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When radio voice finally faces the fan

The mystery: For people born before the social media era, radio presenters had us building images to attach to that Barry White or smooth and silky comforting voice. The mystery was real. Janet Napio spoke to some radio presenters on what reactions they got when fans met them the first time.

“Wait! What?! That’s him? He doesn’t look like his voice!” That’s a common reaction when radio fans finally get to meet their favourite presenter.

Unlike these days when radio presenters can be seen via social media, and, therefore, leave nothing to the imagination for the listener as to what they might actually look like, in the past, we would only have a voice and the rest was left up to the listener to conjure up.

There was always that man on the late night show with a deep mellow deity-like voice who played all our favourite ballads and said all the right things in the right way. They made you feel like it was only you they were talking to and that they actually cared about you. Every night on your commute home, you let them help you relax and unwind. You unknowingly grew attached to them. And because they sounded sooo good, you attached a certain face, body and stature to them. In fact if they asked you to marry them, you’d say yes without skipping a beat. Until you met them in person and were snapped out of fantasy-land by reality.

“Radio is an interesting medium to work in. You can be whomever you want to be. As Irene, I saw and still see myself as a brand, let’s say, the Mercedes of radio; classy, stylish, opulent and uncommon. That’s my standard and with such an attitude, I looked at impacting and imparting the listeners to have the same attitude about themselves too,” says Irene Ochwo Byaruhanga, a former presenter of the mid morning show on Radio One.

That, my friend, is the magic of radio, or what it was for us old people. I stalked some radio presenters and those that have since retired from the trade and they told of the illusions that some listeners had of them and how visual radio has changed things.

Jackie Lumbasi

Jackie Lumbasi is now a daily breakfast show host for ‘Kigali In The Morning’ on 94.3 Royal FM, Kigali, Rwanda. Before that though, she hosted the breakfast show on Capital FM with a couple of other presenters. She is always amazed by what people thought she looked like.

“Several listeners that I have met and who cared to tell me what their experiences were, said they pictured me as a huge tall woman going by what they described as my husky voice. I have also met some who thought I was tough, rough and a snob. To their surprise, I was the complete opposite. I laugh it off when we meet and they express shock at seeing the complete opposite of what they expected,” Lumbasi shares.

Joseph Beyanga

He is not a radio presenter and therefore has no voice to mislead us with but he is the head of radio at Nation Media Group Uganda and therefore has had his chance at being infatuated with radio royalty.

“I have physically met almost all the radio presenters who made an impression on me and most times I was disappointed by what I saw. Every time I listened to Patrick Nyakahuma Kamara read the news on Voice of Tooro before he came to KFM, I imagined many things. You see at the time, there was another man with the same name. He was a clergy in the Anglican Church. For some reason, I thought that was who was reading the news. I thought Kamara was an 87-year-old Anglican reverend, only to meet him and find that he was probably half that age and about my height! I was disappointed!” Beyanga shares.

He says the character the presenter puts out on air is what the listeners expect to see and they therefore create an image to match that character.

“It’s not deception, it is just about the personality, content and presentation,” Beyanga opines.

Drake Clay

Drake Clay thinks it is all in the voice and tone. “Let me give you an example of a customer care operator with an amazing voice, comforting, very nice to talk to, et cetera. They just leave you with that crazy imagination in your head and you go around thinking, ‘this person sounds great I think they look this way,” he says.

Also known as the duke of intimacy, his was the Sanyu Lounge show on Sanyu Fm before the station and some of its workers ended things unceremoniously due to irreconcilable differences.

“I have met people who didn’t know who I was until I opened my mouth to speak and then a person goes like, wait I know that voice… what’s your name again?  Drake Clay..wait what? You are him? I thought you were taller… older…you sound like someone who has seen it all.”  Then I once met someone who told me they imagined that I had a six pack and was puffed up and had short hair and thick arms. It sounded like they were describing their dream boyfriend. Then there was this time I was in an Uber and was on phone. The moment I hang up, the Uber guy parked by the roadside, turned to me and said, “Dude, first of all, wonderful job! I have always wanted to meet you. I thought you were older like this NBS guy Samson Kasumba. kumbe you look young!”

Irene Ochwo Byaruhanga

“When I met my core faithful listeners for the first time, I was surprised about the image they had of me. One thought I was this tall brown woman with big hips (lol). Another one had imagined I was a fat short pint-size lady, round faced, with short hair. Another traced me at a supermarket checkout counter and he approached me saying “I know this voice, are you Irene of Radio One? To which I gladly responded, ‘yes I am’. He said I thought so! You look as rich as your talk (blush).

Christine Mawadri

The radio fantasy vs reality aspect works both ways. Even radio presenters picture their listeners in a certain way, especially their most ardent ones with whom they interact daily via phone.

“There’s this one particular time a listener came to pick a prize and the whole time I thought it was a woman. Turns out it was a guy who even had one of those names that fall either way. And when he spoke I really tried my best to conceal my shock! His voice was exactly like it was on air! Totally feminine with all the intonations!” says Christine Mawadri, a former radio presenter.

Mawadri has also had her fair share of wrong but hilarious impressions from her listeners.

“I always looked forward to listeners’ reactions. Some would bluntly tell me they expected a petite gentle-looking ka babe only to be met with a tower of a woman who is unusually quiet and careful with her words.

Changing times

Visual radio

Almost every radio station worth its name these days has social media channels where listeners not only listen but also view what happens in studio. Mawadri, who now leads Streamafrique.com, an African content platform and TagOne – a health, safety and security emergency evacuation platform, thinks visualisations are good.

“I like that people can see what’s in the studio. Demystifying means presenters need to make content more interesting. They need to get creative. There is just so much we can do with radio these days if teams put in the work to be creative and engaging,” she says.

Lumbasi subscribes to the same school of thought.

“I believe radio has to change with the times; today the dictate is combining audio and visual, finding a proper balance. The choice to keep radio unseen is okay but will be detrimental to business.”

Changing needs

Yesterday’s radio was magical with all its mystery but would it work for today’s audience? Probably not.

“We consume radio because of what it offers. In the past it was just the physical radio set but now we have more platforms. So it is a question of distributing content on all platforms. The things we remember about the Rasta Robs wouldn’t really work for today’s listener,” Beyanga says.

For Irene though, putting content on all platforms to catch up with the times we live in is not all there is to it.

“I find that the quality of content put out lately is sometimes petty, annoying, borders on mediocrity, but hey everyone to their meat. If it’s not growing my mind to become a better version of me, you won’t catch me listening to it. I do listen to the dance shows probably because true to their vibes, they get the groove on and satisfy my need to get my groove on.

«Radio for me, is a vital medium that goes a long way in shaping the minds of a society to become better versions of themselves and positively be productive,” she notes.

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