Heart Searching: 'Hello? It's Cupid calling . . .': Ever thought about finding love over the airwaves? Dolly Dhingra reports on the growth in lonely hearts programmes on the radio

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Think of love on the airwaves and the mind fills with corny thoughts of couples requesting Bryan Adams as 'Our Tune', causing listeners embarrassment, nausea and occasionally tears; otherwise it's notions of lonely people in bedsits desperately trying to get a life via a telephone. Recently, however, radio stations have been taking Cupid's task seriously and helping their listeners to find and express their emotional needs, shattering these prejudices.

The novelty of radio is that love could strike at any given moment in the comfort of ones own home or car - the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle being every listener's dream.

LBC's 'Midnight Encounters' is radio's leading dating agency, providing a free service to people who are anything but desperate. Three programmes each week are dedicated to lonely heart phone- ins. Callers are strictly vetted by the producer, Trisha Cooklin, before going on air to talk to Paul Allen. New legal restrictions for interviews with members of the public were introduced after a woman was raped when one phone-in programme gave out her details.

Information that is imparted with a view to a blind date now requires stations to take special care. All those involved must be over 18, and women's contact details should never be divulged to a man during, or as a consequence of, a blind-date programme.

Each written response that is received by 'Midnight Encounters' - once considered genuine - is read and filed. If the producer has the slightest suspicion over the authenticity of the writer, letters are committed to the bin. Ms Cooklin says: 'Most applicants are genuine, but you are always going to get some odd people. There's one chap who's been writing to me with a PO box number, whom I refuse to accept, purely because if I don't have any way of tracing or contacting him, then neither will our callers.'

To date, 'Midnight Encounters' has produced two children and around 20 marriages. The statistics of success are difficult to gather, since not all involved inform stations of eventual outcomes of meetings.

'Introductions' on Sunrise Radio was the brainchild of Dr Avtax Lit, its managing director, in November 1989. Since the station's official launch at the beginning of the year, the network now broadcasts to London and Europe, and has some 6,000 eligible Asians on their books. 'Introductions' came about as a result of complaints from the Asian community about marriage bureaux that were charging extortionate prices and not providing suitable partners.

Tension still exists between the station and some of the marriage agencies. Geeta Kohli, who organises the programme, is wary that some of the 'highly eligible' clientele featured on 'Introductions' are being poached and approached by bureaux. 'You start becoming sceptical when one respondent wants to know a vast number of people that were on the programme,' she says.

'Introductions' main objective is to find a marriage partner for Asians rather than taking on the traditional role of dating agency, which caters for people to form relationships of their choice. Sunrise considers itself as providing a much-needed service for the Asian community in Britain, who are still firm believers in the arranged marriage system.

Although there is no initial fee, nominal costs are involved. For pounds 1, callers receive a 20-page monthly magazine, and a charge of pounds 2.50 is made for forwarding letters. The main difference between a marriage bureau and radio applicants is that there is a point of contact.

Participants are encouraged to prepare for their time on the air, which gives listeners some idea of what the person is like. At present, the station is trying to organise the 'Introductions' project further to include monthly meetings.

Due to the station's expansion into Europe, Sunrise is having to enrol applicants from the West, but is reluctant to take on people from Asia, to avoid involvement in immigration matters.

Geeta, who is 35 and single, does not take kindly to suggestions of joining the service herself. In many ways she wholeheartedly understands what second-generation Asians are going through, but is keen to point out that as organiser of the programme, a certain amount of detachment is required.

She explains that it is often easy to become emotionally involved in some of the cases, especially when a person pours their heart out, revealing all the disappointments of their life. 'Often you feel that, right, I'm definitely going to find this person the ideal partner - they deserve it. The problem, however, is if you don't or something goes wrong, then the person can turn around and blame you, and that's the last thing you need.'

If Cupid should strike through the airwaves, couples have a whole variety of radio stations that cater specifically for the slushiness of romance, such as BRMB's and Capital Radio's 'Love Zone'. The ultimate declaration of love, however, still has to be 'Our Tune', now aired on Atlantic Radio.

Sunrise 'Introductions' is broadcast every Sunday, 2pm-4pm and take enquiries from 4pm-5.30pm (off air). For further information, contact Geeta Kohli, Sunrise Introductions, Sunrise House, Sunrise Road, Southall, Middlesex UB2 4AU. Telephone: 081-574 6666.

'Midnight Encounters' is transmitted every Friday, Saturday and Sunday 12-1am on LBC Radio.

(Photograph omitted)

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