It is my habit getting the day’s news headlines first every morning on radio and this I took from my father. Radio has special appeal. Take some time to listen to a standard live radio broadcast or podcast and visit the same station’s online pages to read the same story and you can tell the difference. This uniqueness drives from a combination of many factors – programming, production and delivery. The personal touches of individual distinctive talents have a way of breaking the sticky grip of monotony and making every presentation take a life of its own.
My father was a big fan of radio and rightly so. He had amassed a commendable repertoire of Music LPs and then the civil war broke out. His house was stripped bare by looters and the invading troop who stopped short of setting it ablaze because they turned it to a guard post. The war ended and what he had lost in that respect, radio tried to fill in. He knew almost all the songs that played on radio and would beat the presenter to the history and story behind the songs and artists. From the works of Okonkwo Adigwe, Herbert Udemba and his Afro Baby Party group, Cardinal, Rex Jim Lawson, Eddy Okwedi, Charles Iwuegbu and his Archibogs to Adeolu Akinsanya & the Western Toppers Band, IK Dairo, Ebenezer Obey, and Ramblers Dance band, Celestine Ukwu, Peacock Guitar Band, Victor Olaiya, Chubby Checker, Jonez and King Kennytone. He was also a big fan of Congo music and Orchestra Lipua Lipua, Orchestra Kiam, Sam Manguana and Franco O.K Jazz were some of his favourites. The stations played largely songs from these artists in addition to traditional songs that were allotted special time. He once said that radio was very comforting – giving hope and entertainment. That was the power of programming such that at that critical point after the war, those that conceptualized the programmes knew the audience and simply made programmes for them. People needed to be re-invigorated and their minds taken away from their terrible experiences. And, the transistor radio did just that.
The medium wave (MW) and shortwave (SW) reigned supreme and stations were fewer hence every second of broadcast time counted. It was largely an analogue era but play back some of the productions and you will understand clearly the point. The talent and industry was awesome. The two bandwidths were susceptible to interferences especially from atmospheric conditions. I remember situations where lightening would seriously be interfering with reception, but people still risked getting their sets damaged listening to the broadcast of football commentaries by Ernest Okonkwo and Richard Asiegbu. Such was the listenership. The emergence of Frequency Modulation (FM) with its digital components, high fidelity sound, clearer signal and less static interference gave added impetus to established radio persona and threw up a whole set of new radio DJs, presenters, anchors and broadcasters.
Enugu, the coal city, became an arena for healthy rivalry between the foremost stations, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN)- Radio Nigeria, and Anambra Broadcasting Corporation 1 (ABC 1 now ESBS Radio). The common denominator was quality programming and production. Some of the programmes that can hardly be forgotten include: Locomotion (Music show), Music from the Masters (classical music show), ABS by 1 (One hour of uninterrupted Congo/central African music), Ozi Ekene (Igbo request Show), Ndu Enuwa (Igbo Radio Drama), Ufele (Igbo drama), Akuko na-egwu (Igbo folksong and stories) and a host of others. Pete Edochie, Chuzzy Iboko, Paddy Eke, Chukwuma Ogbonna Kelvin Ugwu, Rosemary Azinge, Okechukwu Okereke, Linda Menakaya and Ikechukwu Agu need no introduction because they were some of the voices that kept listeners spell bond. At Radio Nigeria headquarters (national), Bisi Olatilo and colleagues were doing the same job. In those days phone – in programmes was a rarity and not a ploy by lazy artless hosts and producers to hide. Any street folk could, very well, preside over such phone calls where many listeners who just wanted to hear themselves on radio irritate others. It was neither an avenue for unprepared anchors to ‘fulfil all righteousness’ nor that of a caller with bonus credit to call amidst drum busting haul-back and noise to tell listeners that he was chilling out with his girlfriend, but a serious meeting point for intelligent contributions, discussion and deliberations on any topical issue or area.
