PEOPLE - Getting to know malaysians

Getting Involved with Yasmin
Mention that name and who comes to mind? Radio 4 deejay? Right! Face in television commercials? Right again! Voice behind the cock's crowing on the Ayamas show on radio? You bet! Former Miss Malaysia? That's true! Singer, dancer and actress? Err... come again?

Yes, Yasmin's first love was singing, and that was what she did, besides winning her Miss Malaysia title and thus earning her fame. She sang, danced and basically entertained. But she points out, sadly, that few remember her for this. "I was disappointed to find out that nobody knew about my singing career, considering that it was my first love," she sighs. In fact, more people know about her because of her being a former Miss Malaysia and for winning one of the sub-Miss Universe titles, for being in commercials, and of course, as a Radio 4 deejay.

Well, singing and dancing may be Yasmin's first loves, but they didn't stay faithful to each other for long. These days, without Yasmin on the morning radio to nag us to pay attention on the road or just to tell us to have a nice day, our days just wouldn't start right. Her friendly exhortations have brought - and still bring - an oomph into many a listener's life. When Patrick Teoh was on with Yasmin on Mondays to Wednesdays prior to his Rhythm of the Nation session, I would switch the radio on for company while I got ready for work. By the time I got into my car for the 45-minute commute to work, the trading of friendly insults between Patrick and Yasmin would bring a smile to my face as I memorised one or two choice "insults" that I could use on my colleagues at work.

That's the chirpy side of Yasmin Yusuff that many people know. So what's she like when she's not on the air? Among the journalists I know that have tried to get an interview with Yasmin, some have come away rebuffed because they were told that Yasmin was too busy to grant interviews. "My priorities are with the people who paid me for my work and I have very little free time left," she says brusquely. So those who don't know her say she's aloof and unapproachable. The listening public has a different impression, though. A friend of mine who admires Yasmin and never fails to tune in to her morning show says, "She's always very cheerful and chirpy and she laughs a lot."

And that I found to be true. Indeed, Yasmin laughs a lot, and it's not the hand-behind-the-mouth type of sniggering or delicate giggles, but the bottom-of-the-belly, full-hearted laugh, the kind that makes you want to smile or laugh in response, even if you don't see what's so funny.

When I met her in her ethnically decorated shophouse-office in Ampang, she was dressed in a long-sleeved denim shirt with Mickey Mouse embroidered on the front pockets over a pair of grey stirrup pants. She's not aloof, I decided. Anyone who wears Mickey Mouse to work has got to have a sense of humour. She's not unapproachable, but until one got to know her better, there was a kind of reserved veneer about her. She warned me that the interview would be interrupted by phone calls that she would have to answer herself as her assistant was away. To start, I asked her to tell me, briefly, how she came to be a deejay.

She reminisces thoughtfully, "I was a guest deejay on RMIK in 1986. The producer, Nor Amin, now the head of Time Highway Radio, asked me to introduce the music, and after he heard me doing so, he said, `Hey, you should be a deejay.' He arranged an audition for me, and before I knew it, I was doing Fascinating Malaysia on Radio Malaysia Ibukota."

Yasmin recalls, "Fascinating Malaysia, which went on for a year, was aimed at tourists, but then I thought, the programme is about the different parts of Malaysia so it would be interesting to other Malaysians too. I did a lot of research for each show, which I did once or twice a week. TDC (as it was known then) provided me with scripts, but I took them home and rewrote them in my own style to make them more interesting. I had a lot of experience as far as taking people around the country and talking about Malaysia was concerned, as I had been living abroad and so I could see the country from a different point of view.
"I think I had the right approach because the programme began to get a lot of response. People found it interesting because I would say things like `Oh, did you know about this place...,' even if it was a small waterfall by the side of the road. The power of radio is such that it makes your imagination work. With radio, you get involved.

"I was different then. My radio style was slow and calm," she recalls, as she breaks into "isn't-this-unbelievable" laughter. "I was not so wacky or humourous as I am now. There was this self-restraint that you imposed on yourself because the government station was like this, so you just followed the rules. You'd never dare to step out of line. But I really enjoyed doing it, and I really worked at it. And I can even remember how much I earned - RM25 an hour," she says, rolling her eyes in disbelief. "I was obviously not in it for the money, right?" she quips.

The reason she's such an engaging and entertaining deejay is that she was an entertainer before she became a deejay. And Yasmin would have you know that being an entertainer is a lot harder, but it was valuable groundwork that prepared her well for her radio career. She explains, "As an entertainer, I had to sing, dance and kick my legs, and look at the audience, and at the same time get them to participate and applaud. Keeping them entertained and amused is much more difficult than waking up at five in the morning. It's a breeze (now) compared to what I had to do as an entertainer.

"The whole direction that I come from is that one has to make sure the audience is entertained. They must be delighted; they must applaud all the time. They've got to get their money's worth," she says in earnest. "That gave me, ideally, an edge, but whether it was for better or worse, I wouldn't know because it really depends on the listener, and not everybody likes me."

After Fascinating Malaysia, she hosted the Shangri-La Show. "It was the first live phone-in show, so naturally it was a momentous occasion (for her and for Radio 4). The booth next to the studio was packed with people watching to see how I would handle it (holding conversations with the listeners live), especially as I was an outsider. I made up my own games, my own competition. After it was all over, there were record covers all over the studio." She heaves a big sigh of relief.
The show was a success naturally, and eventually moved to become part of the morning programme. Subsequently, she started to do more regular programming such as the 120 Special on Sunday afternoons and Saturday Night Life.

"At that time, I was one of four part-timers. Radio 4 decided at one point that they didn't want part-timers so our names were left off the rosters. But later they changed their minds when they (the full-timers) couldn't cope, so we came back. I did a couple of hours here and there until Radio 4 decided to regularise our hours. This constant change was the effect of competition. That's what gives Radio 4 an edge. We were the only one broadcasting in English in the afternoons, until Best 104 (from Johor Bahru) came along, so now we have competition.

For a while, Radio 4 even experimented by having two deejays on th3e show. She remembers, "I'd have Harith Iskandar one day, then Ganesh, then Godfrey. I wish I'd had the Fly Guy with me though, but he was doing Sundays."

When Radio 4 decided to make the deejays' hours more regular, a meeting was held to decide who would take which slot. During the meeting, which Yasmin didn't attend, Patrick Teoh suggested that Radio 4 needed a regular person every weekday morning, and put forward Yasmin's name for the job. And that's how Yasmin became the voice that wakes the entire nation up every morning at six from Monday to Friday, encourages her listeners to have breakfast, drive carefully, be courteous on the road, report traffic conditions - the merry voice that has become a mainstay of Malaysian morning radio and which no other deejay seems able to dislodge.

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