It’s not every day that you hear a voice that is all at once familiar, though you may know nothing about that person, nor have ever met them. Yet Khalid Malik managed to make himself a household name, just through the power of his rich, velvety voice. It is a voice you could imagine belonging to an old friend or family member, marked not only by the distinctive intonations resultant from his foreign upbringing, but also set apart from all the other voices you hear on the radio by the tenderness with which he always seemed to address his listeners.
One could argue that when you are tasked with hosting a ‘breakfast show’ (BFS) at 7am every morning, to be chirpy must be a prerequisite, but perhaps the true success of Khalid’s “BFS” can be attributed to the sensitivity and concern with which he addressed those that called in, sometimes seeking advice, other times just wanting to say hello.
It’s funny, but listening to the array of other RJs, I never felt that kind of personal connection; if the RJ asked, “What was the last thing you ate today?” I would never text in my reply, because it never seemed as though my reply would matter. But on countless early morning commutes to school (I am a school teacher), I found myself sluggishly reaching for my phone to respond to whatever Khalid’s question of the day was, as though it were a message on my most favoured WhatsApp group populated by friends who were genuinely interested.
During his last week on air, countless listeners dialled in, sharing stories of how they grew up listening to him over the decade that the BFS was on air. Children called him “Khalid Bhai” or “Khalid Uncle”, adults including my own father lamented their work commutes would be incomplete without Khalid’s usual morning cheer. Social media exploded with people sharing his farewell message, punctuated with sad face and teary eye emojis.
Khalid always made his listeners feel welcome, and he did this by imaginatively crafting specific segments on his show that overcame the limitations of a radio show: personal favourites included his friendly Wake Up Calls, elaborate Birthday Wishes where the recipient of the telephone would get to select from a number of wish templates ranging from Punjabi to Turkish, and calls that he would make to radio stations around the world; all the segments had in common a theme of compassion, friendship and laughter.
Recently, one of my friends called Khalid Malik a ‘celebrity’, which in a sense is true in what that term essentially represents: he is a public figure, someone that is instantaneously familiar to anyone who has access to FM89 or the radio in general.
However, he is different from all the other so-called ‘celebs’ because his appeal stems from his relatability and sincerity. It was virtually unheard of that a public figure would expose their vulnerabilities on air the way Khalid Malik did, especially during his February 3, ‘Big Announcement’ one week before his then imminent departure: the tremble in his voice betrayed how difficult this heart-wrenching step was for him, and it was clear that he was overwhelmed with emotion and deeply attached to his position as host of the show.
To open the door on such a private emotion guaranteed he would be remembered fondly, for we all know for a fact (not that there was much doubt before) that he really did care about us as we had felt he did all these years.
In his position as the host of the Breakfast Show, Khalid enjoyed a unique insight into the psyche of our population (although given it is only a certain cross section). He understood the troubles of school going teenagers, or the angst of the morning commute where the bed beckons but work obligations demand precedence, or the frustrations and foibles of family life, all evidenced by his parting wisdom during his ‘Big Announcement’.
He was all at once soothing yet optimistic, accompanied with a side of really good music. It should be noted that Khalid also provided a wonderful platform for countless up and comers, such as aspiring entrepreneurs and musicians. In so many ways, he was truly the helping hand many of us need just to get through the day.
It is only fitting that, voice breaking with emotion as he bid us all adieu in his final show on February 10, the concluding song he chose to play was ‘Dosti’ by Junoon and his parting words were “May your news be good news.”