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Radio’s future is online

2017-04-09 09:00
DJ Sbu (Photo: Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - DJ Sbu has joined his counterparts, Thabo “Tbo Touch” Molefe and Gareth Cliff, who are pioneering the future of online radio with their long-established commercial counterparts.

The two, whose real names are Sibusiso Leope and Thabo Molefe, respectively, used to work for Metro FM and are now targeting different listeners. Leope is wooing the working class with his online brand MassivMetro, while Molefe is going for middle class urbanites with his digital station, Touch HD.

MassivMetro, which goes live on Easter Monday, has been a three-year project – from even before Metro FM fired Leope in October 2015 for shamelessly promoting his energy drink at the station’s music awards that year.

“I had to get out of my comfort zone, so I created the DJ Sbu breakfast show. I pitched it to Times Media Group and they understood my vision. That is how it all began,” he said.

MassivMetro is co-owned by Leope’s company, Leadership2020, and Massiv Media.

Leope left this week for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, US, where he was invited to speak about how technology is advancing life in Africa.

Leope said his breakfast show was a syndicated product which would be broadcast on three online stations – MassivMetro, Rise FM and Vuma FM – as well as on Bloemfontein community radio station Cut FM by month-end.

Currently, his Rise FM show has just short of 500 000 listeners, but Leope is confident that this number will increase because “in June we will also be syndicating to nine other community radio stations”.

Leope, who has also worked on Ukhozi FM and YFM, says MassivMetro’s afternoon drive show, The Five Hour Drive, will be hosted by Bonginkosi “Zola 7” Dlamini, actress Thembi Seete and comedienne Celeste Ntuli.

These, he says, are the only mainstream deejays employed at MassivMetro because he does not have a big budget for big names.

“I believe in young, new talent. I recruited people who would resonate with ordinary South Africans,” he said.

What differentiates Leope’s online initiative from other digital radio players such as Cliff Central, owned by Gareth Cliff, and Touch HD is that his is an urban metropolitan radio station targeting township residents.

“My radio station is unique. I am giving free Wi-Fi to taxis at all the Gauteng taxi ranks. We are currently installing routers in taxis.

“We have started with 1 000 taxis. In the next six months, we are hoping to have installed routers in at least 3 000 taxis around Gauteng.”

He added that commuters would get free internet and be able to download the MassivMetro app while on the taxi. And since one taxi takes 14 passengers, 1 000 taxis can score him at least 14 000 listeners a day. Leope says his app has 20 000 subscribers.

“What is beautiful is that Tbo Touch, Gareth and I are proving it can be done. We are not competing but targeting different audiences. We all have different target markets,” said Leope.

“The online space is going to keep growing every year. It will be interesting to see how far our radio stations will be in five years’ time. I guarantee you, they will have more than tripled their listenership.”

Leope said his station was a combination of Ukhozi FM and Metro FM. “We play maskandi, mbaqanga and gospel music. The station is diverse; there is a bit of everything.

“At my age I do not start companies to fail. That’s why I start small, not big. I have a three-year plan. I have spread the small budget over the next three years, and we as a station are giving ourselves three years for this to work.”

Taking to Coca-Cola, then to the world

Leope pulled an April Fools’ Day prank when he announced that he had sold a 26% stake in his energy drink, Mo Faya, to Coca-Cola for R493 million.

Two years ago, he angered Forbes Africa magazine by posing with a can of Mo Faya on a fake Forbes Africa cover on his social-media website.

However, this move paid off when, six months later, Leope teamed up with the prestigious magazine to launch a new TV show about entrepreneurship on CNBC Africa.

So, would the Coca-Cola prank work just as well?

“I was sending a message to Coca-Cola to say that, as a start-up company, we do not have a marketing budget, so it is important for us to keep on doing creative things for people to notice us and keep talking about our brand,” he said, adding that one day he would own a global brand.

“Coca-Cola needs to start looking for partnerships with companies like ours to penetrate the township market. For instance, with regard to Mo Faya, I am getting emails from more investors, who want to invest in the brand.”

He said he was once broke after having invested R6m in his Mo Faya business.

“I would rather build something for my daughter than have a fancy car. Mo Faya is growing and I am happy that I’ve invested in something long term,” said Leope, adding that he was holding off on buying expensive goods and was downgrading his lifestyle.

“I am doing this for my daughter.”

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