NO ROOM FOR BALLADS: THE PARADIGM SHIFT IN THE SOUND OF SUNDAY RADIO

Bonginkosi Ntiwane10/30/202013min256057

NO ROOM FOR BALLADS: THE PARADIGM SHIFT IN THE SOUND OF SUNDAY RADIO

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THE Metro FM team rightfully celebrated the unblemished Wilson B Nkosi for his 34 year stay at the station some Sundays ago. The man has hosted all the station’s shows, bar the Jazz slot. But it’s his Sounds and Stuff Like That show that has made him a custodian of mode-setting on a Sunday.

He’s an institution with a cult following that would leave T.B Joshua green with envy. For so many years other stations have fruitlessly tried to build their own love movements on their airwaves on a Sunday. They could play the very same Howard Hewitt’s Call His Name, but for some odd reason it doesn’t sound the same on another station without the commanding but yet soothing voice of Nkosi, back-announcing it.

Sunday is a day where most people would typically unwind and later prepare for the week ahead. There’s also a sense of reflection that comes with the Sunday, whether reflecting on the weekend you’ve had or some people, thinking about the coming week, often with a tinge of anxiety. Anxious about the stress of the workplace or school-this is when the fun “weekend you” makes way for the more apprehensive version of yourself. I suppose this is one of the reasons why people are so attached to Metro FM radio on Sunday, as it’s somewhat of a safe space for a lot of adults, with all the endearing music.

But the kids have found an alternative of chasing away the Sunday blues. Leading to a shift in the sound of Sunday, slowly moving away from the melodramatic ditties such as Toni Braxton’s Un-break My Heart or Al Jarreau’s Your Song which I felt forced to listen to growing up, to that of Zoë Modiga Umdali and Sio’s Could You being played on radio.

See, a handful of radio stations have realised they can’t compete with Metro by doing exactly what the urban station has been successfully doing for many years, so they’ve taken Metro’s blueprint of Sunday radio- a complete takeover of the airwaves, not just through one slot but throughout the day, with shows that have a common thread. Creating a Sunday mood, that translates into a movement.

YFM has been one of the leaders in this regard. While their neighbours at Metro will be punting the #LoveMovement hashtag, YFM’s Sunday theme is summed up by #SundayFeels hashtag. From 6AM to 6PM the common thread on the station is feels or vibes- this talks to a person’s emotional state or the atmosphere of a place. DJ Flax who comes in at 10AM until 2PM and Just Mo’s Global Experience show follows and runs until 6PM are the station’s two protagonist in carrying out these feels. Think the late Eddie Zondi and Nkosi together in their prime.

5FM’s Selective Styles show with Kid Fonque is one of the first to display this paradigm shift or at least highlight listeners’ appetite for something different. “Sunday is a great time for radio – given that listeners make an effort to tune in and are therefore very pedantic about the music and content offering. That is why a show like Selective Styles is important,” says 5FM station manager Siyanda Fikelepi.

Selective Styles has been on air since 2016 and just two months ago, it celebrated its 200th show. “Based on the latest Rams figures the shows diary on diary variance has shown growth with a compound annual growth showing gains. What’s also important to not about the show is how it has managed to create a community on twitter where curated content is discussed and trends. This has a loyal following that can’t go unnoticed.”

Kaya FM seemed to try the Metro route with Tbose’s Touch of Soul, but they’ve now decided to approach Sundays in their own way through their thoroughly researched What’s Wrong With Groovin‘ a show that runs from 2PM-6PM that’s uniquely packaged as an audio-documentary steeped in Pan-African knowledge, art, narratives, literature and history. “What’s Wrong With Groovin’ fulfills our aspirations for radio that elevates the level of consciousness in society,” says Kaya’s Creative Head Mohau Bosiu.

“Every week, we prepare something that is unforgettable, something distinctly memorable, and because these insights we share are significant, we employ sound as a strong sense that can be deeply etched in one’s memory.”

Kaya FM’s music offering, beyond Sound Supreme, has been quite evocative, with an edge to surprise and dazzle. What is Wrong With Groovin’ follows that trajectory.””

The show is narrated by poet and author Lebohang Masango, with the music curated by Disc Jockeys Kenzhero and Tha_Muzik. They celebrated a year anniversary in the first week of October.

From Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s rendition of Nkosi Sikelela, Seun Kuti &Egypt 80’s Black Times, or Bongo Muffin’s Laduma Izulu are examples of the type of sound that dominates the home of the Afropolitan on a Sunday. “The numbers surprisingly remained stable from the first diary, and picked from the second, even with such an unconventional show. What we have seen is that the show has attracted an upmarket, academically inclined audience, and listeners who’ve been seeking something different from the ballads Sunday radio. We’ve carved an offering fit for a progressive class of society,” says Bosiu.

Playlists on these shows is dominated by insanely talented young independent artists you’ve never heard of before, who have found fame through the internet. This has also been bolstered by the success of platforms such as Soulection and the Boiler Room, which have grown a desire for ‘world music’. It helps a great deal that the people behind on these shows are DJs and/or music producers.

“I think it’s been a balance of my radio show and my record label Stay True Sounds, I have really created a space for producers who are not creating top 20 hits to shine and that seems to have rippled slowly into mainstream radio,” 5FM”s  Kid Fonque says. His show has been a platform for unknown kats to make a name for themselves on a credible stage. “I have always been into experimental electronics from a young age, way before Boiler Room or Soulection.  You could say I am a child from the BBC era, listening to shows from Gilles Peterson and Benji B every week definitely defined how I see radio and the power it gives you to introduce new talent,” adds Kid Fonque.

Bosiu says that most radio stations still sound as they did in the 1980s, but understands the importance of innovation and consistent growth. “Listener tastes and preferences are ever evolving, and any smart broadcaster would know that nothing standstill in the world of media entertainment – you need to continuously innovate. From the way people consume new music; through streaming, discovering podcasts, attending live music performances… we have learned from these trends that every second in radio is important and that we have to give people something they are unlikely to receive anywhere else. One listener once tweeted that ‘listening to What is Wrong With Groovin’ is like watching a masterpiece being painted.'”

There are kids who are as passionate about radio as Wilson B Nkosi was, that religiously listen to these Sunday shows. 34 years from now, they’ll most probably be custodians of these budding Sunday sounds you don’t yet know about.

THE FIRST VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE STAR NEWSPAPER

Bonginkosi Ntiwane

A South African storyteller.


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