JEDDAH: The first podcast network in the Kingdom has been started by Ammar Al-Sabban and his friend Rami Taibah from Jeddah. Driven by their passion for discussion and debate, the duo started their own podcast show, “Premiere Middle Eastern Podcast Network.”
Arab News interviewed Al-Sabban, co-founder of the Mstdfr podcast network, to learn their story.
In their podcast, Al-Sabban and Taibah spontaneously and freely discuss, debate and diffuse various topics including science, culture, technology, media, challenges facing the new Arab generation, and everything in between.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own radio show,” Al-Sabban told Arab News. “My friend Rami and I once had the chance to work together on a project for a company, and we had many worthy discussions about various topics that we had a common interest in. Once Rami posted an episode of Thamood bin Mahfoudh’s ‘Kalam’ podcast on Facebook where Rami was their guest, and when I listened to it I thought why don’t we make our own podcast?
“Rami liked the idea then that’s where it all started.” Ammar added.
“Mstdfr” is a slang word that has cultural reference in Arabic to one who has a keen interest in studying, reading a lot, and has care for fine details. In English, “Mstdfr” can be something between a nerd and a geek, which is why Al-Sabban and Taibah chose the word to become the name of their podcast.
“Our aim and first idea were to share our discussions in matters that interest us, and to leave something about us for our children in the future so they can learn about our personalities and thoughts when they get to our age,” Al-Sabban said.
He added: “We did not think of Mstdfr as a business to build; we only wanted to share and express our opinions and communicate with the audience. When we received our first sponsorship from Uber for three months, our friends suggested that we start a network, so we used the money to prepare our own place and studio for recording and producing. This is how we became a network, then the other shows started.”
The Mstdfr network now has about 13 weekly podcast shows in different fields and topics where podcasters share their thoughts and passion, such as Business box for business talk; Elm FM for scientific news; Cartoon Cartoon for cartoons, obviously; Couch talk for self-help and life coaching; and others. The most popular one is The Mstdfr Show, which in 2017 was ranked first in Saudi Arabia’s iTunes market in the comedy category. Other shows also rank in the top 10 in their categories.
“Although the podcasting culture is not very popular in the Arab world, and in Saudi Arabia specifically, we receive a lot of good reactions from people. Listeners would tell us that when they start a long trip in the car, they listen to us to fill the time; they feel less lonely when they listen to our podcasts; or Mstdfr had made them new friends. Some request to join our chats and we communicate with them and have them with us — anyone can join our world.”
For the Mstdfr team, the market during the past few years was not yet ready to invest in such a business, so they remained as an almost self-supporting network without making money. But, after three years, the introductory period for the project is nearly over, according to Al-Sabban, and they will start working on making Mstdfr a sustainable business.
Al-Sabban has worked in various jobs as an architect for some years, but in 2013, he decided to quit and work on things he enjoys more. One of his main interests is puppeteering and voice acting, and he was able to build his own puppet character, Afroott, who became a popular figure on social media in Saudi Arabia.
In 2016, Al-Sabban was invited to join the Open Sesame production team and he also works with them as a puppeteer and voice actor.