It’s a mark of his success that Adil Ray is getting earlier and earlier.
Having started off at the BBC Asian Network on a late night show in 2002, the Birmingham-born presenter then moved to the coveted drivetime slot four years later.
Now he’s setting his alarm for 4am, to front the station’s flagship weekday breakfast show, with his team of sidekick/producer Waqas ‘Wax’ Saeed, news reader Sonal Patel and sports presenter Sanjeet Saund
“Three weeks in and I haven’t been late once yet, which is probably an achievement in itself,” he laughs as we take a coffee break in Malmaison, one of his favourite haunts.
“The show’s going well – it’s a change in hours for me but not a change in the type of show; it was pretty much a case of ‘Adil, what you are doing at drive – do you want to do it at breakfast?’ – to be honest there was that kind of ‘hang on a minute – I’m doing the same thing but it means getting up at four in the morning, why on earth would I want to do that?’, but it is that challenge of doing the breakfast, it’s that responsibility, and it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”
Combining comedy, chat and music, Adil says there’s no magic formula to the show’s success, apart from the ability to be inclusive and not exclusive (“I don’t believe for a minute that Asians listen to Asian music exclusively – and at the same time a lot of non-Asians also listen”) and the obvious chemistry between himself and Wax:
“I’d like to say he’s my ‘side-quick’ but he’s probably more my ‘side-slow’, but he’s great and people love him and he represents the audience probably more than I do – he reflects the kind of people we’re speaking to a lot of the time.
“He’s like my younger brother, it’s my duty to keep him in check and have a go, give him a Chinese burn now and then... I love him to bits.
“When we started breakfast I did wonder ‘will the listeners follow me? Will they get up early with me? What about the current listeners to breakfast, will I be able to keep most of them on board?’” says Adil.
“You can have as many features as you want in the world, but if it doesn’t gel together, it doesn’t sound like real radio. Why did drivetime work? When you try and dissect it, it’s almost the wrong thing to do... with breakfast we treated it as a new show – ‘let’s do our thing and not expect to get everything right straight away.’”
While the music policy combines British Asian music, Bollywood and Western chart groups, the comedy pokes fun at Asian stereotypes and religions without crossing the line. Characters include a wannabe rapper from Aston ‘who can’t rap to save his life’ and a Muslim mother ‘who prays at any given opportunity’.
“You’ve got to remember people are very passionate about religion, our game is to try and bring everyone together and laugh at ourselves,” says Adil.
“People have taken that on board and I think that makes you stronger.”
When he’s not fronting breakfast, Adil keeps himself busy, presenting TV segments for BBC’s Inside Out, a forthcoming Radio 4 series on photography and BBC2’s new travelogue show, Explore, which saw him visit such far-flung locations as Argentina and Turkey.
“After New York, I think Istanbul is my favourite city,” he says.
“I’m really determined that as much as the breakfast show can take up a hell of a lot of time – and it ought to – I want to make sure I challenge myself and do lots of other different things,” he adds.
He’s certainly on the right track.
You can hear Adil Ray weekdays from 6am-9am on BBC Asian Network on Digital TV, radio and online.