His on air persona is one that exudes positive energy, but is he like that in real life? HELL YES!
Theyvekgan Thamarai Chelvan is one of the few people who genuinely believe in spreading love and good vibes everywhere he goes. A radio jockey on Minnal FM for the past 11 years or so, Theyvekgan currently helms the morning show on the station, Kaalai Kathir. He also produces and sometimes hosts the evening slot, Anantha Thenkatru. The Buntong boy is probably best known for his weekly show, Uravugal Thodarkathai, where people in search of their long lost family or friends call in to broadcast their search to listeners across the nation.
Theyvekgan, fondly known as Theyv, opens up to Varnam about the pursuit of his passions, and the people behind it. Here are 12 things you probably didn’t know about him.
He made a tough decision to be a radio jockey
“Honestly, I never planned to be on the radio, I only used to listen during the late nights of studying back in school,”
The year was 2008. Theyvekgan was doing his foundation in psychology in UTAR. “I was on a break before commencing my degree. At that point, I was also working part time in a call centre. While reading the newspapers one day, I stumbled upon an ad on the recruitment of new radio jockeys for Minnal FM,”
We all know what happened next. “I went for the interview and was selected. I was honestly flabbergasted, I had no idea that I had this talent. But I then had to make a choice. Do I focus on my degree, or do I grab this incredible work opportunity?” Needless to say, Theyv chose well.
“The next thing I know, I was put on trial for the morning show slot!” Theyv exclaims.
He does way more than host the morning show
“The thing with Minnal FM is that the radio jockeys don’t just host the show and then leave the studio. We need to produce shows, and work on other internal projects,”
But Theyv was hell bent on starting his degree. “The heavy workload meant that I had to do it part time. So I began my degree in communications from Universiti Utara Malaysia,” Theyvekgan has since graduated and is now toying with the idea of pursuing his Masters.
“There I was, trying to balance hosting the morning show, and having to produce the evening slot, Anantha Thenkatru. It wasn’t easy, but I noticed that many listeners loved tunes from the 80s, 90s and the early 2000s. I pushed for our evening slot to play these songs,” he says. As a result of this, Minnal FM has become the preferred radio station for Tamil listeners during the evening rush hour.
He is impressed by Minnal’s progression over the last decade
“I’ve been in radio for 11 years now, and the progress is mind boggling. Back in the 90s, there was only one Tamil station, Radio 6 (now Minnal FM). Now, we have two 24 hour Tamil radio stations. Of course, the two stations have totally different visions and missions,”
Theyv explains that in Minnal, they target listeners between the ages of 6 and 60. “Our goal is to reach every layer of society. We also do plenty of corporate social responsibility projects,”
Theyv is happy that Minnal doesn’t focus solely on entertainment anymore. “We focus on infotainment, where we have discussions about medical issues, career opportunities, entrepreneurship, marital issues and sports, just to name a few. It is not only entertainment anymore. The radio industry is growing at a tremendous rate,”
He has to actively shatter stereotypes that come with working in a government owned radio station
“Because Minnal FM is a government owned radio station, people assume that we are serious, and boring. This is hardly the case!” Theyv laughs. “People often tell me, you don’t look like a Minnal presenter! And I think to myself, what does that even mean?”
Theyv however, has managed to shatter the stereotype that comes with working in a government owned radio station. “When I speak to people, they are convinced we are not a cliched mass media channel. Some people are genuinely surprised that I am not in my 50s, merely by association with a government radio channel! There is a stigma attached to it, but I do my best to fight it,”
He believes that radio will remain relevant moving forward
“Of course, we live in an era of podcasts, audiobooks and music steaming but I am certain that radio will remain relevant,” Theyv tells us. “You’d be surprised at the number of people who call us to ask for advice on various topics, or just to talk about current affairs,”
“On top of that, radio itself is transforming into a more all rounded media experience. RTM’s office has transformed into a media city. We are looking at a future comprising of visual radio, where the connectivity between the radio jockey and the listener will be improved from what it is now. It will be like I am sitting beside my listener!”
The most emotional moment in his life was on air
“I remember the day my manager walked in to tell me about this new show he wants me to do, Uravugal Thodarkathai,” there is a tinge of emotion in Theyv’s voice. “I didn’t expect it, but this show has been a deeply personal journey for me. I put in my personal effort to locate loved ones who have been separated for years, and it is really emotional when we unite them,”
Theyv tells us about his most memorable on air experience. “One evening while I was hosting Uravugal Thodarkathai, I received a call from Kumar. He was looking for his family. It was heart wrenching to hear how he had been trying to locate his siblings for almost 4 decades,”
“Two weeks later, while i was on air, one of my colleagues ran into the studio and said that there is someone outside waiting to see me,” The person waiting for him turned out to be Mary, Kumar’s long lost sister. “When I met Mary, she was crying uncontrollably. She hugged me and wailed that she had heard my show and has found her long lost brother,”
“I couldn’t help but get emotional. And to this day, it is one of the most emotional moments of my life,” Theyv tells us. “I then called Kumar, with his sister on air. The moment Kumar said hello, his sister began to cry. Can you believe that for 37 years, she didn’t know that she had a younger brother!”
Watch the tear jerking snippet of Theyv uniting Kumar with his long lost sister, Mary and family here.
He LOVES his job
Theyv is one of the lucky few who wake up with a spring in his step, looking forward to going to work. “It is interesting because every family has its own story. And what we do on Uravugal Thodarkathai isn’t limited to families, we even patch up friends,”
Often, it all seems surreal to Theyv, “It is sometimes hard to believe that that I’m helping these people create new memories, instead of dwelling on the past,”
He is blessed with some excellent people in his workplace
“My former manager, Mr Kumaran is someone I look up to. Not only did he give me Uravugal Thodarkathai to host, he also talks to me about life. He gave me a brilliant piece of advice,”
According to Theyv, his ex-manager often tells him this, “Whatever you are doing on air, you need to learn about it, only then can you touch people’s heart,” He holds on to that. “It was something that resonated with me. I follow it religiously. Whatever topic we are discussing, i make it a point to learn about it before it goes on air,” Theyv tells us.
