Why I took my radio station to Ibadan – Femi Sowoolu
You can’t listen to Mr. Femi Sowoolu on radio and not fall head over heels in love with broadcasting. Not just broadcasting, but also the English language. Why? The veteran and venerated broadcaster has this distinct way of making both sound so sweet and sumptuous and smooth. In the game now for well over three decades, the footprints he left behind at Ogun Radio, Rhythm FM, Radio Continental et al are yet to be erased – even many years after his exit.
Currently the MD/CEO of Jamz 100.1FM, the newest radio station that in so short a time is occupying the numero uno position in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital and its environs, Mr. Sowoolu was so, so magnanimous at the inception of YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine to write a column for us – Voices in my Head. He clocked 60 weeks back, but opted for a quiet celebration which was rounded off with a book presentation on Sunday, December 18, 2016, in Surulere, Lagos.
As his guests were trickling and trooping in, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, pulled him to a corner where they had this revealing and riveting interview. Enjoy…
First, what prompted your book, There Are No Heroes – An Autobiographical Instructive For The Modern Broadcaster?
Maybe I should just say buy the book and you will find out (general laughter). But really, as a young broadcaster, I found out that most of the seniors I had met in the industry, when I wanted to know more about the profession, when I came to crossroads and I needed to find answers to the questions in my head on how to improve, or how to get things or what to do, I found them to be rather miserly with their help, with information. Nobody was telling me anything, and I was wondering what was wrong with them. So, truly and candidly, there were hardly any books on broadcasting back in the day. I searched around; yes, there were theoretical books, but no practical ways and means beyond how to pronounce; nobody is really going to tell you how to do a good broadcast. So, as far back as then, I did decide that someday I will try and write a book for up and coming broadcasters to use as a reference point, as a referral, based on my own life experiences and my professional experiences and including also the mistakes I made along the way as a tutorial sort of thing for the up and coming broadcaster who is committed and dedicated to have a full time profession and a lengthy profession on the job.
The title of the book is There Are No Heroes…
(Cuts in) – Yes, there are no heroes…
How did you arrive at the title?
Okay, let me explain it this way. Basically, there are no heroes, and to explain that for people to understand is – look at heroes, the people we call heroes. Yes, I know we call people heroes, but heroes never set out in life to do heroic things. Heroes just do things because they feel that these are things that must be done. Heroes don’t call themselves heroes, we call them heroes. So, they just do things because they are important things to do, because they are necessary, essential things to do. So, heroes don’t go out to do things, they don’t call themselves heroes. We are the ones who call them heroes because we respect the things they do, we accept who they are and we respect them for the great deeds they have done. At the same time, looking at it from another perspective, I could say again that all our heroes are dead!
Let’s deviate a little now. What got you interested in broadcasting?
Well, I’ve always wanted to be a broadcaster. I never made the mistake of getting into broadcasting. I say that all the time and I tell young kids these days, find your passion and just follow it. You will never have to work again for eternity in your life. It’s as simple as that and that’s what has happened to me. Radio was my passion, from my small age. Like I said, most of these things are in the book. You should just go and buy the book (laughter).
What makes a good broadcaster? Who is a good broadcaster?
Oh dear! Who is a good broadcaster? A good broadcaster is a person who naturally can speak well, can be very creative, can create creative programming that excites a huge audience. That’s one way of putting it. At the same time, to be able to do that, you must have learnt your skills very well. You must be very good at what you do (stresses it). Yes, you will make mistakes, Nobody is perfect definitely, but a good broadcaster is somebody who can entertain, who can educate, who can inform, who can do all the things a broadcaster is supposed to have done. Alright! A good broadcaster is not a show off person, a good broadcaster is somebody who does a whole lot of research and reading, who has practically a little bit of knowledge about almost any subject under the earth; a good broadcaster is somebody who has a great passion, aside from broadcasting, that he believes in so much. It could be a charity, it could be a fantasy to become something, it could be aeroplane, it could be anything. A good broadcaster is just generally somebody who just thinks about other people all the time, because most of the time you won’t have time for yourself…
What is the commonest mistake that most broadcasters make?
