Anybody who grew up around the 80s and 90s in the eastern and southern parts of Nigeria will recall with nostalgia the activities of a few individuals who made listening to radio a pleasure. I remember how as young men growing up in Aba, the commercial city of Abia state we were all addicted to Radio Rivers 2 (FM Stereo). I can still recall their ‘Radio Rivers Two, FM stereo’ trademark station jingle. The station could easily be described as the best FM station in the whole of the South East and South South at the time. They were known for their quality informative, educational and entertaining programmes, especially music shows which made many young people to adopt the station as one of choice. A few names I can recall from that pioneering golden FM era are Marvellous Macaulay Apolema Junior, Daphne Gogo-Abbey, Victor Burubo, Adokie Amasiemeka, Jude Tabai, Brighton Sogwe, Jotex Jompey and of course the ‘King of Talk Radio’, the one voice that symbolised the people-oriented philosophy of the station, the late Boma Erekosima (Bless his soul).
Around the South East, there were a few other stations which paraded quality Radio DJs and talk personalities that resonated with the people including Ngozi Ibegbu, Chuzzy Iboko, Rosemary Azinge, Chris ‘Snakeman’ Odili and D.N.D Onyeachor of ABS Enugu. Others are Frank Fyne Nwaonyigbo, Ken Ugwu, Nnamdi Olegbara and Teddy Oscar Uju of IBC FM), but Radio Rivers 2 easily stood out from the lot. Many praises to the Radio DJs of that era for their contribution to broadcasting development in Nigeria despite the challenges. This was long before the advent of GSM mobile phones which today’s radio DJs increasingly rely on, for listener phone-ins, without which many of them will struggle to host even an hour- long show.
FM stations have since exploded in Nigeria and become common features in most urban cities. It is not surprising that Lagos has coveted the title of FM station capital of Nigeria judging by the number of licensed FM stations operating in Lagos. There is Cool FM, Classic FM, Unity FM, Rhythm FM, Wazobia FM, Beat FM, Star FM, Inspiration FM, Brilla FM (sports focused) etc. No doubt the competition for the listening ears and attention of the public is now very intense, as that invariably affects a station’s ability to attract advertising support. The need to attract and keep the listeners entertained, especially restless young people who are the primary targets of the new genre of music-inspired FM stations that currently dot our radio broadcasting landscape may have led to the introduction of various programme formats by the various FM station owners, the most popular being talk shows which air mostly during drive time. These are call-in programmes that usually give listeners an opportunity to rant or rave on air, and also to contribute to whatever topics were being discussed. The programme format is usually conversational and in-formal, there are no scripts to follow and most presenters have occasionally fallen into the ‘as the spirit leads’ trap, thus going off – track pandering to what they may perceive as ‘popular tastes’ which if truth be told actually offends the sensibilities of the listeners. Perhaps this may have been why Dafe Ivwurie had argued in his Daily Independent column – ‘Dafe’s Joint’ that many of today’s FM talk show hosts may not be able to survive in the broadcasting world if the live phone-in concept is abolished. Dafe was obviously referring to the unpreparedness of some of the hosts and hostesses who rely mainly on listeners’ phone-in contributions to survive on their daily shows.
No doubt opening up such shows to audience participation helps make the shows interactive but what needs to be checked is the over-reliance on the audience as this now makes some of the Radio DJs lazy, many have jettisoned researching their themes and topics before coming on air, hoping as usual that the listeners will rescue them by jamming the stations with phone calls. I once listened to an afternoon show on one of the wave making FM stations in Lagos and was appalled at the apparent unpreparedness of a female presenter whose call to the listeners to phone-in and contribute to a mundane topic she had dreamed up on air was shunned. As the listeners did not heed her call, she struggled all through the programme. Such on-air technique obviously shows lack of respect for the listening public and could be likened to a teacher going into a classroom without her lecture notes and lesson plan, hoping that he students will fill up her lesson time with questions and answers and other activities that do not in any way contribute to learning.
There is also another issue to worry about, that of some of the themes and topics that Nigeria’s modern day Radio DJs introduce and discuss on air. It is now such that no topic is off-limits. It is obvious that some of these topics are not well thought through and researched before discussing them on air. There is little regard for the social, cultural and religious undertones of some of the topics. Everything is now assumed to be okay, after all that is the way the Americans and the British do them, therefore it must be right and suitable for Nigerians. The major culprits of this apparent cultural insensitivity are the returnee Radio DJs, Nigerians who have sojourned in the diaspora and are now back working in the various radio stations. You will find not only their phoney accents annoying but also their dry sense of humour. Throw in the mundane topics they discuss on air sometimes and you wouldn’t need to go far to discover who is killing radio broadcasting in Nigeria.
Just this morning on my way to work, I was listening to a show hosted by a male and female presenter on one of Lagos FM stations and the topic they thought wise to discuss by 7A.M on a Thursday morning when kids are being dropped off at school by their parents was married women going out on ladies night out. As if to add insult to injury, the female presenter knocked my fellow Igbo brothers as the backward (she actually used the word traditional) ones who would not want their wives to go on such fun escapades, she invited Igbo men and women to call in. And what did the male presenter do? He not only invited Hausa men and women to also phone in, but did so in the fakest imitation of Hausa accent you will ever hear. This obviously was fun to him but to me it was another poor attempt at stereotyping and ‘dumbing’ down of a race. Of course I immediately changed to another station.
I have also had the misfortune of listening in to a show where the presenters having searched the whole planet for themes, topics and issues to discuss decided on a most ‘palatable’ one – fart and farting. Yes, you read right. And for another hour, listeners were put through what I can only describe as one of the worst moments in radio broadcasting in Nigeria. There were callers (who are these people?) calling in to describe how to do a great fart, the various odours, noise levels etc.
There was also this day when some presenters picked on mechanics, describing them in such condescending terms that you will think that auto mechanics are not human beings. Buoyed on by the presenters, listeners started phoning in, one actually lamented how his dad had once invited a mechanic on a visit to their house to join him at the dinner table and he actually did, only for his dad to get angry and shout at the mechanic for not knowing that the offer was only ‘ceremonial’ and wasn’t meant to be accepted. They all laughed about these and I was thinking, who is the crazy person here? The man who invites another to table with the hope that his offer will not be accepted? Or the mechanic who humbly accepts a free lunch offer only to be scolded and derided for it?
It’s good to see that new things are happening in radio broadcasting in Nigeria but the presenters should please not
throw caution to the winds by adopting a Lawrence Akapa tabloid style approach in their quest to entertain the audience, our children are also listening.