Wearing his trademark naval captain’s hat while sitting inside his radio studio on Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva peninsula, Tikei Pere said the aim of his newly launched Radio One FM103.7 was simple.
“The goal of Radio One is to be the No. 1 English radio station in Cambodia,” the New Zealand native more widely known as “Captain Tikei” said during an interview Tuesday.
And four days after going live, Radio One is already ranked a solid No. 2. However, there is only one other English-language station in the country.
“I suppose I’ve always been a leader of people,” Mr. Pere said. “And I’m a captain of the airwaves; I sail the airwaves with my hearty crew.”
Currently, Radio One’s only competition is Love FM, which has been on air since the late 1990s. Mr. Pere said he helped launch the station in 1998 and worked there until 2000. For this reason, he calls himself “the founding father of English radio in Cambodia.”
Tim Sirois, an American who has been a station manager at Love FM since 1999, said Tuesday that the station was ready for some fresh competition.
“I think it has been years since we’ve had any other English station,” he said. “We welcome the competition and I think we’ve already established ourselves as No. 1.”
After leaving Love FM in 2000, Mr. Pere moved to Ireland to study radio management at university. After about 10 years in the U.K., he returned to Cambodia in 2010 to launch his own station.
But it wasn’t easy, he said. It took about three years before he could get the $100,000 necessary for the initial investment to launch Radio One. On top of that, it took another year before he was able to find producers, engineers and on-air talent that met his standards.
“It’s amazing how everything just came together in the end,” he said.
His right-hand man is radio producer Lee Handman, who moved to Cambodia in 2011 with more than 15 years of experience, including at BBC Radio One in the U.K.
Mr. Handman said he sees a huge opportunity for English-language stations in Cambodia, not only from a business perspective but also as a way to turn Cambodians on to new music.
“If anyone has a passion for music, radio is a must,” he said. “The only exposure [Cambodians] have [to music] is television and we hope to give our audience a bigger picture of what is out there in the world.”
And while presenters at Radio One are required to play a certain amount of top-of-the-charts songs throughout the week, weekend and nightly shows feature a wide range of genres.
Mr. Handman said the station also hopes to bring in local artists, both expatriates and Cambodians, to perform live on-air.
The captain also recruited American Jerry Costa, a music promoter in the U.S. and the Netherlands for more than 24 years who has promoted headlining acts including Usher, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige and R. Kelly.
Mr. Costa said that while he hopes Radio One will contribute to Cambodian society, the station is ultimately about the music.
“We’re about having fun and entertaining people,” he said.
Among Radio One’s hosts, Kosal Khiev is probably the best known in the country. Mr. Khiev was the subject of the documentary “Cambodian Son,” which chronicles his journey from a U.S. prison to Cambodia, during which he found his calling in spoken-word poetry.
Although he has his hands in many projects, Mr. Khiev said he has never been a radio pre senter before. But like all of his endeavors, he said, he hopes to use Radio One to reach young Cambodians.
“I just want to connect the Khmer youth,” he said. “They are coming into their own…they know who they are, but they just don’t know how to own it. I think radio has that potential to bring the Khmer youth together.”
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