On Air

"Radio felt like home": Volunteering @ CFMU - Vishal Bhatia

Blog/FavouritesFebruary 20th 2020
Olivia Fava

Good radio programs are about longevity, but they're also about impact. A show doesn't need to have been on the air long to catch listeners' attention, and a strong start can take a good show a long way.

Take, for instance, Vishal Bhatia's The Last Word. This show has only been on air for just over 3 months - having premiered in mid-November of last year - but Vishal has indisputably made the most of that time, packing his show full of interviews with guests like Dr. Puri, McMaster's Dean of Engineering, and Dr. Joe Kim, one of Mac's most popular professors. Not to mention that this show has already been drawing in quite the audience! The Last Word is proof that a bold first step into the on-air booth can pay off - with, of course, the right level of dedication.

In this installment of our volunteering feature series, Vishal tells me about his experiences as a student at McMaster, the development of The Last Word, and how hosting the show has affected his life personally. If you're an aspiring host interested in making your mark here at the station, this is a definite must-read!

What year are you in at McMaster and what’s your major? Tell me about your university experience.

I’m in my final year (5th) of Mechatronics Engineering co-op here at McMaster. The last 5 years of my life have been phenomenal. When I look back to the kid I was when I first came to Mac – I feel like I’m a totally different person now.

I wasn’t the most outgoing person initially – although I’m easy to talk to and get along with, I wouldn’t be the first person to initiate a conversation with strangers. It took some time - a whole lot of awkward confrontations, some learning, more awkward confrontations and some more learning to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people and have new experiences. I owe a lot of who I am right now to the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made since my first year at McMaster, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world!

Any other notable aspects of your student life to share?

Trying out for McMaster Novice Rowing Team pretty much changed the trajectory of where my life was heading, and I often think to myself where I would be right now if I hadn’t showed up for the tryouts.

Rowing was the LAST sport I would’ve ever imagined taking up – I’ve played several sports competitively in high school but taking up an intense water sport such as rowing was something I never saw coming. I didn’t know if I had the right body for rowing, I didn’t even know if I had the stamina for rowing – no one in my family has ever come close to trying out a sport like this. I had a lot of questions and doubts about whether I’d be the right fit for the sport, but a friend of mine convinced me to try it out anyway – since I had nothing to lose.

I ended up making it through two rounds of tryouts, and the next thing I know is I’m part of the Novice Rowing Team at Mac! I ended up rowing for about 3 years until I decided to take a break and focus on my career, but the experiences I’ve had with the sport are ones I’ll never forget. I was lucky to have a coach like Jake Thomasen, the current head coach of McMaster’s Varsity Rowing Crew, to always encourage me to push my limits and, at the same time, remind me to not be too hard on myself. Venturing into unknown territory can be nerve-wracking and you can’t learn everything there is about the sport in a day – you’ve got to take it slow. Step by step, you’ll get to where you want to be.

Rowing also introduced me to the Leander Boat Club at Bayfront in Hamilton. For those of you don’t know, Leander Boat Club is the only club in Hamilton where you could try your hand at rowing. If you get the chance to row with McMaster, you’ll be spending majority of your time at this boat club! I’ve met an amazing bunch of people since I first started at Leander, they’ve got a great community of athletes across all age groups who help each other grow and take their game to the next level.

And by the way, if you haven’t been to Hamilton’s Bayfront yet – you’re missing out.

Img 8347
[Photo: Vishal in the on-air booth.]

[on rowing]: Venturing into unknown territory can be nerve-wracking and you can’t learn everything there is about the sport in a day – you’ve got to take it slow. Step by step, you’ll get to where you want to be.

If you had to describe yourself in five words, what would they be?

Curious, goofy, passionate, adventurous and sincere.

What drew you to radio? Do you think there’s a certain aspect of your personality that radio appeals to?

My mom was in the radio business for about 25 years at the ARN (Arabian Radio Network) in Dubai, UAE. I used to tag along with her to work sometimes – I remember walking into her offices and being greeted by radio jockeys (RJs) with their infectious energy and smiles. RJs have this unique ability to connect with anyone, they make you feel like you’re the only person that exists during a conversation.

In early October of last year, I was part of a group that was given a tour of the Rogers Headquarters in Toronto, including Rogers Radio. There are several stations under Rogers Radio, but we only got to enter one studio and meet the RJ who was doing a live show at the time. She introduced herself and talked about what a typical workday is like while doing a live show in between our conversation! This whole experience took me back to when I was a kid - walking into the studios with my mom and meeting the always energetic RJs.

Being an international student, I tend to miss home from time to time. Radio felt like home, so I decided to get involved with it in any capacity I could.

Hisham mohammed and david yilmaz
[Photo: Vishal interviews Hisham Mohammed and David Yilmaz. Episode here.]

Being an international student, I tend to miss home from time to time. Radio felt like home, so I decided to get involved with it in any capacity I could.

How would you describe the premise of The Last Word?

‘The Last Word’ is a show that features interviews with graduating students, recent graduates, professors and coaches. We talk about their lives - from the toughest obstacles they had to overcome to their happiest moments ever. The show features guests from faculties all across McMaster, and each of them have had their unique experiences through life.

During the show, I get my guests to self-reflect on their experiences and the lessons that they learnt from it. I don’t have a script – which means that I go off what the guests say and frame my questions spontaneously, so it sounds more like a conversation and not a formal interview. Self-reflection is the foundation on which this show is built on, and I hope to keep that going for as long as I can.

Where did you come up with the show idea? The show name?

