DJ Maddy Barber snagged her husband by faking interest in rock climbing

11 April 2014 / 2 years 6 months ago

Headphones on, hands on the console, eyes scanning four screens of music tracks and audio controls, Maddy Barber belts out the chorus of Cruise by Florida George. She is ready to wrap up another morning show for radio station Kiss92 FM.

"I got my windows down and the radio up," she sings along with the track on air, segueing smoothly into her final patter and cueing in co-hosts Jason Johnson and Arnold Gay.

After 19 years in radio and media, the 40-year-old DJ has good reason to be loud and proud of it.

According to an article in The Straits Times, she is assistant programme director of Kiss92, which means her stamp is on its playlist. Her girl-next-door charm and relatable on-air persona are among the reasons why the SPH UnionWorks station has listeners tuning in longer than other English-language stations here.

She has come a long way from the greenhorn 20something who landed a job at MediaCorp's 98.7FM in the mid-1990s and it has not been easy.

Married since 2005 to IT consultant Wez Barber, 36, with whom she has an eight-year-old daughter, Alicia, she juggled career with being a single mother for 10 years. She declines to talk about the father of her 17-year-old daughter Elizabeth.

At age 19, a family friend, who ran a modelling agency, asked her to emcee some of the shows. "Every time I did this, people would come up to me and say: 'You're good, really good voice', so I felt I might be cut out for radio."

Two years later, fresh out of poly, she answered an audition call and was hired for 98.7FM. "I faked my personality so much, they hired me," she says with a laugh. "Did you hear how much I sucked in the beginning?"

There were plenty of "dead-air" minutes as she shuffled CDs around the changer - "I'm the only woman in the world who can't multi-task," she says - but what got her hauled over the coals was changing the playlist.

Instead of the scheduled soft pop mix approved by the programme director as suitable for the 6am hour, she played Song 2 by Blur, a high-energy piece which begins with a head-banging drum solo and heart-stoppingly loud "Woohoo!".

"I played it because I thought my boss wasn't around. He was."

The lowest point came when she was pregnant with her first daughter and was put on "float shift", so she had no regular gig of her own. "One jock even said: 'You don't have your own show, what's the point?' I said: 'It's okay, I'm new.'"

Things began looking up a bit as she was seconded to work on the morning show with Klass. He was a veteran then, with six years at radio station Rediffusion. He took Barber under his wing, giving her tips on how to present herself both on and off the air.

Since that time, she has enjoyed working in a team as much as, if not more than, working alone.

"You can be relatively good on your own but when you find the right partner, you go from mediocre to great," she says.

In 1997, she was offered the role of Mei, the girl next door, in director Glen Goei's movie homage to disco, Forever Fever. She left radio to take the role and also appeared in Channel 5 teen drama Spin in 1999.

Next came a year-long job in Mumbai as a radio consultant and then around eight years in Bangkok, first as a programme director for Virgin Radio for five years and then a real-estate broker.

Moving to Thailand was a deliberate decision to take more responsibility for parenting Elizabeth. Her parents had been helping out with childcare and Barber felt this should change.

"At some point, I looked at her and thought: 'She's turning into my parents' kid.' I couldn't afford to live on my own here, so the only way was to look for a company that would post me overseas."

In Thailand, she met her husband Wez on an Internet forum for expats.

"It was so hard to meet people otherwise. I was a single mum, I didn't go out partying much."

At their condo in the east, Mr Barber, a permanent resident originally from Yorkshire, toasts sandwiches for lunch and says his wife dated him under false pretences. "I was into rock climbing, she faked interest in rock climbing. She was very clever, we didn't go rock climbing until the fourth date. I haven't been climbing since."

It is clearly a running joke between them, with his dry humour trumping her squealing denials. He still proposed within six months and they were married in 2005.

In 2009, they returned to Singapore so the children could be enrolled in local schools. Klass recommended her for a gig at Hot FM91.3 and she switched over to Kiss92 when it started.

Her favourite simile is "a DJ is like fine wine, you get better as you age" and she banks on building relationships rather than wowing listeners with shock stunts. "Radio is a lot more than just going there and talking. You have to be interesting and relatable. You need to be able to convey the message," she says.

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