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I am a broadcaster by accident, Say Ubosi

Chris Ubosi, born in     Nsukka,  moved to Lagos very early         in life. He studied at Saint Mary’s Private School,  Maryland, Federal Government College, Ijanikin. He has two degrees, one from the University of Ife and the other from the University of Lagos. 

His first degree was in Quantity Surveying and the Masters in project management from the University of Lagos. He worked with the AIM Groups. Initially, it was into architecture and Engineering but moved on to broadcasting when it incorporated Steam Broadcasting and established Cool FM and Wazobia FM.

He worked as the deputy managing director of the company for 20 years and left to start Megaletrics Limited, which did a lot of radio consulting for the Federal Government, for stations in Nairobi, and  Ghana, and then just recently started Beat FM and Classic FM.

There are very few persons in this country that will work for a man for 20 years. What kept you so long?

Ubosi(r) chilling out with Arsenal coach,Arsene Wenger
Ubosi(r) chilling out with Arsenal coach,Arsene Wenger

I’m very close to Amin, and I was happy. We had a very good relationship,and still maintain the   good relationship.There was no need not to work there.

Quantity Surveying. Broadcasting? Where is the bridge?

To study Quantity Surveying  was a decision I took when I was 14.  I don’t think you should be constrained for the rest of your life by the decision you took when you were barely at age of puberty.

I decided to study Quantity Surveying because my uncle was a quantity surveyor, and I liked him a lot. Be that as it may, I’m still very active in quantity survey and construction management because I run a construction company.  I’ve never really left that.

In my life, I’ve done a whole lot of business. I’ve traded in crude oil, been involved in building, project management, setting up of retail outlets, a whole lot of things.

Radio came about because in 1992, there was the deregulation of the broadcast sector in Nigeria. Private broadcast was introduced and, when you have a cross-over advantage, you want to take advantage of that, and that was how I got into broadcasting.

In everything I get involved, I tried to achieve a top-of-the-class knowledge and, that was what I did in broadcasting. I had more training. I attended more seminars, delivered lectures in the industry.

I was part of the Federal Government’s committee on the issue of Mass Communication Nationwide Policy in 2002. So I have been involved in the industry.
Before now you didn’t have love for radio?

I had a love for show business, and radio was just the legal way to go into show business.  I ended up loving it a lot more than I thought I would. I will say radio is my first love ,but construction is still there. They are like twins to me.

You said you had a lot of love for show business. Is the love still there?

Yes, I love show business. I like the vibrancy of it. I like the long regular hours of it too. You’re in the industry. So, you know some days, you will not sleep for two or three days because you have to achieve a deadline.

I remember when we used to do shows and the artistes would be stuck in the airport somewhere. And you couldn’t sleep until he’s boarded the flight. You need to arrange the musical sets, arrange hotel accommodation, events venue, you know.

That’s the kind of thing I like about it. It fits my personality.

Chris Ubosi
Chris Ubosi

How are you able to marry the two since both are time-consuming: showbiz, radio and quantity surveying?

I’m always the first to admit that the best thing to do is to get the best possible help. My construction company is moving because I have Italian partners and I just oversee. And it’s just like the way I have very capable hands running the radio stations and I oversee.

I’m involved in it day to day. I attend all my tight schedules. I attend all my broadcasters’ meetings. I just came back from the UK where we negotiated for the two concerts we are planning in January. For our Classic FM listeners, we’re doing concerts with one of the major old school bands, and then we’re doing a really big party.

And artiste’s name?

It’s best not to, before people go and harass them and they’ll go and increase my price. And for Beats FM, we’re doing a really big party with some of the top range artistes.

As a broadcaster, how was it in the beginning?

Wonderful! Don’t forget I had a three or four head start before the deregulation, and before we finally started. So, in that time, I schooled myself.  I worked in various radio stations across the world when I went on holidays. I attended seminars. I attended short courses. So, I was ready.

What were the initial challenges when you worked in radio stations, particularly the likes of Cool FM?

Cool FM is very much like what we’re doing at the Classic and the Beat. When we started Cool FM, my friends told me that I was crazy.  “Chris, it will never work, and where do you think you are?” But I’ve seen it work in all parts of the world and I knew the model would work here, which is just like Classic and Beat.

I’ve seen the models work. I’ve researched on it extensively, using Nigerian parameters and that’s why we’re flying with success.

Are we doing enough in radio broadcasting in Nigeria?

It depends on how you say it because  there are so many radio stations in Nigeria now. So, there’s no more the short gun approach.

You have to zero in on your target. You can no longer stand and shoot as if everything goes. You have to start to specialise and that’s what we are trying to do.

We have the Classic for the older people and, the Beat FM for the young people.
It’s like CNN. You want to listen to news? Listen to CNN. You want to watch sports?

You need to watch HiTV. You want to watch Nigerian movies? Watch Africa magic and HI Nolly.

Like my presenters now, we’ve been on for only six months and two of them are up for the Features Award already, and we’re only six months. That’s because we were focussed all through the orientation, training, branding and induction period. It was to imbibe in them our target audience and they’re focused on these people.

So, you decided to leave Cool FM to set up your own?

