Was 987 DJ asked to leave because she didn't sound 'American' enough?
Mon, Aug 10, 2009
The New Paper

By Juliana June Rasul

SHE was removed from the airwaves for problems with her proficiency of the English language.

But was it really because 987 DJ Chew Soo Wei was incapable of putting on an American accent?

She certainly seems to think so.

In a post on her Facebook page explaining her departure from her late-night show Pillowfight With Soo, she said the station's management had told her to 'listen to American radio jocks and learn an American accent'.

The 30-year-old presenter - who is officially still with MediaCorp Radio until the end of this month - was told she would be taken off her show to return to being a promotions executive and radio programmer.

But Soo Wei rejected the offer.

She tendered her resignation earlier this week, though she is absent from the airwaves because she is currently clearing leave.

Her timeslot has been taken over by Desiree Lai, with a show called Late Night Delight with Desiree.

When asked to comment, 987 programming director Daniel Ong denied asking her to put on an American accent.

He told The New Paper: 'That was definitely wrong. What we said was 'Go listen to American DJs and how they pronounce artistes' names. Listen to the flow of their show, and how they do it.'

'It was taken out of context.'


Soo Wei told The New Paper that when informed of the decision to drop her show, she was told it was due to 'manpower reasons' and her English proficiency.

'I was definitely shocked. It's very difficult not to feel anything, but I'm not angry, bitter or resentful,' she said.

When asked how she felt about being called out for her language proficiency, Soo Wei, who helmed Pillowfight for a year, said: 'Well, you're talking to me now right? How do I sound?'

She says she has not received any complaints from listeners about her pronunciation, though she is 'aware' she has trouble with some names.

Rapper Kanye West's name, for example, gave her a bit of trouble.

She pronounced it Kan-year, before learning that it was actually Kan-yeah.

Her colleague Vernon A, one half of 987 duo The Muttons, said he was one of the few people who were tasked to help Soo Wei with her pronunciation.

He noted that although it was an issue, he didn't think 'it would have been a big factor'.

'I think a fair amount of what you do as a DJ is connecting with your listener,' he said.

'Soo is definitely a girl with loads of personality. She's a very bright, bubbly person. She knows what she means to us.

'If she wants to continue on radio, then yeah, radio can always use a personality like that.'

Daniel said that when he took over as 987's programming director last August, he told Soo he was giving her six months to brush up on her grammar and diction.

He did not think his requirements were unreasonable.

'Pronunciation is the base for any radio jock. You're on a national radio station, you have thousands of youths listening in. It's not right.'

According to Soo Wei though, her listeners had no such issues with her.

In her post, she wrote: 'If my spoken English is bad, people wouldn't understand me. If people cannot understand me, inevitably they wouldn't tune in.'

She noted that her show, which ran from midnight to 3am on weekdays, was in a slot that had previously not existed.

She also claimed her ratings had been climbing and that she had more clients requesting her for public shows, as well as consistent sponsorship for Pillowfight.

These claims were later refuted by Daniel.

Soo Wei, whose boyfriend is Don Richmond, a musician and former MediaCorp DJ, told The New Paper that she has received many messages of encouragement from fans and friends.

One segment on the show, Scandal Anonymous, was particularly popular with listeners who call in to divulge their secrets.

Said Soo Wei: 'I've had lots of people telling me that they miss my show because I got them through their NS (National Service) night shift, or their late-night mugging sessions.

'They've been very, very nice to me, whether I speak bad English or not. I entertain them, and I try my best to do my job well,' she said.

She has no immediate plans about her career (except to 'shake leg a bit'), but may explore teaching at her alma mater, Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

One fan, Mr Adam Goh, started a online petition to 'Bring back the Pillowfight With Soo!' which at presstime had garnered 145 signatures.

One signatory was music producer Leonard Soosay who told The New Paper that Soo's departure from radio is a loss to local music, which she championed on her shows.

'The fact that she can be told to step down for (her pronunciation) goes to show how little we value our own accent, our own local-ness,' he said.

'Lots of people identify with DJs' personalities and the music they play. Soo is definitely a personality, having been in radio for a while.'

Daniel, too, regrets her departure, as he felt she would have excelled as a promotions executive for the station.

He said he 'loves her to bits' and that it was 'unfortunate' that she had decided to leave.

He added: 'But when it comes down to it, the basic qualities of a DJ cannot be ignored.'


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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