I’m graduating this April, and over the past couple months I’ve had some time to reflect on how the last 5 years at university have impacted my life. There are times I’ve wished that I could ‘see the future’ or know what’s coming beforehand, so I could save time and energy by not making mistakes. I wouldn’t say I have any regrets, but I wish I had someone I could relate to, and tell me what the best course of action was during certain situations - since they may have been through something similar and they’d know how it always turns out in the end.

We can’t see into the future to help make our decisions in the now, but the best we can do is make the best possible decision by having all information at hand. This show is a resource for that information – especially for young and new students at university.

The show content revolves around graduating students giving advice to newcomers to university, whereas professors and alumni give advice to graduating students. In a way, each of them would be giving their ‘last words of advice’ before they may ‘never see each other again’. I wanted to add a little bit of a dramatic element to the show and its title, hence ‘The Last Word.’

Dr. joe kim
[Photo: Vishal interviews Dr. Joe Kim. Episode here.]

We can’t see into the future to help make our decisions in the now, but the best we can do is make the best possible decision by having all information at hand. This show is a resource for that information – especially for young and new students at university.

Think back to the day of your first show. How were you feeling?

I was really excited! I was going on-air with someone who I have known for a while, so that definitely helped in calming my nerves down. I had done a few run throughs with my first guest (Dillon Mulcahy) before the live show so we could get a sense of how the flow was going to be. Usually, it would be the guest that ends up being nervous during these sessions – but it was the other way around for us! I was the one who was nervous, and Dillon was the one who was calm.

I was nervous since I had never done anything of this sort before, and I was trying to be perfect with every question I asked during those sessions. Dillon sensed that and said, “You don’t have to get it right with each question, just be yourself and let things flow.”

That really set the tone for my first show and for each episode after that. Every time I’d get nervous before a show, I’d just remind myself about my episode with Dillon and what he had said.

What’s changed since then? Have you gotten more comfortable with hosting?

I’m a lot more comfortable now than I was during the first two weeks of hosting. You’ll be able to sense a difference between my first three shows and my last three. At least when I listen to my first few shows, I can sense a hint of nervousness in my voice as compared to the shows I recently did.

With time, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with hosting and I hope to keep that going!

Dr. ishwar puri   engineering dean
[Photo: Vishal interviews Dr. Ishwar Puri. Episode here.]

Could you identify a particular favourite episode of the show so far?

Each episode has honestly been really great so far. With each show, I’m constantly reminded of the fact that we’re all wired differently – whether it may be our perspectives on life or how we each deal with adversity.

But if I had to pick a favourite episode, it would be with Hartley Jafine (out on March 4th). He’s a professor at McMaster University who facilitates theatre and arts-based courses in the Arts and Health Sciences programs. I loved that episode since this is the first time, I had invited a guest with a background in Theatre and Arts - hearing his take on life was really interesting. I remember seeing Jomar (Production Coordinator) and Harrison (co-host of Accented Tales) in the production room through the window, who had helped me out with that episode, nodding their heads in sync during my conversation with Hartley. They admitted to being blown away by what he had to say, and in Jomar’s words, “That was one of the best episodes I’ve ever helped you record.”

How would you say that hosting the show has impacted your life, whether that be personally, academically, or professionally?

Like I had expected, running and hosting a live radio show has helped me improve in areas I really needed to work on. Before radio, I had recently gotten my hands dirty with User Experience and Product Design – and a big part of building the right kind of product for your target users is to effectively empathize with the people you’re building it for.

I did know what empathy was before the show came along, but I also didn’t. It was only after a few episodes I started to realize what exactly empathy is and how does one really understand what someone else may be going through during tough times, or even the good times. Active listening, and not just speaking, are some of the skills I needed to work on in order to effectively empathize with a guest and I feel like I’m getting better at it with each episode.

Joel hilchey   ethics professor
[Photo: Vishal interviews Joel Hilchey. Episode here.]

I did know what empathy was before the show came along, but I also didn’t. It was only after a few episodes I started to realize what exactly empathy is and how does one really understand what someone else may be going through during tough times, or even the good times.

Where would you like to take the show in the future?

I’ve got interesting guests locked down for my last two months with the show! My last episode is on April 29th and, after a bit of convincing, I’ve finally got the ideal guest to end my show with! After my last show, I plan on handing off the show to new hosts who would want to carry the show forward. I wouldn’t want this show to be a one-time thing, and I believe it’s got great potential over the coming years!

Do you have a message for your listeners?

Taking life too seriously doesn’t really help anyone. Not yourself, and definitely not the people around who love you. Yes, life can be hard. So, it’s best if we move along with the biggest smiles on our faces.

What advice would you give to a student interested in hosting a show?

During a show, talk to your guest like you would before or after. Focus on it being a conversation, rather than an interview. If you’re doing a show just by yourself, imagine talking to your best friend sitting in front of you.

83171300 702886900243727 2990197557650522112 n
[Photo: Vishal in the on-air booth.]

Vishal is absolutely spot-on with his comment on active listening, which I’ve also found is an essential skill for conducting on-air interviews. It’s also more difficult than it sounds, and requires practice, focus, and patience. However, when you do put in the effort, you’ll start to experience that gratifying feeling of steadily improving with each and every interview that Vishal mentions here! Never give up.

We’ll be sad to see Vishal walk out of the on-air booth for the last time, but it’s wonderful to hear that this show will go on! Hopefully, Vishal’s last word won’t be the actual last word of The Last Word. (And those are my last words!)

Olivia Fava is a 2019 McMaster linguistics graduate, the current Community Outreach Coordinator at CFMU, and the host of MorningFile. Contact her through email at cfmucom@msu.mcmaster.ca.

CFMU NEEDS YOU! Campus/community radio faces an uncertain future in Ontario. Show your support through word of mouth, social media shares, and of course, donations!