Friday, April 26, 2013

Q&A with Kurara FM’s Refilwe Thobega

[By Kgomotso Moncho]

Refilwe Thobega is not a popular name and you might not even know who it belongs to. But Refilwe is one of many young broadcasters starting out at community radio stations. If all goes well, she might be a popular name in commercial broadcasting some day. You hardly ever get to hear the side of the story of youngsters starting out and so she opens up about the beginning of her radio career.

How long have you been on air?
I started at Kurara FM on 16 June 2012. So on that day I was celebrating youth day, as well as the beginning of my radio career.

How long have you been on air?
I started at Kurara FM on 16 June 2012. So on that day I was celebrating youth day, as well as the beginning of my radio career.

What was your first day like?
Nerve-wracking. You don’t know if you’ll sound ok, what you’ll say and if you’ll say it right. Fortunately, I was co-hosting with a gentleman called Thabang Loeto, who has experience in radio. We were both starting out at Kurara FM, but the difference is that I was totally new to radio and he had worked in radio before. But he put me at ease. But the truth is if it is really your thing … you gel in quite fast. After the first thirty minutes I simply eased into it. It was nerve wracking and exciting at the same time.

What are your impressions of radio?
Radio is a great medium. It is powerful. It is personal. What I love about it is that you don’t have to stop what you are doing to listen to it. You can carry on with whatever that you are doing while listening. With Print you have to sit down and read. The same applies to mobile media. With TV you also have to sit down and watch. Maybe it is unfair to compare these platforms because they are totally different and they all play a specific and specialised role. But the point that I am making is that radio lets you carry on with your life while listening.
Radio is volatile. It is very easy to switch channels. So, as a presenter, you don’t want to lose your listeners. You can’t be too relaxed. 

Are they what you expected?
I never really had any expectations. All I knew is that I wanted to do radio and I had no clue what to expect. I am a big “student” at heart. I always approach things from  a “learning” and “experimenting” point of view.

What kind of environment are you working in?
It’s a new and young community radio station with great potential for growth.

What are the challenges?
It does not pay. Most community radio stations do not pay. Presenters get a stipend. You can’t really do much with that. This is where passion comes into play. I have had moments when I was feeling very low and down, and sick even, but I had to choice but to go behind the mic.
Listeners don’t care what your story is, they just want to be entertained.
There is no right or wrong way. We all have our own styles. The challenge is trying to figure out what makes you you. I don’t want to sound like anybody else. It takes a while to find your own voice.
In community radio you have to learn to do everything – researching, producing, presenting, operating the deck – you do everything. In the beginning I was intimidated by the system and the deck and once I was taught, I realised how easy it was.
The other challenge is experienced when you get to deal with different personalities and egos. People want to be territorial and make you feel like you don’t belong or that you are not “there” yet. People can make you doubt yourself. There are so many times that I could have simply grabbed my handbag and my headphones and left. I had to focus and remind myself why I am doing this and where I want to see myself.

What are your tasks and what do you understand about them?
My task is simple: Keep the radio playing. LOL. I educate, inform and entertain. No dead air.

What did you do to prepare for your chance in radio?
My preparation goes as far back as 2004 when I did a TV presenting course at the SABC under the company called Media Concepts. I love both radio and TV, and I just told myself that ‘which ever door opened first …’

I am sure you know of those instances where for example a big radio station will embark on a nationwide search of a mere one presenter. I used to go to those.

While working at this other organisation in Pretoria, we had a radio unit and I took a liking in what they were doing. I always hung around the radio peeps. I did a few voice overs and got exposed to what was going on.  

Then after landing the Kurara Fm gig, I invested in some great courses. I did a radio course with On Cue Communications.  It was very hands-on. We went to Primedia at the studion of Radio 702 and Highveld stereo. We went to SABC radio. We had sessions with the likes of Mo-G and Nonn Botha of Kaya FM, Mark Pilgrim of Highveld Stereo, Sizwe Mabena of Metro FM Sports and so forth. We covered all aspects of on-air presenting: talk radio, news, sports and studio DJing techniques.

I am still trying to choose which beat to follow, because I am so flexible and diverse. At Kurara FM, so far: I have done the Saturday breakfast show (6 to 9h00), I also so-hosted a sports show for a while, I then moved to the weekly afternoon drive slot (15h00 to 18h00) and I am currently doing weekdays Sunshine Drive (12 to 15h00). 

Secondly, I also went for an individual voice training programme at the Voice Clinic. It was a great eye opener. We take our voices for granted. It isnot just a sound that comes out of your mouth; there is more to it. People can easily judge you based on how you sound. I figured that if I was going to make a career out of talking then I better invest in my voice. It was money well spent. 

Giuliana Ransic of E! Entertainment said that: if you want a career in radio and/or TV, having a journalism qualification and/or experience sets you apart. And I am sure there are many who will agree with that. So I got that area covered. The journo in me is a great advantage.

Want to share some of your experiences?
Ever since I started, I grew up a lot emotionally. I had to have some gusto and courage. Like I said earlier, I have had moments when I felt like grabbing my hand bag and storming out because of the drama.

I learned to act not on emotions. Radio is so real and live. It is not easy. When you smile your listener "hear" that. And they can also tell when you are “not in the mood”.

At one point a listener called in and said that I was boring. He asked me, on air, that where is the person who used to present the show before I took over. He would call and make nasty remarks and then hang up. I had to hold my head high and do my thing. Now imagine having to go to work every day while nervous and asking yourself who’s going to call now, what are they going to say, especially when it seemed like it was a sabotage thing. I got over it and moved on.

A friend comforted me by reminding me that when DJ Fresh started out at 5fm he experienced a great deal of hate and nastiness from some of the station’s stereotyped audience. And he now has them eating at the palm of his hands. My friends and family, who know me and who know that I am anything but boring supported me.

And the support at home had been great. It is a blessing that I started out in radio while I was staying at home with my mom and sister. By the time I move on to bigger stations and challenges I’d be tougher and ready to deal with and face whatever.

Why radio and what would you like to achieve in the radio industry?
I have always loved radio. While still growing up, as a young girl, I had this pink walkey talkey radio, which had aerials on the head phones. And I had to manually search for a station. It was my most prized possession.

Do you remember those old radios, which we called Hi-fis? My late dad would pluck things and connect things up and make me speak on the mic. I could not even talk properly at the time. And he tape-recorded such incidents.

My dad loved music. Name any legendary music icon from ages and ages ago … we had his/her cassette. I am a fan of “golden oldies” type of music because of my parents. From a very very young age I could sing along and knew the lyrics of songs such as I’m coming out by Diana Ross, I wanna dance with somebody by Whitney Houston and Time after Time by Cyndi Lauper because of the musical influence at home.

What  do you want to achieve:
I just want to grow, develop my own voice and be better at this. To know what I stand for and what I’m all about.  

This article was published in RadioBiz:

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