Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 10 June 2013

Dear Gauteng Radio Listeners, let’s talk frankly…

Power FM appears poised to shake things up a little on our airwaves. The line-up, a mix of established and new talent, is not without surprises or potential weaknesses but, if the station can negotiate the line between commercial and editorial, it should add a refreshing breath of diversity to radio in South Africa.

Dear Gauteng Radio Listeners,

Frankly speaking, 702 and SAfm have to be afraid, very afraid, of the new kid on the block – Power FM. The unveiling this week of the station’s line-up took South Africa by storm. You don’t have to read a long thesis of their intentions to express the love for country, to know what Power FM is going to be up to. Funnily enough, it won’t be the kind of station to which you are looking to polish up your PR from morning till night.

The combination of Siki Mgabadeli and Lawrence Tlhabane (formerly Dube) will neutralise the legendary John Robbie but, frankly, it won’ make a difference if you choose one over the other should you have something difficult to answer. Well, you won’t exactly be able to accuse Power FM’s line-up of Irish cynicism when Mgabadeli and Tlhabane question the rampant corruption in both the public and the private sector. Xolani Gwala, with all his latent talent, will be a distant number three purely from the perception of interference by the bosses of his breakfast show. I don’t exactly imagine Given Mkhari interfering with Siki after appointing her business editor: she’ll quit, like she did at SAfm. Although an early warning about huge batter deals is in order, given the PR background of most of the owners of the station. I will be hugely surprised if this does not eventually rub off on the editorial side of things. But who said the same can’t be surmised from 702’s deals with the likes of FNB, Minolta and so on, who sponsor annoying little competitions and are therefore likely to stay out of the firing line of the biting 702 line-up? I’m just putting it out there that this station, new as it is, must prepare for the vagaries of a hotly contested media space where survival is not merely by honest advertising deals but often by beholden sponsorship deals that will blur the lines between commercial and editorial without a blink – regardless of the stated intentions of the owners.

But I digress.

Redi Tlhabi and Eusebius McKaiser are cut from the same cloth so when Redi gets angry over her cold breakfast, I will switch to Eusebius. And when Eusebius makes the show into a Rotary debating society, I will switch to Redi. I am not giving up my Friday morning laugh with Nick on Redi for anything, so Power FM can forget me tuning in on Fridays.

The afternoon line-up shows that the stations does not intend to play in the housewife-style of Nancy Richards and Jenny Crwys-Williams. Power FM is essentially saying the future is in the youth so for this slot they are going after the Metro FM crowd by literally poaching the station’s heart and soul at that time of the day. It couldn’t be bothered about the Sandton tannie. Thabiso Tema, God bless him – will be no match for Tshepiso Makwetla and David O’Sullivan, so here there is no much power in the choice and it is a big power experiment. This slot, like the morning drive slot, is one of those few where you are guaranteed an audience of a heavy-laden crowd stuck in the Joburg  traffic. I suspect negotiations with a Jeremy Maggs or similar heavyweight broke down. A Jeremy would have been a decent match for the two powerhouses at SAfm and 702 drive shows  – one can guess that the no-deal would have to be over cash – given the tight-fisted and hard-nosed nature of the consortium owners and the no-nonsense approach of the ENCA anchor. No-one, however, is willing to put their name on the block about whether this is even remotely true. I think it would have been a coup, though, if this were to come to pass.

The evening line up with newcomer to radio Chris Vick is an interesting one. This can only be aimed at the Kaya FM listener who is currently saddled with the irreverent John Perlman. If you ask me, the Power FM crowd should have recruited John Perlman and made my friend Chris Vick a resident expert. But knowing Chris’s nose for being a spin doctor not a radio man will be an interesting transition to watch – especially with his recent spat with the SA’s top editors. He definitely won’t be short on opinions of his own and may well be another Eusebius, where you are left with no doubt that the show is also really about him and his abilities to debate out every point of view possible – a trait that someone needs to keep in check. I will certainly be tuning into this and taking a break from Perlman and the Money Show.

The loss of any notables on the 9pm stakes at 702 made it easy for Power to relegate this slot to a music slot – the target audience is again from Metro and Kaya. Power couldn’t be bothered to talk itself to a pulp at this time of night. Asanda Magaqa, a seasoned investigative journalist who would have been perfect for this slot having produced it at 702, has been placed in a 3am slot where no- one wants to talk Special Assignment-type heavy stuff. This is likely to be a wasted talent until she is promoted by popular demand. I can’t see the logic of such a brain being put out to pasture at 3am and being pitted against Ray White.

Overall, I think Power is going to give Yusuf Abramjee and his crowd a run for their money. Its owners’ business habits notwithstanding, I hope Power genuinely finds resonance in the community it seeks to serve. With the moribund nature of the SABC, 702 has begun to position itself as a de-facto public broadcaster, doing extraordinary things and using radio to change lives. Its leader Abramjee was, incredibly, awarded a National Order just for leading the Lead SA campaign for two short years, in the process raising the profile of 702 in the nation-building stakes to an all-time high. This is not to be brushed aside as the use of a medium such as radio to make a difference, and not merely a quick buck, is not a tendency of many media moguls of our times. Still, I can’t see Power failing – even in the midst of commercial greed that often drives such good initiatives into the ground. Here is a sign of excellence in our midst, now for 18 June lift-off: the airwaves will never be the same. I wish Power well. This can only be good for the media diversity we always call for. DM

  • Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is a communications specialist and businessman.

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