The death of Bob “The Jammer” Mabena has hit the broadcasting fraternity hard. No one can contest Mabena’s legendary status within the industry, the impact he has made during his tenure was so monumental that he became the zenith for those who came after him. As one of those who have benefitted from watching and listening to him, and following suit, it is only fitting that I share some valuable knowledge from “the jammer” that I apply in my work in the broadcasting space.
Mabena spent two months frequenting the Radio Bop reception area in pursuit of an audition opportunity at the station. He would go there every morning, without fail. The resilience paid off when the station had a sudden vacancy in their drive time slot, and because he was persistently present he was top-of-mind when management were thinking of possible replacements. He was then auditioned for the position which resulted in him ultimately joining the station and making a name for himself.
If you’re an aspiring broadcaster, there’s a lesson to be learned here… you need to find innovative ways of staying “top-of-mind” in the organisations you approach. This can be done through constantly sending demos and improving your demo recording (especially if you get feedback on areas of improvement). Social media is another medium you can use — try to get programming managers to follow you so that you can expose them to your social media impact and you can post your best show clips on your platforms, and this would be another way they are exposed to your skill set as a broadcaster.
2. Be Malleable
During his long broadcasting career, Mabena worked at various radio stations, both commercial and public. This was not always smooth sailing for him, Mabena mentioned the difficulty that came with working at Highveld Stereo which had a predominantly white audience, vastly different from the black audience he had been accustomed to for most of his career prior to him making the move there.
Mabena spoke of how he struggled to captivate the audience in his first few weeks at the station, and part of the reason was the lack of relatability in the content he was producing for the show. He used that period to work on his versatility, understanding different demographics and LSMs, and he also approached his radio consultant to help him come up with innovative ways to connect with the audience.
He had a regular caller on the show who used to complain about him, and old white lady. Mabena relayed the story of how he, one day, used a piece of content that knows no race, demographic and even age difference to connect with the audience. He went on-air that day and told his listeners that he was struggling to quit smoking (universal problem for most) and he said the response to that piece of content suddenly changed the trajectory of his stay at Highveld Stereo — he even converted the old white lady, who ended up regularly calling in to contribute to ongoing conversations. How this situation was handled is indicative of a person who was malleable and did not stop learning despite having years of experience.
Radio is an ever-evolving medium, thus requiring one to constantly evolve with it. As a broadcaster you’re only as good as your last show. Learning is an ongoing challenge in the broadcasting industry, the above-mentioned anecdote by the late great proves this point.
3. Don’t be afraid of growth
Mabena made the important transition from being a broadcaster to becoming a manager within the broadcasting space. He then occupied positions such as programming manager for a number of radio stations, and head of radio in a radio consortium. This transition was of great significance because this was where he could impart his knowledge and experience on the next generation of broadcasters, and that his did very well. (DJ Sbu is among the good broadcasters that he mentored).
For many broadcasters it is difficult to make the transition from being on-air to behind the scenes, and it ends up ruining their legacies. This also presents a fundamental challenge for the broadcasting industry in South Africa as a whole because there are not enough mics to go around but there are plenty of (talented) voices, thus promotions for young broadcasters are impeded by the older broadcasters who fail to make the transition to management, or something else, in time.
4. There’s beauty in the struggle
The Jammer grew up being labelled as “lazy” because he was not as active as other children in his age group as a result of his severe battle with asthma. When he finally got into radio, it was an opportunity for him to unleash the burning alter-ego inside him. Staying indoors while growing up and not being able to play with other kids, eventually came in handy during his Radio Bop audition. Station management put Mabena in a studio and asked him to back-announce jazz music playing back-to-back, in hope that he would stumble (because he had been annoyingly persistent in his quest of asking for an audition opportunity at the station). But to their surprise, he was extremely fluent at announcing classic jazz music because of his stay-at-home upbringing which led to him listening to a lot of jazz music as his uncles revered the genre.
This story taught me to embrace the current state of affairs in my life, regardless of it not being where I ultimately want to be. There’s true beauty in struggle because it equips you for your future in one way or another. Often, young broadcasters complain about the lack of “opening up of the industry” at the top within the South African broadcasting space, forcing them to stay longer at lower level radio stations. As frustrating as this may be, the experience and time spent there becomes useful when you eventually graduate and an opportunity presents itself.
The one thing I appreciate the most about the lessons left behind by Mabena, is that they are applicable to how one approaches both the working environment and life in general. His story inspires one to lead a purposeful life and to build a legacy that challenges others to do better. Rest in peace Bob Mabena, you can finally rest and switch off your mic knowing that the ones whose mics are still on are set to carry out your teachings. Thank you for your contributions.
Image Credit: Bob Mabena Instagram
Nkox is an experienced radio jock with a demonstrated history of working in the media broadcasting space as both a broadcaster and broadcasting training coach. He has trained radio jocks for community radio stations such as Kovsie FM, Motheo FM and CUT FM. He is a strong business development professional — having previously co-founded an online pop-culture publication called “Central Vibe” which was accompanied by a lifestyle entertainment show on YouTube. Nkox is always diversifying his interests and skills within the media space.