It’s pretty rampant almost all over the place. Most people I hear on radio these days don’t do their home work, they don’t research, they don’t rehearse, they don’t get prepared. I hear people launch radio programmes and within the first 3 minutes, our phone number is bla bla bla, please call us. Is the listener going to plan your programme for you? Which is what is happening in all the radio stations these days. Yes, I know times are changing, yes I know everybody is looking for em…how do you call it – it’s a buyer’s market. The media agencies, the media majors are using that to actually judge listenership, which is wrong, because you will find out over time that the people who really love radio have probably never called the radio stations in their lives. And if you do run a radio programme over a while, you will find out that again it is the same callers who keep on calling back and forth everyday, every week; it is the same group of people. Nevertheless, these are mistakes. Young kids these days don’t do their home work, they don’t research, everybody is playing the same kind of music, everybody is speaking some kind of funny accent that they didn’t learn from anywhere, they are not being relevant to their community, they are misleading the youth, and it’s a loss of a whole lot of moral values…I’m not just blaming broadcasters, for this is a national thing and I do believe that at some stage in life, Nigeria has to think about creating some kind of national broadcasting orientation policy that we need to engage all our stations in. I think it’s very important to do that.
You’ve been into broadcasting now for decades, what would you say has kept you going?
Oh, the love of the job! More than anything else, the love of the job. Sometimes you get tired of it, sometimes it does look mundane, it gets boring, but if you find out, I always bounce in and bounce out (laughing). Find something else to do, you come back, find something else to do, come back…I’ve been a broadcaster, I’ve been in advertising, I’ve done some journalism, I’ve done reality television, I’ve done some writing; I even did some writing for you – YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine (laughter). So, I keep on bouncing in and bouncing out. That’s what has kept me going.
So, what do you like most about being a broadcaster?
Hmmm! What do I like most about being a broadcaster? I guess perhaps the opportunity it gives me to give back to society. I enjoy that. I enjoy imparting knowledge, I enjoy sharing stuff with people that I’m sure they probably have never heard about before, I enjoy teaching them new things, because all my radio programmes, I like to add a little information, a little history, a little health tips, a little knowledge that you won’t readily find anywhere else. Yeah, I enjoy speaking with listeners, I enjoy talking to people through the radio, I enjoy just being there, being the lonely voice, but knowing that millions of people are out there just enjoying what I’m saying. I like that a lot.
What don’t you like about being a broadcaster?
What don’t I like about being a broadcaster? Well, the fact that for the past heaven knows how many years now, I get up on the clock at 4 o’clock even without an alarm beside me. I will naturally wake up at 4 o’clock, every morning, every day, ever since I joined the broadcasting profession. Even when I’m not on duty!
What would you describe as the greatest thing that broadcasting has done for you?
Oh, it’s given me a name, it’s given me a good name. Not that, that was what I was looking for, but I’m privileged to have been in positions whereby radio broadcasting particularly opened doors for me. I chose radio over television for the fact that I’m a private person, I like doing things quietly and broadcasting has allowed me to do exactly that – make a whole lot of quiet noise and I enjoy that a lot.
What has broadcasting not done for you?
What it has not done for me? I don’t know if I want anything. I like the way I am, Azuh. I love the way I am.
What is the best way to attain success in broadcasting and also sustain it?
Radio business must be taken seriously by owners who must be guided by the true original principles of the profession, and these haven’t changed much since the days of the founding fathers. These are rules based on quality performance, sustenance, belief, honesty and trust. Outsiders never understand the peculiar nature of successful radio, so it is always better to employ leadership from within the fold, managers who rose up in the system and understand the many departmental intricacies involved. The result is always the same for those who do differently. In short, if you just do what is right, you will succeed. The question is, do you know what is the right thing to do?
Let’s talk about Jamz 100.1FM now. What gave rise to it?
