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The Ghosts in the Machine

Interviewed by Lydia Schoonderbeek and Hilary Diack

Except of course, there is nothing other-wordly about the duo that pumps out high adrenalin non-stop music from Nile FM to thousands of listeners around Cairo every day. Sally Sampson and Mark Somers have become fixtures in our lives, inadvertently sharing our daily road-rage, occasional meltdowns, and yes, even our more inspired philosophical moments. They have become friends whose incessant lively chat gets us through a typical Cairo morning.

Cairo West Magazine decided to track them down to get to know what makes this dynamic pair tick. When we sat down to chat with them as they wound up a morning session we found that both Sampson and Somers are charismatic and quirky, with a sharp-edged sense of humor. Sampson, a petite, self-confessed motor-mouth, has a distinctive laugh and non-stop energy that sweeps you away, Somers exudes a more laid back attitude, but as we found, is a master of lightning-quick repartee.

CWM: How did you both come to join Nile FM?

Sally: A friend had seen a Nile FM recruitment advertisement on Facebook so I decided to respond. I sent in a demo tape and my C.V. It took a while for them to get back to me, but I finally had an interview, it went well and I started in September 2012.

Mark: I saw the job advertised in 2011 on a media website when I was still in the UK. I applied, and like Sally, waited for them to get back to me. I had a Skype interview, then six months later was on my way to Cairo.

Sally, what were you doing before joining Nile FM?

I had just come back from completing my M.A. in Dramatic Arts in London after moving there in 2009. I was doing temporary work in a call centre while trying to pick up acting parts, but was less than thrilled with that, so took the decision to move back to Cairo in 2011 to be part of our society at such a vital time.

What are the challenges of being on air?

Sally:  I am naturally talkative so took to it like a duck to water.

Mark: In my early days on radio I had developed an “on air” persona, until someone told me that I was much better being my natural self, with my own brand of humor and perceptions, so I stuck with that.

Mark, tell us how you feel about living in Cairo.

I love Cairo, the pace of life, the culture, the energy, the constant sunshine, and being in a totally different setting from my previous norm in the U.K.

It seems that you have both travelled a fair bit, where have you lived?

Sally: I am proudly Egyptian, but also hold the Canadian nationality. I have lived in Canada, Bahrain, Oman and Egypt, as well as time spent studying in London.

Mark: I was born in Hull in the U.K., but had part of my education in New Zealand. I returned to the U.K. and had spent 15 years working in the world of media when I felt like a change and joined Nile FM. That’s it; U.K., New Zealand and Egypt.

What is it like working together?

Mark: You need to ‘gel’ and have a good rapport and chemistry. With some co-hosts it can be all-uphill, but within 10 minutes of Sally and I working together we knew it would work.

Have you had any embarrassing moments on air?

Mark: I had a recent incident when I had a brain freeze and blurted out the wrong word, but our quality assurance department ensures that there are no brand names used or profanities so things are pretty safe. Mind you, Sally sometimes seems to forget that she is on air and comes out with some really personal stuff.

Sally: So true, I am a hoarder, so will reveal what I found in my closet, or read old stuff from my diary, which reveals my long-term obsession with Orlando Bloom. I am always embarrassing myself.

Is working for Nile FM as you expected?

Mark: To be honest, I initially had concerns about how we would connect with a broad audience by broadcasting in English, but it has been amazing to see the level of response and interaction we have with the community.

Sally: We get a lot of positive feedback, people really become part of the program. It feels great to help people start their day on a good note.

Moving on, who is the most inspiring person you have met?

Mark: For me it was my drama teacher, Jane Beazer. She managed to cope with a class of 14-15 year olds who lacked a sense of direction, took us under her wing, gave us a chance and really turned things around for us.

Sally: Eve Ensler, playwright, writer and founder of V.Day. She is a female rights activist whom I met last year. She really gave me fire for the cause.

What lessons have you learned in 2013?

Sally: Every year I gain more self-confidence, and potential to contribute. I also became less concerned about meeting other people’s expectations.

Mark: I learned more about handling cultural dynamics and how to handle situations with more sensitivity.

How would you describe yourself in 10 words or less?

Mark: Rapidly gaining weight, it’s all Egypt’s fault.

Sally: Talkative, passionate, ambitious, drama queen, opinionated, short but larger than life.

Quick Questions:

Your worst habit?

Mark: Lethargy.

Sally: Procrastination.

Your best quality?

Mark: I like people. All kinds of people.

Sally: Qualities. Perseverance and optimism.

Pet Peeve?

Sally: Complacency, people who are happy in their ignorance.

Mark: People who are unreasonable and don’t want to see my point of view.

What can’t you live without?

Mark: Facebook and Twitter. Oh yes, and a MacBook charger which is currently vital for me to watch Downtown Abbey.

Sally: My notebook, I am always jotting things down.

Best advice you have ever been given?

Mark: Do be good- don’t be crap.

Sally: Go for it!

Reading at the moment?

Sally: Why I Write, by George Orwell.

Mark: Umm… Cairo West Magazine.

Best holiday ever?

Mark: Inter-railing around Europe – Vienna, Prague, Venice, Florence and small villages.

Sally: I go to France a lot and fall in love with it all over again every time.

Favorite cuisine?

Sally: Sushi, lots of it. I can win any sushi eating challenge hands-down.

Mark: Comfort food in Egyptian-sized portions. My current favorite is Brussels sprouts mashed with potato and loads of butter.

Building you would like to live in?

Mark: An amazing villa I saw in Maadi on road 213, it looks like a haunted palace.

Sally: I used to live in a basement flat in Notting Hill and I would dream of living in one of those town houses with large windows every time I walked past one.

Any music stuck in your head at the moment?

Sally: Timber, by Pitbull, featuring Kesha.

Mark: It changes, we listen to so much.

Earliest memory of Cairo?

Sally: Being driven through the streets of Heliopolis by my parents.

Mark: Leaving Cairo Airport, seeing smog and crazy traffic, but thinking it was all beautiful.

You have an early start, what time do you have to get up in the morning?

Mark: I’m up at 5.30 am.

Sally: And I’m up by 4.am.

Not much time for breakfast, what did you have this morning?

Sally: A shot of strong coffee.

Mark: A cigarette.

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