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The UAE’s notable firsts



We’re taking a look back at monumental firsts across the country. Because sometimes it’s not always about being the biggest or tallest: sometimes you’re remembered for simply being there before anybody else.

Channel 4 FM
The country’s first privately owned radio station, Channel 4 FM, went on air at midnight on June 7, 1997 live from the beach where JBR now stands. The first song played was, appropriately, Republica’s “Ready To Go”.

“There were stations before us,” remembers Jeff Price, the DJ who had the honour of pressing play 18 years ago. “But it was all sort of like Good Morning Vietnam without the ‘good’. We came on air and we acted like rock stars. We were treated like them, too. We never had to queue for a thing.”

Channel 4’s swagger was fuelled simply by great pop music, but in 1997, the days before the internet or social media it offered something more. “We realised that what everyone here has in common is they’re away from friends and family. Channel 4 brought people together. We were the first radio station to put listeners on-air and share their experiences of being an expat,” says Jeff.

“We also introduced showbiz. You take that for granted now but nobody was doing it back then. We used new technology to talk to whoever was bringing out a new album whether they were in the UK, US or Australia. It paved the way for stuff like Virgin Radio. I have no doubt whatsoever that we changed the UAE forever.”

The Toyota Tower
It’s on your AED 100 note, but the World Trade Centre wasn’t the first skyscraper on this iconic stretch of road. The honour belongs to its near-neighbour. “The Toyota Tower, as well as the residential structures near the Trade Centre, were the only visible buildings in the (early) 1970s,” says Yasser Elsheshtawy, associate professor of architecture at the UAE University, Al Ain. The tower’s official name is actually the Nasser Rashid Lootah Building, but it acquired its landmark status and fond nickname from the neon Toyota advertisement that’s been on its roof for more than 30 years.

And while it might look tiny opposite Burj Khalifa today, in 1974 all 15 floors made it the tallest thing for miles. The reason its windows are so small? Air-conditioning wasn’t standard in those days and they were designed to help keep the rooms cool.

Channel 33
Launched in 1979, Channel 33 was Dubai’s first English language television channel, initially running programmes between 4pm until 9pm. Richard Coram, who read the nightly news, was one of the channel’s most recognisable faces.

“It was about serving the local expatriate population which had started to rapidly grow,” he tells ShortList. “It was about the community. We’re talking about the days before satellite TV and apart from renting a video tape there was no other gogglebox entertainment. Channel 33 was the only players in town.”

It was replaced in 2004 by Dubai One but the station is fondly remembered by long-term expats for its kid’s programmes, Thursday night Bollywood movies and American TV show The Bold and the Beautiful. “The government and local businesses could communicate with the public through us,” adds Richard. “Up-to-the-minute local news at 8pm was widely watched. Dubai loved Channel 33. Did I feel famous? Shopping in Spinneys was never the same again!”

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First issue of ShortList UAE out now

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