Oh, Jamz! Jamz was an idea that’s always been under my skin. I’ve always nurtured at some point in my life having a radio station and well as providence wanted it, a couple of friends, we came together and we pulled our resources together, mental and financial resources, we worked together and it’s up there today.
What distinguishes Jamz from the other stations that operate in Ibadan, Oyo State, where it’s domiciled?
Well, it’s all in the name really. It’s Jamz 100.1FM and then we call ourselves the real radio station for the real people. That says it all. We’ve gone back to the basics of broadcasting. Like I’ve been talking to you about, most stations miss it; everybody is in a party jamboree, playing the same kind of music, speaking bad English. Well, they are either speaking over the audience’s head or they are speaking bad English. All the stations are doing the same thing, our radio stations have been Americanized and again, like I say, there’s no nationalism in our radios any more. That’s what we try to do – we try to be responsible to our community. Every radio station must be first and foremost responsible to its environment, to its community. That’s what we’ve done in Ibadan. A little bit of something for everybody and I dare say, 8 or 9 weeks of broadcasting, oh boy, the buzz is strong…
Yes, I was coming to that. I was going to ask how has it been so far?
The buzz is strong! It’s been amazing 8,9,10 weeks so far. We are doing magnificently well, so people tell us. We’ve gotten contacts of some international organisations. The United Nations has knocked on our doors asking for a partnership; a couple of other people like that have asked for partnerships, some prominent international organisations. I think it’s going on well. 6 months, come back here and you will see what I’m telling you about.
As the CEO of Jamz 100.1FM, what’s your dream for the station?
My dream for the station is right there in our mission and that is to become the most important radio station within the region, within the next…well, I didn’t actually put a time; I said in the shortest possible time. We are almost there already.
Now, if you hadn’t embraced broadcasting, what other profession would have gladly gone into?
I probably would have joined NASA – The National Aeronautical Agency of America or any other one anywhere in the world. We don’t seem to have anything like that. I like space; I like space a lot. I’m fascinated by the stars, the moon, and I’ve been asking somebody to buy me a telescope one of these days. So, I’m still looking for a telescope (smiles). I love space.
What singular decision did you take when you were coming up that has gotten you where you are today?
Singular decision? Whaaooh! That’s a mighty powerful question. One singular decision that got me here today? (Yes). I don’t know! But it could have been the day I decided to go do my first audition in Ogun Radio, Abeokuta, many, many years ago. 1977 was the year; I can’t remember the month exactly. It must have been June or July. The day I decided to just walk up to a radio station and do an audition. That was the year.
What fond memories of your days at Ogun Radio can you share with us?
Again Azuh, you don’t want to buy my book, abi? (laughter). Buy the book, all these questions you are asking are inside. Well, so many great memories. As a young broadcaster, it was a learning curve for me. I learnt many great things of how not to do things and some great things of how to do things well. And perhaps the most prominent of all my experiences as a young broadcaster was when I was the master of ceremonies for commentaries for the burial of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in Ikenne. Oh, that was an amazing 3 days for me. It took my eyes to quite a lot of things and if any one singular moment made me a better broadcaster, it must have been those 3 days in Ikenne.
How about your fondest memories of your days at Rhythm FM?
Ah! Rhythm was an excitement by itself because we actually blazed a new trail when we set up 93.7 at Lekki. It was more music, less talk. People had never heard anything like that before; hip hop had just come into Nigeria and we were playing more hip hop than any other radio station. It was a really exciting, exhilarating young team. So, almost every day at Rhythm was brilliant. The latter days were not so. But having said that, I totally enjoyed everything at Rhythm. I particularly, more than anything else, enjoyed setting up their beach shows that we used to have back in the day, which has become an annual event these days. I did enjoy Rhythm. My trip to Abuja Rhythm was also pretty exciting because that was the first time in my entire life that I had been to Abuja back in those days. So, those were lovely days at Rhythm.
How about your days at Radio Continental?