His microphone and Hari know the most about him
Theyv’s on air partner is Hari, and they have a good friendship off the air as well. “I share a lot with Hari. In fact, the microphone and Hari know the most about me!” he laughs. Theyv and Hari share the same close circle of friends. “That’s the main reason I do so much on my radio journey,”
“Our friendship will last much longer than our radio life will,”
Sure enough, Theyv and Hari’s chemistry shines through on air. “Our friendship will last much longer than our radio life will,”
He produced a radio documentary and won an award for it
Theyv’s talents don’t end in the radio conti. He produced a radio documentary in 2017. “For a long time, I’ve wanted to go to Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Thanks to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, I was given the chance to visit. While I was there, I felt a real connection with the land. The people were warm and inviting,”
Theyv was taken aback by what he saw. “I managed to record a few things about the aftermath of the civil war, how those affected are picking up the pieces. I approached Mr Kumaran with this and told him that I want to do a radio documentary about the Srilankan Tamils. That is how my documentary,The Journey of a Migrant, was born.”
It didn’t end there. The Journey of a Migrant won Best Radio Documentary in the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development Awards in 2017. “I was shocked. China usually wins the award every year,” Theyv attended the awards ceremony in Maldives, “Every big head of broadcasting from around the world were in attendance. And I won the award! It is an indescribable feeling, really,”
Family is very, very important to him
Anyone who goes through Theyv’s social media profiles will see that family is of utmost importance to him. We ask him if this is one of the reasons he carries out Uravugal Thodarkathai with ease.
“Definitely. I grew up in a joint family, a kootu kudumbam, as they say. I lived with my grandparents, five siblings, my uncle and aunty,”
“My grandmother used to take care of us, I can still recall the bedtime stories she told my siblings and I. They weren’t fantasy stories, they were stories that inculcated family values. It was taught to us at a very young age that family comes first, and we always need to maintain a good relationship with the extended family, and to choose our friends well.”
It was taught to us at a very young age that family comes first
Theyv is open about his humble beginnings. “We didn’t live a lavish lifestyle, but we had an abundance of love. I was taught some valuable lessons like, you might not have food for lunch, but don’t let people go hungry. My grandmother really taught me a lot. She is the reason we are such a close knit family,”
He credits his success to his parents
“I love talking about my parents, they are the reason where I am today. My mum was from a small estate in Air Tawar, she lost her dad at a young age, and had to grow up pretty quickly,” Theyv tells us. “She got married before she turned 20. She then had to manage the entire extended family. My mother used to sell vadais, and after school, my siblings and I used to take turns to help her at her stall. She is a real inspiration to me, having sacrificed so much for all of us,”
Theyv’s mum is not one to put her feet up now that all her children are fending for themselves. “Now that my siblings and I are all working, we tell her that she doesn’t need to strain herself with work anymore, but she just doesn’t want to! She often tells me, I want to be able to do the best for myself and my children, I want to keep working, I want to achieve something,” Theyv tells us proudly. “You know, what I admire most about her is that she insists on being independent, come what may.”
“My mother is the reason we are such a strong family unit.”
He then tells us about his dad. “My father used to be very strict. He had a burning desire to do the best for his family and he had to leave to Singapore work to support us. He was there for 12 years, and when he returned to Malaysia, he was a different person.
“He transformed to be a friendly, jovial person. He always tells us to live for the moment, and not let our sorrows overtake our lives,” Theyv shares that when he is troubled, he calls his father for advice, and treats him like a friend. “He is someone I know I can call anytime if I have an issue. And he still asks me if I have enough money!”
He’s here to stay, thank goodness!
Theyv doesn’t have plans to switch into the private sector anytime soon. But he does admit, he may need a change at some point. “I may need a change at some point, and I would love to go to the grassroots to help people,”
He also believes that just like any other industry, in broadcasting, it is important to give the newcomers a chance. Theyv is passionate about helping the youngsters come up in his field.
He believes in our youth!
Theyv has a really interesting take on our youth today. “I really don’t understand why people keep condemning our youngsters. Especially when it comes to TikTok and similar apps. Our youngsters are really doing wonders. They aren’t just bookworms, they are savvy at the things they know, and they know what they want. In which other era can you find medical students who act and sing?”
He beams with pride at the mention of our Tamil school pupils, hailing from a Tamil school himself. “The Tamil school students are the most talented bunch I have met! Of course, some of them need some guidance, but overall, kids these days know what they are doing!”
Theyv tells us about an encounter with a youngster, “The other day, I spoke to a fourteen year old who tells me she aspires to be a content manager. Youngsters are so exposed to the various jobs out there, and they all seem to have an entrepreneurial streak, which our generation just didn’t have!”
His faith in the Malaysian Indian youth is inspiring. “I honestly believe that today’s youngsters will achieve what they set out to, and they will soar higher than us, discovering different areas to excel in,”
“My only plea to our community is to stop speaking negatively about ourselves and our youngsters. Let’s be positive!”
Theyvekgan calls himself an ordinary Buntong boy. But he is far from ordinary. The love that he believes in radiates on-air and off-air. His sincerity is inspiring, and his positivity, infectious. And boy, does it have an energizing effect. Keep up the good work, Theyv!
All images are credits of Theyvekgan.
Keep up with Theyvekgan’s daily escapades on Instagram here.