By Yemisi Suleiman
One of the most recognisable voices on Nigerian radio belongs to tall delectable actress cum radio presenter, Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi (FAR), host of the much loved â€˜Touch of Spiceâ€™; a weekly live programme which runs on Star FM every Saturday night.
The vivacious broadcaster shot to limelight years back as an actress with her role in â€˜Violatedâ€™.Â This was quickly followed with a role in â€˜Palaceâ€™ â€“ a weekly soap that ran for about one year on AIT. â€˜Touch of Spiceâ€™ deals with everyday issues. August 7 was a unique day for Funlola as she marked her 10th year as a presenter.Â To celebrate the anniversary, a number of activities were lined up throughout the month of August for her listeners and friends. In this interview, she relives her ten years on radio, the challenges so far and much more.
What is â€˜Touch of Spiceâ€™ all about?
It simply means a touch of me in everybodyâ€™s life. We talk about everything; not only relationships. I would say the pay off for â€˜Touch of Lifeâ€™ is â€˜a show you canâ€™t predict and therefore canâ€™t afford to miss. That is how we sell it. The topic changes every week. Today, we could be dealing with relationship between parents and children and the next week, we could deal with fuel scarcity. The one after that, we could have a comedian as a guest and the following week, we could be talking about how men abandon their wives. So, the issues we treat vary. We just look at different issues that will generate interest.
What fuelled your interest in radio presentation?
From when I was about five or six years old, I have loved everything on TV and radio; music performance and showbiz. People say every child likes that but I did on a different level; because I kept imagining myself doing all these things; even at a tender age.
My aunt, Teni Aofiyebi, was always a great inspiration during her days on â€˜Mirror in the Sunâ€™. I knew that I was going to end up doing what I am doing now. I have a certificate in Drama and Theatre Arts from Westminister College and a B.Sc. in Sociology from the University of Lagos. Thereafter, I did communication and computer courses at different times. And, I guess I have learnt, on the job basically, because I did not actually train in broadcasting.
Ten years on radio. How did the journey begin?
I knew that I wanted to do something on radio. I just wanted to be heard; I wanted to discuss issues. I wanted to educate and entertain people. I needed to reach people and discuss everyday issues that affect the lives of Nigerians like you and I. I wanted to make people laugh, think, cry and, hopefully, shed tears of joy.
I wanted to mend relationships. I wanted people to share their experiences and also help people decide on what career path to follow.
Initially, I approached several radio stations with the hope of being employed. But when I walked into Star FM, for some reason, I met people who recognized me from â€˜Palaceâ€™; which made it easier to penetrate the system and also easy to be given a chance and an opportunity to, at least say, something.
Upon speaking with some of the staff there, they felt that I could do well on radio. There was a particular gentleman who asked why I wanted to be a staff. He said to me, â€œWhy donâ€™t you do something by yourself because, you honestly have lots of ideas. So, why not put all that together into one programme that is yours. You have the kind of name, face and clout that can penetrate any agency and attract adverts. So, why not pursue that?â€
I took his advice. I went back; put pen to paper and came up with a â€˜Touch of Spiceâ€™. I met a lot of people who helped me. I wasnâ€™t trained to work on the cursor and other studio equipment and people were willing to guide me. I still get assistance from people like Kwame who presents Nigezee; Seun Oyedeji, and a number of people who had been trained and worked at OGBC before they moved to Star FM. Also, Uncle Fashina of blessed memory; he was quite helpful as studio manager. I did the first show and we created a buzz.
People called in. Even though it was the maiden show, people participated.
We went on with the second and then I was encouraged to seek sponsorship from advertising agencies. I had already been acquainted with some people through my attempts at modelling and while doing some commercial jobs here and there. So, that too was not too difficult to penetrate.
In other words, you did not encounter any constraint in getting the programme on air?
I did. At first, I went to several advertising agencies and told them about my radio programme. It was a bit difficult, I must confess. Because, the programme itself was new and the station was also new. Star FM had kicked off in April 1999 and I started the programme in August 1999.