Yes, I did. There was no doubt I was happy but I‘ve always wanted to step it up. It was not that Cool FM wasn’t doing well. They will continue to do well because the platform is there.

But I wanted to do something different, which is why Classic and Beats are here. They are completely different from any other radio stations in town.
We just entered the Beat for a national licence which we’re hoping the result will come out this year. We want to go nationwide. That will help to develop local contents in the industry.

How much of Nigerian old school music do you play?

We probably have the biggest library of old school music. We have from the Sunny Ades, the Celestine Ukwus and the Dan Maraya Jos.  We play the whole gamut of them and as we progress, we’ll start doing concerts with them.

There’s a concert we’re planning in January and we are going to bring a few of them to play. We’re going to bring them out of retirement, so to speak. People have been calling us and wanting to know where they can get some of the CDS. And because of the high demand, we now have a front office desk that takes care of enquiries.

Which people enquire for old school music- the old or the young?

Our core audience is over 35, 40 but surprisingly, we have about 19% of our callers and people who are mailing as the 20 something years old. They said they remember that their fathers used to play the songs.

We used to go to the disco to dance but they listened to the songs when their fathers played it in the house. We have a cross section of listeners. A lot of them want the records, a lot of them even bring the records.

We had a 20-year old guy who brought all of his father’s records to the office. He said, “I haven’t heard these in such a long time. I want you people to have them because my father is late and I’ve not heard them played anywhere, I love your station.”

I was like, “You’re a kid.” He said “yes.” But what can I say? So, it’s a cross section. It’s a nostalgic radio, so it reminds different people of different things. It might remind someone like you the days when you used to jump the fence and go to the disco.

But to some other people, it reminds them of when they courted their girlfriends. For some people, it reminds them of when their fathers used to take them to school.

Like my abiding memory, I remember when my father used to drive us to Benin and we used to play in the car the eight-cartridge, that big one. We used to play Victor Uwaifo all the way to the village. And whenever I hear that song, I think of my father and his 404 car, driving from Lagos to Benin.

How do you source these records?

We have digital converters where we convert vinyl to CDS. We have a lot of long playing records and then we have a friend called ‘Evergreen music’ in Surulere. He does a lot of them for us as well.

We have 6 to 7000 titled Nigerian records.  And for the foreign ones, we brought a big massive library  from abroad.

Do you pay royalties to the work owners, especially the Nigerian artistes?
I have always been an advocate, even all the way back from where I started. The problem is that they need to sort themselves out and they need to come up with realistic royalties.

I believe that everything you use, you pay for. And once they are sorted out, we are fully subscribed to it.

What is the relationship between you and the Broadcasting Commission?
We’re in a very good relationship.

And what are the major challenges of broadcasting in Nigeria?

Three things: finance, infrastructure and staffing. Broadcasting is a long time business  but we get loans on commercial basis. We get loans as if we’re going to start making money next thing. We don’t make money in broadcasting for at least a year after you take off.

So, we will like more understanding.  Diamond Bank is very helpful. They’ve been very understanding with us. They’re our major source of finance. And infrastructure, I say things like electricity. We have to have three massive generators.

We buy diesel like it’s going out of fashion. We  have to have our own transformer. What we spend on energy alone makes you want think we are an industry.

Our contemporaries in other countries will just plug the transmitter into the national grid and they’re on. But I have to spend an extra $200,000 monthly to get up to where they are.

How much time do you have for your family?

My family? I have my wife Ijeoma, a lovely lady, very understanding and there are three really lovely kids.

And what happens when you don’t come home early?

If I don’t come home,  she comes to meet me. But  yeah, she’s very understanding.

And how do you relax?

But I also try to play tennis. You have to, if not, the body will break down. Even if you haven’t slept, you should exercise. I also relax by just chilling with the family, just chilling.

Why do most CEOs of entertainment companies find it more comfortable dressed down?

Because you work such long hours ,you have to wear something that will make you comfortable. I prefer to wear jeans. I wear a suit when I have to wear it.

What kind of suits you don’t like to wear?

Suits! I’ll like to wear jeans and sneakers all through.

Why? Don’t you like to wear suits?

Because they constrict you. If your car had a flat tyre, you can’t change it. You’ll like to have the flexibility of being able to do what you want to do.

If I come into your house and look into your wardrobe, like how many pair of suits will I find there?

Not many, may be six at a time. I change them every year.

And shoes?

Yeah, shoes are my biggest obsessions. It’s terrible.

How did you meet your wife?

I met her in my village. She was in London for a longest time but she came back when my dad  and her uncle were getting chieftaincy titles. And we were all there for the event.

That was in 1992. I saw her and asked who she was. And from that moment, I started going to London see her, like I was a pilot.

And where’s she from?

Nibo in Awka, Anambra State.

And what was the first thing you told her when you met ?

I asked her who she was, that’s all.  Yes, my wife is exactly like me. We just knew we were going to get married just after six months. When we started to date when we came back to

Lagos.  We hung out for dates before she went back to the UK where she was schooling. We got married five years after that.

How will you describe a home?

A home is a place of refuge, a place where you come back to. Where you take off your shirt or jacket; you’re taking off all the problems of the day. A home has to be warm and happy and I’m very blessed that I have such a home. My wife is incredible, my kids are too.


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