The clothes may change but Singh's welcoming spirit remains
By Tyler Enfield | January 21, 2022
Many know his voice: Baba Singh, one of Edmonton’s most distinctive radio personalities. We knew him as Master Crocodile at CJSR. We know him now as the host of CKUA’s Mid Morning Mojo. But, for many listeners, he is simply Baba, the reliable friend we’ve never met, soothing and exciting our morning rides through traffic with his eclectic tastes and narrative. It’s a phenomenon of radio that we develop genuine relationships with a voice, coming to know and trust the person behind it, and yet most people wouldn’t recognize Baba Singh in a crowd.
That’s why many fans might be interested to know Baba was a fascinating part of Edmonton’s cultural landscape long before he took to the airwaves. I first met him 20 years ago, and will never forget the encounter. How could I? Who would forget an East Indian man standing six-foot-four in a sweeping blue robe and turban, a Nikon around his neck and a bejeweled dagger at his belt, riding a giant tricycle up and down Whyte Avenue?
I was new to Edmonton, this being my first summer in the city. Baba took me into his home and gave me a place to sleep. He cooked me curry. His home was a museum of oddities and found art. Equally enthralling was the steady flow of characters passing through the revolving door of his second-floor flat, from TV personalities and eccentric artists, to oddball drifters, philosophers and travelers like myself. More than anything, though, it was Baba’s heart that won me over. His distinctly warm presence that said, “You are welcome here, no matter where you come from, or where you are going.”
Now here we are, two decades later, and I’m sitting in CKUA’s audio booth with Baba. He is on air. Gone are the robe and dagger. The long bearded fellow has been replaced by a clean-shaven gentleman in jeans. Yet, this welcoming quality of heart, deriving from Baba’s own experience as a Canadian immigrant, has remained unchanged. Perhaps this explains some of Baba’s appeal on radio.
“When you meet Baba,” says David Ward, director of programming at CKUA, “you are immediately struck by how soft, open, and welcoming he is. He’s also positive, and has a deep sense of gratitude, and he shares these good feelings with his audience every time he’s on air. A youngster once commented, ‘Baba gets me.’”
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That is no small task, being that Baba, as a radio host, is limited to one-way conversations with his audience. I ask him how he does it — how he establishes that intimacy with the roughly 20,000 listeners he cannot see or hear. In response, he dials in the next song on his playlist and turns to me.
“When people are listening to radio, it’s one-on-one. It’s not a communal thing anymore. Instead of ‘Hello everybody’ I say, ‘Good morning to you.’ So it’s you. Whoever receives it, I’m talking to you.”
Baba says he actually visualizes speaking to one person while on air. It could be someone he knows, or it could be simply a profile: male truck driver, age 45, missing his kids at home. The key is to be precise, says Baba. It’s the opposite of broadcasting, and the feedback CKUA receives is that it works. Listeners feel Baba is speaking directly to them.
Most important, says Baba, is the value of meaningful communication. While on air he does his best to remain real and authentic, even in the middle of his “awkwardness and deficiencies.” He explains, “Being real is what everybody actually loves. We respond to that, and that is the connection, just being authentic. I don’t have to spell it out. I just need to always be coming from a real place, even when I’m faltering and falling on my face.”
Ward agrees: “Baba is unconventional. He has a presence and charisma that’s hard to describe but somewhat easier to quantify. For example, every time we post something to our social media channels featuring Baba, there’s a consequent spike in engagement. Baba is a sunny day. Baba is a breath of fresh air.”
I can’t deny it — each time I’m stuck in traffic and hear Baba’s voice on the radio, I’m overcome with nostalgia. I recall waking in his home to the smells of curry and chai. Best of all, I love knowing others feel the same, enjoying their own private connection with one of Edmonton’s most beloved treasures.