I just returned from a great three day conference in Chicago for people who work in public radio. The Third Coast Festival, hosted by the Association for Independents in Radio (AIR) was a meeting of the minds of public radio producers, freelancers, artists, journalists,sound engineers, and everyone else interested in the great medium that is the radio. I was the proud recipient of a New Voices Scholarship to attend the conference, thanks to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
I consider myself a super newbie when it comes to radio, but I have some friends in very high and cool places in international radio.
Meet Corine Onyango!
Originally from Kenya, Corine and I are both Northwestern University alums (Go Wildcats!). After graduation, 25 year old Corine moved back to Kenya and is now Head of Promotions on Homeboyz 91.5 in Nairobi, Kenya. I had a couple of questions for Corine about what it is like to work in media in Kenya:
MTR: How did you end up in Kenya?
Corine: I come from Kenya. After college at Northwestern University, I thought I’d come back to Kenya for a vacation, see some family, relax, then go on to pursue a Master’s degree. But honestly, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was just going to grit my teeth and do the motions, get the degree, make everybody happy. A cousin of mine was doing some work with Homeboyz Entertainment, and told me to go through and see what it was about, knowing full well my heart was in media. So I did – got my CV together and pitched myself to my current boss. That was just over three years ago.
MTR: What is the Media Scene Like in Kenya?
Corine: Media in Kenya is growing exponentially every day, it seems. For some reason, we were slow out the stables as an industry, but that means NOW, there’s a whole lot of catching up to do, and opportunities to grab, and ideas to throw out and re-think. Media is very often underrated in Kenya, where anything artsy is a ‘nice little hobby’. Most musicians and media personalities and actors have more than one job just to get by. But Kenya is finding a voice of it’s own, trying to come up with a uniquely Kenyan sound, and I think succeeding. Kenya has often borrowed from other cultures in TV and music. But new Kenyan TV productions seem to be springing up successfully, replacing Pilipino soaps and reruns of The Bold and The Beautiful. News coverage is a bit more extensive, interactive. Genge and Kapuka, for example, are emerging as actual music genres on their own, with their own sound, as opposed to falling under the description of “it’s kind of like Hip Hop”. We have a LONG way to go, but it’s good to see Kenya gain a bit of self-confidence.
MTR: What is a typical day like for you at Homeboyz Radio?
Corine: My day at Homeboyz Radio begins at around 2pm, after lunch traffic, which is GREAT. I check in with my boss, the Programs Controller. As Head of Promotions, I need to think of ways to sell a client on air, or on-ground at an event or gig. Being a creative is hard work. But the key is to slip it into conversations with other people, and slyly get feedback as to whether your idea is a bust or not. Because it’s creative work, it makes no sense to sit at a computer most of the day, unless you’re researching online. I’m restless- Studio, rooftop, sales, presenters room, lounge, studio, rooftop – you do what you have to do til you’re either inspired, or the deadline is staring you in the face.
I’ve also work on one of MY shows, The Jump Off, from 7pm to 10pm. Show prep involves knowing what mentions you have to talk about that night, which clients your advertising, if there is an in-house activity you should throw forward to, new music to allude to, entertainment news to talk about. Of course, as international and commercial as my show might be, you have to have your finger on the climate of the day, recognize what may be politically important that day that you can’t ignore. I have to review the scheduling of my show, and amend the countdown for the night, etc. All the little details generally come together during Show Prep with your producer.
When 7 oclock hits, it’s showtime! Time goes by really fast on air. Between the texts, the phone, your producer, online interaction, requests, votes, products to sell – it’s a fun, but intense couple hours. Wrapping up the day’s work, I’ll leave the office at about 11pm.
MTR: What are some challenges to working in media in Kenya?
Corine: Because Kenya is opening up so rapidly, there are about a million stations, it seems, all selling, all playing music, all doing essentially the same thing. So finding your niche and being completely sure that this is the right way to go, and sticking to it, makes you a lot more successful, in my opinion. Also, in Kenya’s uber-conservative environment, really, you have nothing to lose by being expressive. Sometimes people need their feathers ruffled. But, like everywhere in the world, radio seems to be more and more passive. People are choosing to listen to CDs and ipods. I don’t think radio is dying, but there’s something cool about having your song play on the radio without having prompted it, or pressed the play button. Something about hearing a song, or a comment, collectively that gives it a quality unmatched by any personal gadget.
MTR: What is it like as a woman working in radio in Kenya?
Corine: Women have done GREAT for radio in Kenya. Some of the most successful, and well paid voices on air have been female. In fact, even in my office called Homeboyz Radio, women head the Sports Department, head the Entertainment Department, head the News Department, and Promotions, of course.
Modern city, modern times – if you want it, you have to go get it.
MTR: Any advice to other women in Africa who want to work in radio?
Corine: Come to Kenya! Okay, well, I only really know about Kenya from experience. And there are so many gaps to be filled. Africa is where it’s at, as a young, forward thinking, progressive person, there are nooks to be filled. You don’t need oodles of experience, or in my case, loads of paper work. If you know you want to do radio, the best way to learn it is to do it. Throw yourself in. I have learned SO much about media just by being in it. Do what makes you happy, radio, media, or otherwise – if you do what makes you happy, you’ll do it well, and the rest, the rewards, will follow!
Sounds good to us!