Only a few people would throw their money and investment into something they werenâ€™t very sure of. So, it was like double jeopardy; a new program on a new station.
It was a hard sell so, I had to go on working before they began to show interest. It was also a hard sell because most advertising agencies were used to the radio stations on the Island so, buying into one in a new place raised doubts.
Another challenge was the time and day the programme was aired. Advertisers, generally, do not believe that people listen to radio programmes on Saturdays. They believe that people were into TV. So, I had to convince them otherwise, because if there is not much in the offing on TV; most people will turn on their radio. Anyway, most people are stuck in traffic at that time on Saturdays. The response and listeners participation I received confirmed that. So, gradually, I was able to convince them. I look back now and I just smile; that smile represents all sorts of things that I have been through in the past ten years.
So, how would you describe the past ten years of your life on radio?
The best and the worst times of my life, I would say, have been experienced these past ten years. A lot of high moments and a lot of low times; a lot of learning and a lot of lessons learned. Ten years of challenges and discoveries. It has been ten years of development as an individual, as a media person and as an entrepreneur. It has helped my personal growth, professional growth and, in some regards, spiritual growth as well.
How did you mark your 10th year anniversary on radio?
Left to those around me, it would have been a jamboree felt throughout Nigeria. Personally, I would have just woken up to thank God for making that day. I could be that simple in my approach to things. But I must remember and accept that it is not just about me anymore. The programme has been on for ten years, has gathered the crowd and has gone beyond me, my wants and my desires. I think about the other people that are now involved. Some listeners have been constant; some have been listening from the first year and even when they are out of the country, they are in touch with me.
There is a particular guy who is coming back to the country to get married in September. He has been listening to the programme since he was seventeen and he sent me an e-mail to express how he felt about the programme and what drew him to it. I am in touch with him till date. That is to tell you that I have been able to do what I set out to do. I have been able to touch different people in different ways with different topics.
We celebrated our tenth anniversary throughout the month of August. About four to five years ago, we realised that it was impossible to celebrate a programme with just one episode. And, because the programme is on air on Saturdays, we decided to claim the whole of August as our month of celebration. We lined up different special events throughout the month. We invited different guests. There was a particular year that we looked at the list of the items that had been advertised on the programme and we brought a sample of each. We made a hand pack and gave it to listeners. Year before last, we invited people who just choose to be different in their field; we had Adekunle Fuji, Keffi and Jimmy Jatt who has taken DJing to a different level in the country. These people made our eighth year anniversary.
This year, on our tenth year anniversary, we took our listeners to the cinema.
After the movie celebration, every single Saturday on air was like an on-air package, with different things happening. We invited listeners to the studio to present the show with us; we invited a lot of celebrities who had been on the programme in the past few years. We made a lot people who know me well to answer questions about me. I dreaded that particular show. They also interviewed all those who have worked for me. We also had a fitness day. It is not possible for me to take everyone who has ever listened to us, so we did a selection.
For one month, we announced that people should send in their entries and get a ticket and what did they have to do? Just send us an e-mail telling us about their knowledge of the programme and its content.Â Their mails told us how familiar they were with the programme. We appreciate every single listener, even those that have listened for just five minutes.
We have dedicated listeners that celebrated our 10th anniversary with; with the hope of getting more over the next few years.
And then in the final week, we went round saying a big â€˜thank youâ€™ to advertising agencies that have been part of it all these ten years and have practically kept the show alive.
What were some of your high moments on the job and in life, generally?
The high moments included securing an address for the programme, convincing some impossible clients to buy into the programme and being able to keep the programme going year in, year out. Also securing certain guests on the show were high moments; and, being able to think up new topic ideas every week.
Things as simple as that were high moments, because they add another, day, week, month, and year to the programme.Â Also, meeting people one-on-one on the street, even in the market, and hearing them talk about what you have discussed on the programme. Because, it means that you are not talking to yourself when you are on air.
Going from being the one doing everything myself to employing people to do some things for me also marked a high moment. When I got married and came, I was teasing everybody about my new surname. That was a high moment. Like I said before, every new discovery â€“ year in, year out, overcoming challenges and now celebrating the 10th anniversary is yet another high moment for me.
