Brimming with confidence, he started ad-libbing lines, sending the audience into stitches. He did not know it then, but this newfound ability to come up with off-the-cuff quips would become a staple of his future career.

"I don't have scripts when I'm hosting. I've learnt how to read the audience and see what makes them tick," he says of doing live shows.

It was on Malay radio that he honed his presentation and hosting skills.

Malay radio veteran Zakiah Halim from the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), now MediaCorp, was so impressed by his performance at an inter-secondary school Malay debating competition that she offered him a part-time job as a host on a new radio programme aimed at teenagers, Majalah Remaja (Teenage Magazine). Throughout its run from 1986 to 1992, it was a hit with young listeners.

"The teens didn't have Internet back then, we were the Facebook and Twitter of that generation. We played the popular songs of the day, read out listeners' letters, interviewed interesting characters and we were in tune with whatever the teenagers were doing at the time."

The show's fans did not just tune in to listen to him, they also turned up in droves whenever Suhaimi and the other hosts did live road shows. "Even our clothes were sponsored," he recalls.

When he quit radio to concentrate on television in 2001, he had climbed the ranks from a junior radio presenter to assistant programme director on Malay radio station Warna 94.2FM.

Born to a housewife mother, Madam Fatimah Adenan, 72, and a technician father, Mr Yusof Bujang, who died in 1991, Suhaimi was the seventh of nine children. He grew up in a now-demolished kampung in Jalan Kampung Tengah in Punggol, before moving to an HDB flat in Hougang when he was 16.

After his O levels, he spent two years in Tampines Junior College and joined SBC as a full time radio presenter after national service. The now full-time DJ was soon bumped up to hosting the morning show and the prime-time slot exposed him to a wider audience. The move boosted his popularity within the community and Suhaimi became a household name. Not content to be a presenter, he spent his early years trying to learn as much as he could about the world of radio.

"I'd stay on after my shift was over to learn how to create sound effects for my shows. I would even pop by the marketing department to volunteer my services and I helped them to make radio advertisements. I wanted to learn as much as I could."

The bosses in SBC's radio department were not the only ones who noticed his talent as a host. Soon, producers from the Malay television division offered him his first onscreen gig, co-hosting a weekly family variety programme Potret Keluarga (Family Portrait).

"It was a boring show," he recalls candidly. "I had to wear a coat and a tie and we were showing audiences how to arrange flowers and that sort of thing, so it wasn't exactly exciting."

The stint did not last long because he was soon offered a television gig more up his alley - hosting entertainment programme Hiburan Minggu Ini (This Week's Entertainment), one of the most watched Malay television shows in the 1990s. "I was having the time of my life. In the morning, I'd be talking nonsense on my radio show, and in the evening, I'd be talking nonsense on the television show, and I got paid to do all these," he says, flashing his teeth in his trademark wide smile.

Many days, he found himself in the studio from 5.30am to 11pm. "I was young then and I was eager to learn as much as I could and that kept me going."

Today, he still has his finger in many pies. Besides his acting and hosting jobs, Suhaimi and his wife-cum-personal manager Siti Yuhana Sulaiman also run an events management and production house Q & Que.

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