I discovered four local radio stations that I normally tune to in Abuja and interestingly, two are government owned stations. There are over ten stations. It must be pointed out that the architecture and genome of radio in this era has changed. The art of radio production has been greatly eroded. Radio DJ, News Anchor, Presenter and whatever appellations that is now the nomenclature has been vitiated by a couple of factors. I must acknowledge that a number of them are doing a great job but many On – Air – Personalities (OAPs), as most would like to be called today, do not adequately understand their roles and duties. The target of any media content is an audience – that special aggregate number of loyal listeners who seek to be informed, educated, entertained and inspired. When this goal of any presentation is achieved, listenership is built and invariably adverts.
I tuned to a station at about 5.30 am and what greeted me was high pitch screeching haul – back and then; “Hello, turn down your set. What is your name and where are you calling from?” The caller was inquiring about the topic of discussion and the line went off. Is it the fake accent or nauseating flirtation? I quickly turned off the set to avoid further irritation. On-Air-Personality (OAP) today has the luxury of the whole time in the world that they can afford to be talking frivolities in what ought to be a peak time in the tight morning belt of programming. This is the case of ‘over abundance’ posing a problem. With the liberalisation of the airwaves several private stations came on board. However, is it not better to have less station with quality programmes than thousands with little or nothing to offer in real sense? Where is the creativity? It beats my imagination how some of these stations are managing to survive if they are actually self sustaining. Most of the OAPs are just ensconced in their shallow cocoon of overtly chatty pedestrian delivery while trying to draw attention to selves by building a ‘vague persona’. Their stock in trade is saying sweet nothing where listeners without deep appreciation of time gets bamboozled while gaining practically nothing.
What’s more? Many OAP feel that they are celebrities already without knowing that it is the calibre and quality of their offerings that makes them one. This is why some do everything to attract attention to self not to the show. Recently, Planet TV viewers were appalled by the repulsive appearance of one of the programme hosts who came on screen all flesh and cleavages as though she was going for a role in an adult film. Yes, it was that bad.
Well, in as much as I agree that lack of funding contributes to the low level of quality radio programme; I believe that it is not the major impediment. The first step towards excelling in any art is discovering ones innate natural gift or endowment. I was a staff adviser to a campus magazine produced by student of Mass communication and organised the first set of students that played various roles at the department’s radio studio. I discovered that many students have not realised this fact of life and some others are simply following the biddings of their parents and sponsors. Unfortunately, no matter how hard such people tried they struggled with their roles while the naturally gifted, with the same level of coaching and training, delivered with effortless ease.
Similarly, lots of broadcasters struggle to apply themselves to the job because, in most cases, society and environment they found themselves is where the Machiavellian principles tend to rule and the bottom line is how much money. In this, a number of talents opt for other fields that pay better thereby rare talents that in other climes would be celebrated and adequately rewarded are lost. It tells a lot about the value system. Consequently, people ill-equipped to deliver on the job have filled the broadcasting field. For example, people without the mastery of the language of communication and who do not possess ‘radio friendly voices’ suffocate the air waves in the name of OAPs. Those Yoruba language hosts or presenters that go deep down to the fluid traditional Yoruba that sounds like music are fewer now. Their Igbo language counterpart fares no better as what most present to their listeners is mangled hybrid, serendipitously made up of Igbo and mostly English language which highlife music legend, Oliver De Coque tagged ‘Engligbo’. The same can be said of other Nigerian local languages including Pidgin English. Some of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed quality language presentations by ace broadcasters like Paddy Eke, Chukwuma Ogbonna, Gilbert Ugbodiegwu and Joe Maduekwe (ABC Radio 1 now ESBS in Enugu) know the difference. And the difference is very glaring.
Good old radio was a companion; it engages the audience, it captivates, teaches, educates and leaves such an indelible impression which, like all art forms, is the greatest legacy bequeathed.
Uja is a Research Officer and wrote from Abuja
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