Will Urban Radio Be Third Time Lucky With Western Kenya?
Kisumu’s Urban Radio 90.7 FM is set to make a third stab for a share of the Western Kenya audience with a relaunch slated for later this month. The station went off the airwaves early 2019 following a mass exodus of employees occasioned by financial headwinds.
The station lost presenters and key personnel from May 2019, beginning with the exit of Chris Okinda who was the main host of the breakfast show alongside Diana Kubebea. Another key presenter Myra Anubi left the station to relocate to the UK. Former news anchor and weekend show host Miriam Angil also left the station to join Family Radio before moving over to NRG Radio as a producer/presenter. Other staff members were either laid off during the same period or chose to resign due to pay cuts.
The station was initially founded in 2014 by Ben ‘Japs’ Ogombe, a veteran radio salesman who teamed up with Edward Kwach and Antony Lungaho. The trio was backed up by venture capital firm ‘Aces Global’ under the Zircon Kenya Limited banner.
Lungaho who is a senior creative was the station’s Managing Director and the brains behind the station’s creative imaging. He hired head-hunted and hired all of the station’s on-air talent at the time. Buoyed by the financial muscles of their benefactor – Aces Global, they paid top dollar for the personnel recruited from Nairobi, housed them in a furnished apartment in Kisumu’s Milimani estate, and provided a range of other benefits including regular flight tickets to those who left behind families in Nairobi. Japs was the General Manager.
At the time Urban Radio was the company to work for in Kisumu. When they hit the clubs they partied like they were doing it for TV. That was until their parent company’s board decided to start cutting ties as the station failed to bring in the money they had been promised. Six months into the game, there were no meaningful ads running on the station.
The initial stab which featured top radio presenters drawn from Nairobi like Edward Kwach (who doubled up as the Head of Programs), Jack Omamo, Mung’ala Mbuvi (now at K24), Kevin Mulei (now in SA) and Rosmell Opee (now in the USA) proved to be a false start as the crew failed to strike a chord with the Kisumu audience. The moment cash started getting tight, Lungaho quit his position, relinquishing all the shares he had in the company. The entire crew left before the year ended.
The late Grace Makosewe who was hired to turn around the company after the first false start and who reported directly to the chairman of Acess Global board had a very short stint at the station before being fired over gross indiscipline.
Urban Radio 2.0
The second stab dubbed ‘Urban Radio 2.0’ on the inside was actually a successful one – featured a good mix of local talent and upcoming talents picked from smaller Nairobi outfits. This featured names like Myra Anubi, an ex Maseno University student who was also part of the founding crew but now played a bigger role as Programs Manager. Chris Okinda, Yolanda Mulwa, Chito Ndlovu (now with Radio Africa) was poached from One FM together with Brian Oduor. Others included Kev Matara, Miriam Angil, Venencia Akoth and John Paul Odhiambo who were all hired as interns from Kisumu and made their way to the airwaves.
This crew and the personnel who worked with them behind the scenes like editors, content producers, social media curators, music managers, technical staff and salesmen turned the company around to profitability until it started sinking again in 2018.
At the time, most of the company’s staff were blaming the directors of the company for failing to invest in the technical infrastructure needed to take the company to the next level. Mostly, the limited area of coverage and regular transmission cuts that at times kept the station off-air for days on end.
The new outfit that will probably make Urban Radio 3.0 is now known as NINETY POINT SEVEN LIMITED. According to info from the registrar of companies, it is 100% owned by Ben ‘Japs’ Ogombe, who also owns an agency that sells radio ads to stations based in Western Kenya.
‘The Bad Boy Combination‘
Urban Radio 3.0 (if that’s what they will be calling it) is somewhat a re-union of the bad boys of radio. It features the return of names like Edward Kwach who has almost literally worked for and been fired from most (if not all) of the English speaking radio stations in East Africa, including Urban Radio from where he was fired as a presenter despite owning part of the company then. The others are Chris Okinda and Brian Oduor who have also built quite a reputation for themselves in Kenya’s media industry having all worked for and been fired from Nation Media Group, Royal Media Services, and Radio Africa Group, and One FM (in the case of Oduor). The trio however indisciplined, are some of the best radio talents in Kenya and might just be what the station needs for a successful third-time stab. Also working in their favour will be the fact that they have all lived in Kisumu during their previous stints and have a better understanding of the region and its audience.
The station will be competing for a market dominated by national Swahili stations like Radio Jambo and Milele FM, while also going against well-oiled machines like NRG and Kiss for the urban market.
Having been in the industry long enough and operating in the media buying realm, Japs might have just assembled the arsenal to take over the Western Kenya airwaves this time. Whether that will come to pass, only time will tell. For now, we are waiting on 90.7.