Beat FM is number one.

With forty two (42) radio stations saturated in and around Kampala today. There is absolutely no doubt that every radio programmers dream is to make it at number one in this highly competitive Ugandan radio market. Beat 96.3 FM was recently crowned the number one station in Kampala by the Steadman group the industry’s acknowledged media research organization that carries out research once a year in the all Uganda media products survey(U.A.M.P.S)respected by advertisers, audiences and the media industry. .Kampala being the biggest radio market in Uganda.

For a station four years old to beat stations that are almost a decade old or more that was an achievement.  caught up with Beat fm’s Long serving programme director Joel Isabirye, the man behind this development.

Programme Director Beat FM: Joel Isabirye

Music Uganda: How does it feel being on top of Uganda’s radio market?
Joel; First, It’s a mixed feeling. There’s a sense of achievement and pleasure as well as a sense of pressure to maintain that position and take it higher.

MU: How did you manage to get there?
Joel: First of all Beat 96.3 fm is a relatively young station started in 2003,by Halima Namakula, Hemdee Kiwanuka and Raj Limbacha. After it was later sold off to Capital Radio in August 2004 and then changed its programming and built a local product with personalities to suit the product. It is a uniquely music oriented product with a solid foundation in Capital Radio which uses modern radio programming systems. We target 30-40 females but accessible to the 20-40 year old demographic. All programming is researched not guesswork. There is adequate facilitation by the owners of the station and team work by all members of staff played a role in making Beat fm the number one station. I cannot skip hard work, promotions and spending sleepless nights so as to deliver the right programming for our audience .We also do long term planning and deliver products that appeal to a clearly targeted audience. For example this years Beat FM’s Oluwombo concert that was a tremendous success combined all the factors I just mentioned, this of course is all determined by rigorous research about what we are delivering to our listeners.

MU: How easy is it for a station to make it to this enviable number one position?
Joel: It’s not easy. It takes a lot of determination and creativity. As you might realize these 42 radio stations around Kampala all have creative minds around them so you have to find a way that makes you unique from the rest. We at Beat have mastered the art of following listeners interests and the results show.

MU: So tell us about your programmes and on-air personalities.
Joel: We start the day with the Breakfast show Sisimuka hosted by Katogole “Omutongole” Dennis, Rebecca Jjingo, Kasadha (the comedian) and Sembatya Junior the sports anchor, this is followed by the programme Genda n’omulembe hosted by Lady Titi, then Gigenze Gyitya hosted by Mukunja, Faridah Mayanja , Uncle Kabogoza  and sports by Nsekanabo follows, this is followed by Ekibimba hosted by Mukunja then lastly W’office ya’ professor hosted by Professor Walusimbi. These are our headlining radio shows on Beat specially tailor made for our audience.

Joel (left) with Keith Harris, Stevie Wander's manager since 1978. He is currently a music proffesor at the University of West Minister, UK. He was in Uganda for the CHOGM

MU: Leading Beat to this position must surely come with enormous industry experience.
Joel: Yes indeed. My radio and programming experience dates way back in 1998.That almost a decade in the industry and along the way I have managed to learn a lot about the industry. I was always interested in behind the scenes programming, editing and the mechanics of the radio business. I have also studied radio professionally at the Australian Film, Radio and Television school where I attained a post graduate qualification in commercial radio programming. The school is an affiliate of Macquarie University in Sydney Australia. By the way the Australian radio market is the most developed radio market in the world with a deep understanding of what exactly is supposed to be done in the radio industry. The course without doubt helped me boost my capacity as a radio programmer. I have also continued to receive mentoring from my managers especially William Pike, Patrick Quarcoo who are known across Africa as very serious media professionals with a track record of successful media initiatives both in Uganda and Kenya. I have also received additional mentoring from Caroline Mukidi Wandera who recently joined us as General Manager. I have also read a lot about radio as an industry. I have a personal collection of about fifty books about the radio industry and have read as well as continue to receive additional publications from professional radio associations’ world wide. I also share ideas a lot with my team and also do brainstorming every often.

