By Anote Ajeluorou
Young Africans are not short of revolutionary ideas that can transform the world. They only need a platform to express themselves. But in the absence of such platforms in most parts of the continent, young Africans are creating platforms for themselves and they are making a success of it. In the area of internet radio, a young African, a Nigerian, Tintin Imebvore is blazing the trail with his iGroove internet radio in Lagos.
iGroove is perhaps the only Nigeria-based internet radio station. And Imevbore’s choice of location – inside resuscitated, refurbished colonial prison newly turned into a cultural showpiece, known as Freedom Park – is instructive of the daring, emerging, enterprising spirit of a cultural freedom permeating Nigeria’s social scene. Indeed, young Nigerians are leading this new cultural revival that is fast spreading to other parts of the continent and beyond.
Imevbore is not new to radio. He cut his teeth on radio abroad in Italy and later came home, at the prompting of his mother, to join his colleagues at Megametrix to set up some radio stations.
According to him, “iGroove Radio was born out of an idea; it came about a couple of years back while I was doing some research about internet radio stations and how the growth was amazing in the West, in America, in the U.K. and some parts of Europe. Then I thought to myself, ‘having been a pioneer in setting up Classic FM, Beat 99.9 FM, Naija FM with my ex-colleagues at Megametrix, shouldn’t I be doing this?’
“So, last year I decided to leave Megametrix and started iGroove Radio and having put together all the pieces together in terms of how it should be structured and all that, it brought me to Freedom Park where we are. We found the right location, a very strong cultural location and we decided that this is where we are going to be”.
Imevbore traced his career path through Europe and why he settled for internet radio after 25 years in Europe. He recounted thus, “I have been in the FM world for more than 25 years. I started my career in Europe in 1990 in broadcasting - radio and television. The internet is such a wonderful world; it gives you so much access to information. Now, Nigeria is a most forward-looking country, especially in Africa. iGroove Radio is a Pan-African radio station as far as we are concerned. We decided to go Africa because there is so much that Africa has to offer the world in terms of entertainment, information and changes.
“The youth comprises half of our population in Nigeria and outside Nigeria and we see the internet as being that link between us and the youth. Through it the youth can relate to us, grab music and information from our site, and listen to us live. The internet has been the catalyst to change in the world; springing forth and bringing things anew; we are bringing something new and fresh so that people with smartphones will be able to listen to us.
“People keep telling me, you should have done FM, but I said to my counterpart, if you had a radio and I do my own stuff, we still had to do the dot.com. Let me not get into the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) wahala. Let me stick to the e-world, give my African content to the world; let me give them my site to read from where they can listen to African musicians that are not being played on radio stations today”.
The broadcast entrepreneur is scandalized at the fees regular FM stations are charged to operate in the country and said with internet, you only need to subscribe to the internet laws, saying, “I’m subjected to the laws of online business. The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission does not regulate the worldwide web unless Nigeria wants to be like China. To set up this kind of radio station, you need to pay your dues; you need to have the regulation that regulates the worldwide web, how to pay whatever tax you need to pay to your server and its not cheap but it is cheaper than the on-air, FM station.
“Now, what I disagree with is that when I go to another country, my license to operate for five years is $700, but in Nigeria, I am dropping N30 million to operate my license. It doesn't make sense to me; that’s a lot of money. N30 million can do a lot for me. I don’t understand such regulations.
“So, let me do something that the youths can still tap into it. I care about Nigerians who have their mobile phones, iPads and iPhones. I believe in Africans in the Diaspora at large; they now have access to African content. I’m not doing this for Nigerians alone; I’m doing it also for Ghanaians, for Algerians and so on. Our content is varied; we need to satisfy our clients”.
ON how he generates his Afro-centric content, Imevbore explained the strategy is to have a mix of music and information on Africa. Moreover, his station allows listeners to catch up with programmes they missed at regular broadcast time through repeat and podcasts, noting, “We package inspirational shows; it is a radio station that is not on-air but online. The difference is that if you miss a show by 1pm, that show will be repeated at night, because that is what happens on TV.
“So, it’s the same concept we are bringing in. If you miss the live programme, you then listen to the repeat broadcast or podcast. In any case, the internet is getting better. Remember, we are in Nigeria but we are not behaving like Nigerians. We do shows and repeat them at 10pm. So, your audience has the choice; if you miss it again live, and the repeat, you can go to the site and podcast all the shows you missed. You can play, pause and come back to it. There are over 40 million internet users because of smartphones. At iGroove our content is African”.
Operating internet radio, Imevbore noted was just like running any other business, especially in an unfriendly small businesses environment like Nigeria. To make things work, he said, you’ve got to have lots of guts, adding, “I have people that write every single day. I have people that create awareness, like the marketing side - they talk to the airlines, the embassies; they create awareness for sponsorship. To set up a proper radio station, you have to be strong psychologically and you have to have iron will.
“Nigeria is not friendly to small businesses; you need to be hardworking because it is your dream and objective. Your account will be very low; your stomach will be tied your back for a while but you will reap the benefits. The brand Africa is very powerful, but we don’t know that here. I travel a lot. When I’m in the Middle East, I see how powerful Africa is. Everybody loves the internet; at one point or the other and because of our smartphone we have access to so many things like facebook, twitter and so on. That’s what we are gaining; we use these media to push our products, ourselves, and everything is online”.
The amiable radio executive would like to describe himself thus, “I think a lot of people see me as a kind person, fair and considerate, which I’m. I’m a very determined man. I came back to Nigeria in 2006. I was out of Nigeria for 36 years, so I came back when my peers were Deputy Governors, MDs of banks and so on; they were already doing things and my mum would tell me, ‘look, when you come back your eyes will open’, and I’m like, ‘let me just be doing my thing where I’m in Italy and Europe’. I came back and my eyes opened!
“I love this particular business – broadcasting. I decided to be strong and focused”.
Imevbore stated that the future is bright for his type of business as new media continue to push the boundary of imagination in almost every sphere. On how business would pan out in the next four or five years, he said, “I mentioned earlier something that we should pursue, which is audio-visuals. I come from a broadcast background, from radio and we decided to go audio-visual, where radio is both audible and visual.
“So, what you are hearing is what you are seeing; Web TV is now becoming common. Nigeria is now booming with Web TV. The telecoms companies and newspapers will soon be strictly online. It is amazing, and we need to go visual because people want to see things!”