Music, news, talk, celebrities and public figures; a job working on a Nigerian radio station usually hints of all these things. But what is it like, really? Being a radio presenter or on air personality is something that a lot of young people find attractive. From the government stations which used to be more popular in the 60s, 70s and 80s, to the private stations which now crowd the airwaves, the radio industry sparks curiosity. With so many young Nigerians taking an interest in this field let’s break down the different aspects of the profession from an insider’s point of view.
A person who talks on radio could be an On Air Personality who is put in charge of a recurring programme, or they could be a News presenter, or Sports Presenter. On Air Personalities (OAPs) are typically assigned time belts which could last anything from two to six hours. Their responsibilities would include engaging the audience with a mix of talk and music (played by the OAP or a disc jockey) and ensuring that adverts run as scheduled. On Air Personalities on talk radio stations do a large volume of talk and interviews with very little music played in between. News presenters are often involved in the production of the news, while sports presenters are known to attend live matches and other sports events.
A lot of Mass Communication graduates pursue careers in radio but the industry is full of folks who simply have a ‘flair’ for the job and may not have had anything more than a secondary school education. The duty continuity annoncer style of government radio stations is dated and these days radio stations rely on the personality of the person in charge of a belt, hence the name On Air Personality. It’s really about tapping into an aspect of your personality that you know people enjoy. A lot of big time OAPs struggle when they go on air in a new city because it usually takes the audience a while to warm up to a new ‘personality’. So it’s really about harnessing your uniqueness and selling it to an audience.
A great voice could help a person through the door but everyone can learn how to improve their voice with some coaching. Moreover, there are lots of folks who have great voices but don’t make much headway on radio.
It goes without saying that a person who works on radio should be able to speak English at a native level. At the dawn of private radio, a lot of radio bosses were looking for foreign accents (real or faked), but the “proudly Naija” movement has made Nigerian audiences wary of that trend. An individual who has the right pronunciations will go a lot further than someone who goes out of their way to sound like a foreigner. A good example is Rhythm 93.7 OAP, IK Osakioduwa whose English is refined but he still sounds like a Nigerian. That ‘refinement’ usually comes from becoming a vigilant student of English, and not accents.
An entry level salary could easily be less than one hundred thousand naira. Considering that radio people need to look like stars this start up pay is pitiful. Radio bosses don’t mind paying their staff peanuts because they (the staff) are happy just to get on air. When Radio Port Harcourt found itself at a point where it owed staff salaries for many months, the staff couldn’t really threaten to leave because there was no shortage of young people trying to get a spot on air even though they knew about the salary stand off. Some of the former staff went on to sue the station which was able to magically hire consultants, rebrand the station and continue its operations with new staff.
Radio bosses usually expect OAPs to use their popularity to open doors making money on the side. This prospect is reduced to zero in any city that doesn’t have a truly vibrant economy. An OAP working in Lagos might enjoy Master of Ceremonies gigs or Voice Over jobs, etc. OAPs outside Lagos generally cry about a lack of opportunities to earn money on the side. The poor welfare package is universal to the radio industry and only a few high demand OAPs are able to negotiate decent contracts on the low.
A person on radio enjoys access to celebrities and politicians. As a matter of fact, many OAPs have multimillionaires as swooning fans. Even though radio personalities are typically hidden from view, an OAP has to carry and present himself like a celebrity.
There is an impression among the public that the life of an OAP features a lot of drinking, smoking, sex and partying. However this is inaccurate. There are so many different kinds of individuals in the industry and a lot of them only attend events out of a sense of duty (it’s part of their job). Ladies in radio are also a mix of personalities and generally don’t have the reputation for looseness which many ascribe to females in show business. Having said that, there is an alarmingly small fraction of radio ladies who are married. This international trend might simply be as a result of the way radio people seem to insulate themselves in an exciting in-crowd, while the clock is ticking. It might be a sensitive issue but it’s worth pondering because of the statistics.
Career Prospects and Progression
The short history of private radio in Nigeria since the late 90s, combined with what we’ve seen of government radio, suggests that radio should ideally be a stepping stone to other things. Those who can truly enjoy a long career in radio are those who make a good living outside the radio station. For those whose path it is to move on after being on air for a few years, there are related options. A lot of companies love to recruit people who have a media background, into their communications departments. For this reason, it is very important for an OAP to improve on their CV. Many OAPs don’t even read newspapers or books, talk less of engage in deliberate study. This is foolish because an OAP will very often be speaking to an audience member who is very educated, enlightened or well travelled.
With the prospect of forming a bond with a loyal audience and adding value to people’s lives, playing great music and being an important member of the public…Working on radio can be very fulfilling and glamorous. Having said that, an OAP or an aspiring OAP needs to be grounded by things like family, church, volunteering, etc. An OAP should also have his/here eyes on the clocks and calendars, because time really does fly when you’re having fun.