Radio presenter heals the hearts of his lonely late-night audience
Late-night radio offers a second home for the lonely in Hong Kong as RTHK radio presenter Wan Tsz Lung “Tze Lung” loves interactingwith his audience in the wee hours.
By Vicky So and Ruby Leung
Advisor: Ms Sandra Lowe
Pages editor： Vicky So
Tsz Lung, who works on RTHKRadio 2, has found purpose and a great sense of motivation in his late-night music radio programme Keep YouCompany (輕談淺唱不夜天).
He still remembers the first time he hosted the late-night show. It was “very exciting yet full of pressure”.
It was luck that saw him in the hot seat because he was covering for a sick colleague’s shift. “I was very nervous as it was my first time and I was all on my own,” he said. “My hands were almost shaking in the first 45 minutes because I was so afraid that I would press the wrong button on the panel.”
The 34-year-old started his career as a radio presenter more than a decade ago after winning the Web Jockey competition held by RTHK.
Then, he started first on the Teen Power internet radio show for youths and years later, he is now the regular host for the long-running late night music show Keep You Company. The show, which started in the 1980s is on air every night from 2am to 6am, Monday to Sunday.
Tsz Lung always chose songs that matched his topics and ideas based on his daily life. Initially, he did not do much preparation and chose songs he liked and were familiar with, for instance, Anime theme songs. Yet, he wanted to know what the show’s fans would like because he believed they were most important for the show’s success and he usually played songs they requested.
He later realised that he could not entertain every audience member, so he came up with some strategies. In the first hour, he played upbeat and energetic songs such as K-pop and J-pop, with gentler tunes later in the evening as most people are in the mood to sleep.
In the early morning hours, he plays lively and vivacious songs as people start to wake up and go to work.
Careers in radio broadcasting are not like normal office jobs as producers, presenters, and technicians need to work late shifts, on public holidays, or even during extreme weather warnings.
Would such odd hours affect these workers’ family lives? “In the very beginning, I once begrudged clerks who work in regular office hours. In the first few years I hosted this programme, I rarely saw my family and friends,” said Tsz Lung.
The 2am to 6am schedule is totally opposite what most people in day jobs experience, which meant Tsz Lung was hardly able to squeeze in time for gatherings with friend or family. He said life in the media industry meant you often had to work when everyone was on a holiday. “But, let’s look at it from a different angle, you are blowing the audience away with happiness during their holidays.”
Hosting a late – night radio programme, unlike daytime ones, is a lonely time because the presenter is often the sole person in the studio. It is like a one- man band and Tsz Lung is responsible for all duties.
“I felt lonely before because I was the only one hosting the whole programme. It was understandable to feel isolated. However, it is necessary to be independent to be in this industry,” Tsz Lung said.
From an outsider’s view, hosting a four-hour programme might be wonderful. Tsz Lung had the same idea,too. However, he felt lost after the initial enthusiasm for the job wanted.
“I felt like this was like grunt work and I was nominated just because no one wanted to do it,” Tsz Lung recalled.
Apart from the above reasons, he said hosting a program alone was like suffering from schizophrenia. “Imagine there is only one you in the studio, but you still have to pretend you are communicating with someone who is not physically there.”
Luckily, Tsz Lung quickly recovered from this confusion and two fans helped him out of his slump.
To interact with the audience, presenters of the show usually read Facebook comments. When Tsz Lung was some how in his despondent mood, he saw a fan left an emotional message for him, which read: Even Tsz Lung feels so depressed, so why am I supposed to stay alive?
He got a slap in the face when he saw this comment. This is the first time he felt he connected to and could influence his audience, so he started reflecting on his career.
“It seemed the audience and me were actually connected. I should do something to respond in this the relationship,” Tsz Lung said.
As he began to interact more with his audience, he realised most of his fans did not sleep at night for several reasons.
First, their occupation requires them to work at night. Second, those who suffer from insomnia and third,there may be fans in different time zones listening to his show.
“I just want to let them know, you are not alone. There is someone who cares about you. There must be someone accompanying you in the darkest hours,”said Tsz Lung.
He kept paying special attention to this audience for about a month and this experience fostered Tsz Lung’s strong sense of responsibility and calling.
“You must think clearly about what kind of programme you want to produce before you step into the studio. Otherwise, four hours would feel like hell,” said Tsz Lung. He was glad that he finally found the reason to be here, which is to help, to save and to give solace.
Apart from night-time workers, overseas fans are a high portion of the audience for the show. One fan even listens from Argentina and Canada.Other than nostalgia, maybe Tsz Lung’s manner is one of the reasons that had seen him keep his late-night spot.
Through interactions with fans, people realise that he is a genuine, warmhearted, and considerate man.
Unlike other music programmes, the position for Keep You Company is creating resonance with the audience. As a result, it does not need to be informative but about lifestyles, but lets people slow down and learn to appreciate their surroundings.
Therefore, Tsz Lung created a new section named Midnight Screening recently, where he would share a movie with a song. He hoped people might learn a lesson or be touched after watching a film.
“I want to turn the show into a relaxing program. It can provide room for us to collect our thoughts. I am not a celebrity-oriented presenter, therefore, I treat myself as a coach. I will stand behind our audience and encourage them just like a consultant,” he said.
But sitting in a chair and playing music for four hours can take its toll, especially the repeated movement of turing to use the control panel. This repetition hurt his back and it became so painful last year that Tsz lung had to take a break. After resting in the hospital for a week and going to the painful physiotherapy twice a day, he quickly got back to the grindstone.
“For me, when I hear my voice speaking it is like the main course of the meal, while the music is the spice. His voice and the music are the key links in the chain connecting me with the people,” Tsz Lung said.
Whatever people do, there is sound and it would be odd if everything is suddenly muted. Tsz Lung believes sound is the best and fundamental channel to deliver messages with emotions. It is vivid. He sincerely hoped to help people get back to basics, by simply linking everyone by sound.
The motivation that pushes Tsz Lung to move forward is the mission to transmit messages. These are messages that we do not dare shout out and keep under our hats, for instance, memories, excruciating pain and fear, he said.
“I cannot guarantee that I’ve done something great in the past 10 years. But I have already woven a net for a decade. I deeply wish to continue integrating every single one together,” said Tsz Lung.
“Be happy, then laugh; be sad, then cry. I wonder why we, humans, lose our truth,” he said.
Tsz Lung said society today encouraged people to be strangers and the sense of community was lost, but he saw a solution to this social problem clearly. Thankfully, he is taking action to improve this situation. “Accompanying a person is a luxury nowadays. Imagine you are depressed at 3am and it is hard to find a person to be with you, to comfort and listen to you.
“Even for me, I’d like to have a friend stand by me at that moment. Not for any solutions. Simply stay together to bear some of the agony with me.”
Yet, people are too busy and too stressful so no one can spare a second for others. “If we can’t even handle our own problems, how am I supposed to take care of your issues?” Tsz Lung asked. “I am not trying to be a hero and save everyone from stress. I just want to say, no matter what difficulties you are facing, I will always be there with you in your darkest night.”