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EDITIONS
Monday, 28 October, 2002, 11:35 GMT
Keeping out of the ghetto
Sonia Deol
Sonia Deol hosts the station's morning show
Darryl Chamberlain

Another chapter in the BBC's radio revolution gets under way on Monday, with the nationwide launch of the Asian Network, and presenter Sonia Deol is one of the shock troops leading the way.

She is the station's mid-morning presenter - and the 29-year-old is relishing the challenge of dealing with a national audience for the first time.

As she eyes up her new base - a studio at Television Centre in London usually used by Five Live - she tells how she wants her show to be up there with the BBC's best - and pull in as wide an audience as possible.

"I want non-Asian listeners, like Nicky Campbell gets and other mainstream shows. They don't say 'we're for white callers only' and I won't say we're for Asian listeners only," she says.

"They want a diverse audience and so do I."

Gagan Grewal
Gagan Grewal is the station's breakfast presenter
The Asian Network is nothing new to listeners in the Midlands, where it has established a firm foothold on medium wave.

But Monday sees the network get a revamp as it goes national on digital radio.

As well as the "huge challenge" of taking on new areas such as London, Deol wants to smash a few misconceptions about the station and the wide range of communities it aims to serve.

"That whole 'Asian community' thing - that's something I really want to dig into," she says.


We broadcast in English, so why a non-Asian person would obviously be a non-listener is beyond me

Sonia Deol
"No two opinions are the same. The same way as there is in mainstream culture, there's a north-south divide in Asian culture too - even more so."

She is adamant about pulling in a wide range of listeners. "We broadcast in English, so why a non-Asian person would obviously be a non-listener is beyond me. It's good to be interested in different cultures."

London star

The station's HQ remains in Leicester, but Deol - in her second stint at the station after spending four years there in the late 1990s - is relishing being the station's London representative.

"It's easier to get the big names in London than it would have been in the Midlands - before we'd been seen as a branch of local radio," she says.

Adil Ray
Adil Ray hosts late-night music shows
Indeed, she now has five staff working on her new show. "Last time, there was just one person on the show," she grins.

Big names confirmed as guests so far range include a range of entertainers - Lagaan film star Aamir Khan ("the Tom Cruise of Bollywood"), the cast of Bombay Dreams and musician Bally Sagoo.

And hard news will feature prominently.

Suhkdev Reel, the mother of Ricky Reel, a student who drowned after a racist attack in 1997, will be a guest, as will Satpal Ram, who served 16 years in prison for murder after killing a man. He says he was defending himself against a racist attack and wants to clear his name.

Clout

Deol - who started her career at London commercial station Sunrise - says being part of the BBC gives the Asian Network the clout that commercial stations cannot match.

Asian Network facts
Launched in 1996
It broadcasts on AM across the Midlands
It can also be heard on local stations in north-west England, East Anglia and parts of the Home Counties
22% of listeners tune in via digital satellite
The station is also available via Freeview digital TV and the internet
"They can't compete - there's so many resources here. A story could break in, say, Kashmir and we could have someone on the phone in five minutes.

"I've worked in commercial stations and there's no resources there - their main output is music and light entertainment, while we want to be more thought-provoking."

Deol's progress is shown by her parents' pride in her career - as a teenager in Birmingham, her parents could not believe she could make a job out of her hobby.

"There were no Asian presenters then - so how could they?" she adds.

Sameena Ali Khan
Sameena Ali Khan presents the drivetime show
But her father was the first person she told about the Asian Network job, and she is setting her sights very high indeed.

"Princess Diana would be my ideal guest if she was still alive, but now it'd have to be the Queen," she says.

"With all her children's marriage breakdowns, and Prince Philip's gaffes - she would just be great."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Higham
"The new network faces stiff competition"

BBC Three debut

New radio

Other new TV

Background

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06 Aug 02 | Entertainment
28 Oct 02 | Entertainment
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