MU:  Do you see a long career in radio?
Joel: I don’t intend to retire soon from radio. I am treating it as a career. It is important to treat it as a career because then you aspire to achieve more and build on what you’ve done in the past. To make sure I cement my career in radio I am actually pursuing a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) related to media, which will be done hopefully in December 2009.This will assist me rise in the ranks, in terms of knowledge of the industry and how to achieve more ratings and business success.

MU:  What future plans do you have for Beat fm?
Joel:  We plan to keep consistent in all that we do. I, management and my team plan to do all we did before that got us to number one position. Setting new goals and doing new things that have never been done before, increasing broadcast coverage to areas that we shall announce at the appropriate time. We also plan on obviously increasing our market leadership, Growing the Brand, Improving capacity of the team, Continuing providing our target Listeners with satisfaction, and also to the station owners and advertisers.

Titi a presenter at beat FM

MU: You used to do lots of writing for various publications including Music Uganda. What happened? Did you stop writing?
Joel: I had actually put writing on hold. Yes I used to write for Music Uganda, occasionally for African Woman, the monitor publication, the new vision and used to run the Center for African Music (CAM) web publication however, with the pressure of turning Beat fm round as a market leader I needed to put some of that on hold to concentrate on the radio station. However, I continued writing for 4 professional Journals on media and music that are internationally recognized. I do about two scholarly articles a year that are peer reviewed and published. I have kept on writing but not as much. I hope to resume writing for media consistently at an appropriate time.

MU: As we close the year 2007how would you view the state of Uganda’s radio and music industry today? 
Joel: Both industries to me have grown from a handful of practitioners and institutions that we knew about in the early nineties to a crowded field of media and music. However my worry is whether they’ve developed especially when it comes to professional practices for example in the music industry apart from the musicians, other fields in the industry seem undeveloped. The copyright law seems not to be functional while many musicians lack clear direction and strategic thinking that would promote their careers further than they would ever go. Music education is minimal for example the lack of information about the workings of the music industry and yet if they were aware they would make use of every opportunity to maximize their career potential. The media is more developed with very impressive media personalities but shouldn’t be too satisfied with what they have now because we are only at the second stage of the five stage development process of the media industry.

Proffessor Walusimbi: presenter at Beat FM

MU:  Just in a bit, what do you think went wrong with the other stations in order for beat to claim their positions?
Joel: I think those that led in the past were too satisfied with their success. We at Beat FM don’t intend to stop, we are still hungry and will not stop being hungry for success. You see radio is an every day job with fresh challenges each day we aspire to claim this number one slot forever.

MU: Many artists don’t seem to know what it takes for a song to receive constant radio rotation. In your view what does it take?
Joel: First and foremost is the quality of production. The songs should be well produced, mixed well with proper vocal sections, the music should be well arranged and creatively produced for it to appeal to people’s tastes. It basically should be flawless. Artists should also know that each radio station has a format it follows. We at Beat FM play Ugandan pop commonly known as ( Afro-beat) but which appeals to our down market audiences. Occasionally we play Crossover hits (meaning songs that blow up in other formats),some African hits and International hits that are really Big internationally. At Beat all the music we play is well researched about and we know it is our audience’ taste.

MU: Just for those that might not get it, how does the music industry work?
Joel: It depends on whether one is in doing music for business or for fun. But if you are in it for business you must first of all be very talented and knowledgeable. You need to know the different stakeholders to deal with in order to put music out there. These include producers, distributors and the Media. It also pays to know people in the music industry. You see the industry is a network of institutions and people plus it’s not a straight line. You can first blow up in the club before the radio stations and vise-versa before distributors can get interested in you. However, what’s most important is to make sure the media is interested in you.

Presenter of Ssisimuka: from left: Kasadha, Rebecca Jingo, Omutongole

MU: There have been rumors about some radio stations asking artists for fees to give them power play rotations on radio. Is it true?
Joel: At Beat we strictly play music on merit and then rely on research about the song’s popularity. However I don’t deny the existence of this practice. I’ll put it this way, I personally think some media personalities are paid poorly considering their works worth and think media houses should step up and pay their print and electronic media personalities well enough so as to increase meritocracy. This practice can easily make some media personalities loose the sense of judgment because they’ll feel as though they “owe” the artists something and thus promoting unworthy works on the market. I personally think it’s unethical but the above is the root cause of all this.

