how intimate radio is. To have someone’s voice in your car, your home, to get to know them. It’s very special. The trust builds too, I hope. It’s a responsibility, to introduce listeners to experts and real life stories, to answer their questions, to give them a platform.”

Helen Farmer is somewhat of a legend on the radio scene in Dubai. She hosts a popular afternoon radio show on Dubai Eye 103.8 connecting the community through a range of topics from dining to finance.

She is also a skilled and experienced editor and writer,  and the founder of The Mothership – an award-winning parenting blog. She spoke to Campaign Middle East editor Justin Harper about how much she loves her job.

“I host the Afternoons show and am live on-air and online every week day from 2pm to 5pm. It’s a unique job, in that I become an expert in a huge range of topics, even if only temporarily. No two days are the same. I can do a deep dive into a psychological issue, hear unimaginable stories from extraordinary people, assist listeners with legal or health concerns by having an in-demand expert taking their questions on the text line, whether they’re from here in Dubai or speaking to us from anywhere in the world, and chat with both up and coming and world famous chefs.

Connecting the community

In truth, it’s connecting the community that makes this role so fulfilling to me. To be able to save someone a trip to the doctor, vet or solicitor, to introduce a listener to someone who has real expertise in an area they need help in (who might not have an available appointment for months), is really meaningful. It’s offering advice and often peace of mind. It’s those ‘I didn’t know that’ and ‘I feel like that too’ moments.

So how do we decide which guests get booked? Well, it’s tricky one. Because we might have a globally recognised, qualified expert in our studio, if they can’t communicate well, it’s a disaster. If they can’t tell a story, can’t answer questions clearly, or get overwhelmed by a microphone and shut down, that can be a very, very long segment, for them and for me. I once had a chef change his entire accent, sweating through his whites, because he was so nervous. Needless to say, we ended the chat early. Let that be a lesson to the PRs reading this.

In short, I hope my show on Dubai Eye is a reflection of what’s happening in the community – we’re talking about what you’re talking about, from rents to restaurants – but also shining a light on subjects that people may know very little about. I’d love it if everyone listening learns something, and goes home, or calls a friend, saying “You’ll never guess what I heard today”. We’ve had stories of people finding the best doctor for their child after hearing them on the show, of people getting thousands of dirhams paid back to them after sending a text during our free legal clinic. That’s what it’s all about to me.

Instant feedback

And I hope I’m able to connect too. I’m all too happy to share my own issues, from health to parenting, to be vulnerable and normalise some of the struggles we all face, often forgetting how many people are listening. After years of working in publishing (pre-internet), articles would be edited, printed and manually circulated. Now, because I’m live on air and online, it’s immediate and in real time, and get instant feedback from the audience… something I thrive on and keeps the adrenalin going.

When I first started in radio, a much more experienced presenter told me, “Some days you’ll take your headphones off and walk out of the studio on top of the world. Other days you’ll walk away wishing you’d said or done something differently, and it will haunt you”. That’s very true indeed. I learn something every day, sometimes about myself and most often from my guests. I just hope that’s true of the thousands of people tuning in too, because it’s a privilege to spend that time in their company.”