And low moments?
As for low moments, oh God! There were times when commercial interests were not forthcoming. It is either I would approach the management or the marketing staff to appeal for assistance. And, sometimes for disciplinary measures, they will take the programme off air for one week, just to teach me a lesson. I will gather funds and I will go and pay; that was embarrassing because, everybody knew what was wrong. But what could I do?
Nothing! I will go back and resume on air. People understood, people who had more questions to ask asked them and life continues. You struggle, you fall and then you get up again and continue to strive.
Low moments were the times when issues like fuel scarcity or traffic jam could ruin your programme. There was a time when I had to start the show via telephone. Somebody in the studio held their own phone against the microphone and I was on air till I maneuvered into the studio and then got onto the microphone in the studio.
I have been a friendâ€™s chief bridesmaid and by 6 pm, I had to hand over the bride to someone else so that I could make it to the studio on time. The show has taken over my Saturday evenings for some years now, because the programme must go on air. It is a commitment and I canâ€™t afford to say that because I had a wedding, we should forget the programme. Oh no!
I had been sick during a particular show and listeners who were listening to me on air had to sing for me to get well because, I was either coughing or sneezing during the presentation.
The official lne of the programme opens an hour before the programme and we begin to receive text messages then! This means that people are waiting for you to come on air. It is a commitment and we continue to get text messages even during the week, which means that the programme has become part of peopleâ€™s lives and I have to take it serious. I have to think beyond myself, because the show has gone beyond me. I had to create structures so that the programme is on whether I am there or not.
How have you been able to combine your career with being a wife to create work-life balanceÂ Â Â Â Â I am already a wife and what people refer to as a career woman and it has not gotten in the way. I thank God for the person I am married to. He is also very passionate about my work
Does your signature head tie have anything to do with your religion?
I think so. I got very used to being all veiled up right from the time I lost my Mum because, you get so spiritual when you experience that kind of thing and we got through that stage with prayers and with lectures from one spiritual leader or the other. And also reading books helped a great deal. But it is like a personal style of mine. I have learnt how to tie it in different ways and it has become a part of me.
What misconceptions do people have about you?
I can easily tell you that I am not a rude person but I could, sometimes, be blunt. I am not a fake person either. I will not say nice things to make you feel good if I donâ€™t mean them.
Not wanting to be rude, it is either I find a diplomatic way to put it or I will keep quiet and just be looking at you. I am not a rude person; manners score very, very high in my books. So, if I am expecting people to have manners, I will first of all give it. But I could be very frank and real.
I am not a fake friend either. If we are not close, we are not close. And, if I am not close to you, you will know; if I am not comfortable with you, you will know because, I will not pretend. And, generally, I keep to myself. I am a very private person; that is what is often misunderstood as being snobbish.
I also feel another contributing factor is the kind of roles and characters I play in movies; which are nasty characters and most people just believe that is who I am.
When you meet someone and interact, you get to know each other better. And if you are going to judge me first without knowing me, I wish you the best.
When you are not working, how do you relax?
I relax with my husband. We watch a lot of TV and movies. Sometimes, we talk or just sleep. It is good to get away from the mad world and spend time together as a couple. Basically, there is no much difference between my play time and my work time. And, thirdly because I enjoy what I do, it is like being paid to have fun. That is a major blessing that I am eternally grateful to God about.
Who has the greatest influence on you as a radio presenter and an actress?
Generally, I would say my late mother; she was very hard working, very enterprising and very caring. She was a total woman. She was successful in selling fabrics and she also held things together at home. That is what I meant by a total woman. Industry-wise, itâ€™s Joke Silva. I like the seriousness with which she approaches her career and the different things she is able to do. She is someone who doesnâ€™t rely solely on acting. Presently, she is training people and has also done a few endorsements for different products. That is inspiring.
How would you describe your husband?
He is a crazy person. There is never a dull moment with him. He is a creative person so he has an interesting mind; and he makes me laugh. He likes me just the way I am and takes me the way I am. He has taken me far.