MU: Which direction is Uganda’s radio Industry taking?
Joel: The industry is very saturated now with 158 stations nation-wide. It is therefore very competitive. In fact in areas like Kampala the Broadcasting Council has stopped issuing out licenses. Only the strong will survive in this environment. At some point there may be mergers and consolidation with two or more stations coming to form one, some stations buying into others and so forth. What is clear is the radio will continue as an instrumental media formats even with the emergence of new media. Perhaps digital radio will be popular soon and cross-media ownership (where radio stations set up television and print media platforms) will also find a place. In terms of people looking for careers, they should give it their all. I can tell that experienced talent is very expensive for now. However, stations that want a different sound and direction will continue going for fresh talent. Also in Uganda’s radio industry today identity for the radio announcer is very important, one has to be opinionated and knowledgeable good radio voice is an added advantage and of course personality which every radio programmer will always look out for. However exposure of the personality still counts a lot in a radio career. Nevertheless there is room for anyone who is willing to do it the right way.

MU: Okay besides the tight radio schedules do you ever get some free time? And what do you do then?
Joel: In my free time I do lots of reading (50 percent of my free time).I read newspapers, magazines and books. I read about five to eight books a month and daily newspapers. I also do lots of writing (20 percent of my free time). I have been reading a book on micro-economic theory by Andreu Mas-Colell, Michael D. Whinston, and Jerry R. Green. The book deliberates on how smaller units, interests and processes of the economy relate to each other. I have also been reading a book on the political economy of communications by Vincent Mosco; another being the Anthropology of music by Allan .P.Merriam, as well as The wealth of nations by Adam Smith; Media Studies in Africa (edited by Pieter J Fourie a Professor of Media at the University of South Africa) and a doctoral thesis on community radio in Zambia by Professor Fackson Banda of Rhodes University, plus independent reading and writing for the doctoral course that I am pursuing. I also read a lot about radio. I spend some of the other time listening to music and competitor stations. I have also been listening to the recent Philly Bongole Lutaaya re-mix project and I’ve just received a compact disc of a Ugandan Jazz artist by the names of Pragmo titled cicenced to Chill, I’ve also yet to listen to Adina Howard’s and Paula Deanda’s new cd’s.

MU: You sound like you’ve been collecting record.
Joel: Oh yes, I collect music and literature about music religiously since senior one (first year of High School).I Collect about twenty cds a month, right now I have about five thousand cassette tapes (where I stopped because it is technologically difficult to rely on tapes now), I now own three thousand cd’s and about nine thousand albums in mp3 format.

MU: What’s the one thing that makes you happy?
Joel: What makes me happy is when people work hard and gain success from their hard work. That really lights me up.

MU: Besides radio does Joel have an entrepreneurial side to him?
Joel: I have always hoped to own a record label. It’s one thing that I’ll do at some point. Uganda may not yet be ready but it’s my plan. I might also do business outside of the industry. Like I have already bought shares in one of the banks around for financial security and hopefully the sums will add up to billion in the future. I also run a dissertation advice company (I give advice to undergraduate, masters and PhD students struggling to work on their dissertations). I also hope to lecture on a part-time basis but that’s later not necessarily now and that’s in the area of media, music and development. I have already presented papers in different Forums. I have been invited to present a paper at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in March next year (2008). The paper I have worked on is titled ‘the genealogy of African Hip-hop: Trends and Antecedents.’

MU: We’ve not seen you on the social scene in the recent past. What’s with that?
Joel: Like I told you before my schedule was hectic with the radio station (Beat FM). However, in the recent past I have been attending some album launches, concerts and especially events sponsored by Beat FM.I now wouldn’t mind to check out some of these events!

MU: So what’s your favorite drink when out there?
Joel: That’s mirinda Fruity; I also love a lot of rice because of my Sierraleonian roots. You know rice is the staple food over there.

MU: Lastly what’s your Life’s Philosophy?
Joel: Always wake up with a purpose. Know where you’re going and where you’re from. When you go to work learn to tolerate hardship because you know your purpose, what your dreams are. Besides, build more bridges than walls in short make more friends because then your life becomes much easier.

You can reach Joel programme director beat fm through;0772949437.