Oh, at Continental, that was a whole new ball game again, because Radio Continental gave me an opportunity to really set up a radio station the way I want radio stations to be set up. It was my first chance to do that, all on my own, because I was largely responsible for everything – the programming, the creative aspects of it, employing staff, recruiting staff, sending them for training, engaging them for training, and all that. You know, we put a whole lot together at Continental and oh, it all went well eventually. In a space of less than 3 years, we jumped from oblivion to No. 1. And that showed that we did a good job.
Those legacies and traditions that you bequeathed to them prior to your exit, have they been able to maintain them or they’ve derailed?
Em…candidly, I wouldn’t want to talk about that , but to be fair on them, I really haven’t been listening to them much. Not ever since I left…
Any reason for that?
Not just Continental. I find it very hard to listen to radio these days. That’s the candid truth. I find it very hard to listen to any radio station without giving myself a headache and that is the state of the broadcasting industry in Nigeria today. Poor returns, definitely. I’m not impressed. I wish they could be better. There are one or two occasions where I’m excited by one or two individuals; let me not mention their names so they won’t melt (laughs). But yes, there are a few individuals that are here and there, on this station or that station, that I could listen to for quite a long time. But the majority are…(stammers), I’m trying to find a kind word (laughter)… Let’s just leave it blank (more laughter).
Away from work, what keeps you busy, what keeps you engaged?
I still read a lot, I still read a lot…I make a lot of enemies on social media. I like to talk because my conscience does not allow me to keep quiet when I see rot being said. I must give it back. Although lesser now than I used to. My wife has curtailed me from attacking everything I see (laughs), which is good. I’m still writing, I have more books in the pipeline. Actually, I have four books I wrote. I will talk about that a little bit later. You know how it is in Nigeria, I wish I could have published all four together, but that’s not done. And I’m still writing. I’m actually writing a novel right now. It should be exciting by the time it comes out and I’m looking forward to the next project. But a whole lot of my time is spent on Jamz right now. I’m giving it my hundred percent, I need it to be what I want it to be. I want it to be a shinning light for broadcasting in Nigeria, I want it to be the example that other people will refer to of how a radio should sound like and be like and be managed like, be run like. That’s all I want it to be.
Many people still can’t comprehend why Jamz 100.1FM is sited in Ibadan, Oyo State, instead of Lagos or Abuja. Any specific reason for that?
Yes, that happened because that’s where the licence was available. You know how it is, we don’t control those things. NBC (National Broadcasting Commission) controls those things. Lagos is saturated, they tell us. But having said that, Ibadan is a marvelous place. My life started off in Ibadan, I have a whole lot of old friends there, I went to school in Ibadan. Come on! It’s a lovely place to start. We might still go to other areas, to other states.
Mind telling us about your family? I’ve just seen your son, your daughter and even madam…
Oh, well, that’s what we do as broadcasters. We are rather silent, we keep things quiet. But I’ve got a lovely family, I love them all. Marvelous wife –Funmi, but I call her Mimi. She’s stuck with me all these years. I’ve got three boys, two girls.
Can we know their beautiful names?
Femi, Keji, Olumide, Tosin and little Boluwatife.
It’s obvious that God has been nice to you, what more do you want from him?
What more do I want from God? His guidance, continuous guidance. That’s all I need. Guidance, protection, basically, and if I can have a little bit more years to my life, I will be okay. In good health. That’s all I want. I don’t want too much. I don’t ask of too much from anybody (laughs).
You said you grew up in Ibadan, what sweet memories of those days of growing up can you share with us?
Oh, school days were amazing. Growing up as a young teenager was amazing. My years spent in Ibadan were years even before I joined broadcasting. So, I had no broadcasting experience in Ibadan, but I had to leave Ibadan to go and get my first radio job in Abeokuta. So, it’s really fun to go back now as a broadcaster, made my name elsewhere, came back to the town I grew up in and that’s the thrill I get out of it. Fond memories of Ibadan? You know, fond memories of growing up as a child, young boy going through secondary school, boarding house for that matter, back in the day and all the pranks that little boys did; I was well involved in pranking (laughter). Well, young girl friends we had back in the day, the parties, the fun. That’s all the things I remember. Yeah!
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