Arnold Gay is a seriously funny guy

Arnold Gay is a seriously funny guy

Behind his serious facade, ex-newscaster Arnold Gay has another side - he joined Kiss92 FM for fun

There are few jobs in broadcasting that Arnold Gay has not tried at least once.

The 47-year-old has been in front of television cameras and also worked behind the scenes. He has programmed playlists for a music television station.

Today, his moves have taken him back to where he began 22 years ago - radio.

Except this time, the man who had been a serious newscaster is sold on Kiss92 FM's website as its resident "auntie killer", complete with glamour shots showing off his boyish good looks, topped by his trademark wide grin.

For the station aimed at women between 30 and 50, he has been positioned as its resident sex symbol.

If he has a problem with that image, he stops short of saying it. He just laughs with embarrassment and puts it down to "good make-up and a good photographer".

"It's flattering," he says of the image that has been thrust upon him. But the marketers at Kiss92 FM have not been the only ones who have noticed the 1.83m-tall former school athlete and weekend tennis player's sex appeal.

The "auntie killer" tag has stuck to him since his earliest days in broadcasting.

"It's not something that I deliberately try to get. I enjoy working out, swimming and playing tennis. The side benefit of that is it helps me maintain fitness and keep some semblance of manhood," he says, with one of the many chuckles that punctuate the conversation with Life!.

With presenters Maddy Barber and Jason Johnson, he has since late 2012 presented the station's morning show, Maddy, Jason And Arnold In The Morning, which airs from 6 to 10am.

The show is among the programmes that helped the station secure the No. 2 spot in cumulative listenership on English radio in Singapore and No. 1 in percentage "share" of listeners on English radio, barely two years after its launch.

The rankings are based on the semi- annual Nielsen Radio Diary Survey results released last month. Share points are calculated using a formula that takes into account the number of listeners and the time spent listening.

The secret to the success of the morning show is the mix of personalities, says Gay. A radio station might value energy, so its manager might place three zany, livewire males in the studio. But there is no room for racy humour or attention-getting provocation at his station, he says. The morning show, for example, has a strong following with parents taking children to school.

So at Kiss92 FM, there is a careful balance of the breezy and the sober. And the sober is where he excels.

"Jason does entertainment and celebrity news, he's a bit wacky, a bit offbeat. He's the one with the weird comment that stuns Maddy and me momentarily. He's funny. We let him be the class clown, as it were."

"Maddy represents the female listener. She connects with them. She's a mum, she travels. She runs the show, she sets the pace."

The former news presenter sees himself as the voice of reason, a conversation-wrangler who tries to keep his sometimes passionate co-hosts reined in when they threaten to go off the rails.

"I'm the facts and figures guy. If they say something wrong, I'll go, 'No, that's not right.' I'll remind them to be sensible and objective." "I'm the boring person," he admits.

If he thinks he is boring, it might have something to do with his background. Most will remember him as the good- looking but serious host of weighty current affairs programmes on Channel NewsAsia, CNBC or Bloomberg Television, or presenting numbers-driven business and company news on Reuters TV.

Moving from television to radio - and what is more, to co-hosting a light- entertainment, pop music-driven show with hourly chat segments - could be seen as a step down, career-wise.

There are tradeoffs, he says. Speaking to Life! at noon on a Tuesday, after a morning spent behind the microphones, he points to his T-shirt and jeans. No more suit and tie. On radio, no one cares what you wear, he says.

He tells Life! that in leaving Reuters TV after two years to join the crew at Kiss92 FM, he took a 40 per cent pay cut. He jokes that the cut was worth it as he took the radio job to win the adulation of female fans.

But he turns serious.

"After having done company news, company earnings, I reached a stage I wanted to do something that was fun and fulfilling," he says.

And his news-gathering skill is not just relevant, it is required in his current job, he says. Each morning, he arrives at the station at the Singapore Press Holdings office in Toa Payoh around 4am. He scans The Straits Times to condense the day's stories into radio-friendly snippets, which he presents.

There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained in the mass reach of the show, he says. The relatively young station has about half a million listeners, placing it just behind the leader, MediaCorp's Class 95, according to Nielsen.

"Part of it is ego... having the element of recognition for the show, for doing good work, is rewarding. That drives me more than anything else," he says.

Shifting gears from hard financial news to a more mass-market format has been relatively painless, he says.

He grew up in Katong, back when Singapore had one English station, and there was no hint that broadcasting would be in his future.

Like many in the area, he is a Baba, through his father, who used to be a station manager for British Airways. Easy access to great Katong food meant that during his early teens - before he became sporty and exercised self-control - his weight ballooned to 107kg.

Today, he and wife Deborah Chia, 47, and son Mark, 13, live in a walk-up apartment block built on the land on which his childhood bungalow once stood. His father Tony, who died in late 2010, had developed the site so that the clan could live together. And other than a few who have moved overseas, many of them still live there.

