Time up: Until last Wednesday, James Onen, alias Fat Boy was the presenter for Sanyu FM’s breakfast show. For 21 years, he has been part of the cast at the station until his watch abruptly timed out. He talks to Andrew Kaggwa about his time hosting the Sanyu Breakfast Show.
1.You worked with many presenters on Sanyu FM’s Breakfast Show, which of your co-hosts is most memorable?
All my co-hosts were amazing in their own right but the one I really enjoyed was Melanie in our first pairing. We were initially three people; Melanie, Mr President (Allan Kasujja) and I. When Allan left, it was just me and Melanie, she had come in as a new person, and was very open to new ideas. It was important for me to model the show around her and I only had to fit in and it really worked. Even her underdog character on the show won her an audience that felt like I was bullying her. The arguments on air where she would go defensive were loved by the audience. When Melanie left, she wasn’t the same person that had walked into Sanyu FM few years ago, she was a star. Seanice came back and people felt like Melanie had been pushed, so there was some sort of divide with the audience, some did not warm up to her return.
When Melanie was back in town, Sanyu FM reached out to her and asked if she could return to the show and she did. The second time was a disaster, I think Seanice did not warm up to the fact that Melanie was back, so it made her look like she was not good enough and Melanie on the other hand, returned as a star.
There were two alphas in the room and most of the times it sounded like a competition between the two.
2.You have been known to be vocal about some activism campaigns, especially those of feminists and Black Lives Matters. Don’t you feel you’re in the same position now?
I believe in justice. I know what Black people go through in America and I know there is an injustice. The problem with movements like Black Lives Matter or the feminism campaigns is that many of them do not have and are not offering solutions to the problem. Many are only protesting and have even been at it for decades. Telling my side of the story of what happened at Sanyu FM is part of setting the record straight, looking at the possible solutions and later moving on with my life. Activists do not want to move on, they do not even want the problem to go away in the first place because as long as the problem exists, they have a job. And unlike some of these campaigns, I am not on the roadside trying to burn down Crane Chambers because an injustice happened to my colleagues and I.
3.You were on the breakfast show probably longer than any presenter in this country, what was your approach?
I was interested in relatability — trying to imagine the lives of the listeners. I knew our kind of audience so I would think about situations they would relate with. For instance in 2006, there was a week I was calling myself the Corporate DJ and I spent that week speaking the corporate language and jargon and the feedback was amazing.
4.There were antics on the show that took listeners by storm; the interview with Jack Bauer, Michael Scofield, date with Melanie in Mabira or that rendition of T-Pain’s Bartender, what was the story behind these?
I have always believed radio is theatre for the mind. So I tend to look out for things I believe our audience is interested in and present them in a different way. For instance, the Scofield and Jack Bauer interviews were at the time their shows were famous. But the date with Melanie in Mabira was influenced by the current affairs — there was a debate around destruction of part of the forest. Then there was Chogn which was presented as this thing that was going to bring a lot of change and revenue. The stories they sold made you believe Uganda was to change overnight, which was never the case. Surprisingly, people loved these things, some believed I interviewed Scofield, so I guess the antics propelled me to stardom.
5.We saw Sheila Gashumba called you out following your sentiments when she came out about her issue. What’s your take on her post?
I saw a post she put up, saying I rubbished her claims and yet I am in the same position like her now. The situation is not the same, hers was about not getting what she thought she was worth – ours, we accepted a pay cut begrudgingly but we accepted it, and we did not even strike. Our attitude was that we had to go and work until our supervisors stopped us.