He is the oldest of three sons, and has one sister, the eldest in the family. He says he misses his parents dearly. His mother died soon after his father's passing. His mother, Patricia Lee-Gay, was a bank officer.

For his primary education, he attended Catholic High School, known for its emphasis on teaching the Chinese language. "My father had this misguided notion that I could be bilingual," he says, noting that his father spoke only English at home and with older relatives, Malay. The boy struggled along until his parents relented and sent him to St Joseph's Institution. There, he found that his grasp of Mandarin, considered weak in his former school, put him in the upper league in his new school.

"I was the pet of the Chinese teacher," he recalls. That winning streak did not last long, however, and he was soon back down to average.

Still, he managed to get into Raffles Junior College where he says he found a new distraction: Girls.

He played on the school tennis team, an elite group in a school known for its prowess in rugby and tennis. This, of course, only made him more desirable among the girls and today he wonders how he managed to get enough points to get into the National University of Singapore.

"By some miracle, I scraped through," he says. He majored in economics and psychology with a minor in statistics.

After graduating, among his first jobs was selling space on shipping containers. But the heavy drinking required to keep clients entertained was not for him.

Then he applied to the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corporation for a research assistant position at its current affairs unit. But nothing was available there, and instead he was offered a job in radio, as a part-time presenter on weekends, at Class 95 FM. He accepted in the hope that he could make a lateral move to research later. That turned into a full-time job at the station.

Finding that he had a flair for the software that programmed the playlists, he became the station's music director, in addition to his hosting job. Then in 1994, Safra launched the rock station Power 98 FM and he accepted its offer to be the music director.

His first break into television came a year later, when he moved to Hong Kong to be music video programmer at Star TV's music channel, Channel V.

Then, three years later, the soon- to-be-launched Channel NewsAsia beckoned and he returned home. He started off as a general news reporter, then co-host of an hour-long news programme, before becoming the host of a business news show.

A new startup came along - one of several in his career - and he moved over in 2000. This was Singapore Press Holdings' now-defunct English-language channel TV Works and he hosted news and panel discussion shows on its Straits Times TV News slot (later renamed Channel i News).

That channel folded in 2001 after which he, for a fleeting moment, became a print journalist, joining the staff of The Straits Times for a few months as an assistant news editor. A short stint as SPH's head of corporate communications followed.

After stints at business channel CNBC and Bloomberg TV, he left to teach communications and marketing at Republic Polytechnic. After two years, he found that he missed broadcast journalism. He joined Reuters TV, reporting on business news and market reports. There he stayed until 2012, when he took up an offer to join Kiss92 FM.

His wife Deborah, whom he met when she was a deejay at Class 95 (she is now in customer service recovery at a private medical centre), says that her husband's varied career path reflects the mind of a person constantly in search of a satisfying job fit.

"When you're young, you try different things, until you find something that sticks with you," she says. But in spite of all his moves, he has stuck generally to the medium of broadcasting, she notes.

And being married to a sex symbol? After 19 years of marriage, she sees him now as something of a domestic god, a man who helped change their son's diapers and helps with household chores.

"He cooks a mean pepper crab," she says.

The "auntie-killer" label is a source of bemusement not just to her, but also to their friends, some of whom he has known since his university days.

And while he has moved on to an infotainment format in radio, old habits die hard. "He still reads financial journals in bed. That's his bedside reading," she says.

Business Times senior correspondent Michelle Quah, 39, first met Gay when both were at Channel NewsAsia in 1998. He was a news presenter and she did the hourly stock market reports.

Both moved on to work at Sraits Times TV News as co-presenters. She discovered that behind that serious facade, there is a side to Gay few know about.

"I had to read a story on erectile dysfunction, and Arnold, who was off- camera, waggled his finger at me at the point I said "erectile dysfunction". That brought about the most ridiculous case of giggles from the two of us," she says.

Thankfully, a video clip then played, which took the cameras off their faces.

Gay's name popped into the news briefly some months ago when someone - he does not know who - posted a picture of him and his son celebrating the end of the PSLE examinations with a bonfire into which they threw assessment papers.

His face turns serious when he is reminded of the event. It was just a way for kids to let off steam after the gruelling experience of PSLE examinations. No books were burnt, only assessment papers, he says. That picture became the focus of online jibes, accusing him of organising a Nazi-style book-burning. That storm caused him worry, he says, as his son and the children of friends who had turned up had to deal with hurtful comments.

While he is making less money now, he finds the work and the lifestyle more satisfying, he says.

"I'm usually done by lunchtime, I get to play tennis, I get to swim with my son. Just being there when he comes home, to spend time with him, to take him somewhere in the afternoon - you can't put a dollar value on that."

johnlui@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 14, 2014.
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