Newsmaker – Lawrence Tlhabane: Powerful radio comeback

2013-06-16 14:00

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After a three-year break, veteran broadcaster Lawrence Tlhabane returns to the airwaves

It’s the big Power FM switch-on on Tuesday morning and the first voice to boom from speakers across Gauteng will be that of seasoned broadcaster Lawrence Dube. Or Lawrence Tlhabane as he is now known.

As the host of PowerBreakfast, Tlhabane shares presenting duties with respected business presenter Siki Mgabadeli, newsreader Andrea van Wyk, traffic presenter Ferial Carelse and sports newscaster Thabiso Mosia.

Tlhabane is ready to muscle his way into the highly competitive breakfast radio space dominated by radio’s granddaddies – John Robbie at Talk Radio 702, Glen Lewis at Metro FM and Bob Mabena at Kaya FM.

Experience appears to trump youth when it comes to radio breakfast shows.

Tlhabane was “humbled” after being hauled out of early retirement to host Power FM’s breakfast show. He believes that he brings maturity, that he has something to say and that he has travelled a bit.

We meet on a clear Highveld winter’s morning in Houghton, north of Joburg, where the PowerHouse is under construction.

The screech of angle grinders and knocking of hammers are the prevailing soundtracks, and we shift the brand new sofas around for a quiet spot.

If ever there were doubts about Tlhabane’s excitement over his new gig, then the bounce in his step and the energetic punches against the wall, accompanied by sudden squats, lay them to rest.

“We’re about to give birth to a new baby,” he enthuses.

After an outburst of stretching and flexing, he finally settles down. “I’m beginning to see this as a calling that I can’t run away from.

“Every beginning is exciting and you never get used to it because every birth is different.”

Tlhabane is an experienced radio “midwife”, having launched Kaya FM in 1997, where he was also a shareholder. He has since disinvested and left the station.

“It’s time to do talk radio. In all of my past shows, I’ve had a strong talk element. Over the years, I’ve met people I have touched through radio and they remember more the things that I said than the music I played. It seems that people connect with me on that level,” he says.

“Talk radio is interactive, you state your opinion, facilitate, instigate and provoke.”

He warns though that Tuesday’s maiden show will not be a true reflection of what his listeners are in for. “Tuesday will be more celebratory, the big news in town will be PowerFM. There will be lots of merrymaking and well wishes coming through.

“The show will breathe life where newspapers left off. But it won’t be a lecture room; it will be a platform to interact and disseminate news. There will be magic in how we interact and I will add my personality.”

Tlhabane took three years off, needing a rest, and emerged with a new identity, which he’s not keen to explain. “It has to do with my ancestral family roots. I’d like to leave it at that.”

Tlhabane is his maternal great grandfather's name.

So, since 2010, he has been a regular at the Home Affairs to effect the changes and now he has a new identity document, driver’s licence and a passport. “I was quite involved ... I didn’t do this for fun.”

Tlhabane’s career began 30 years ago at Radio Bop in the former Bophuthatswana Bantustan (now North West), which he followed up with Metro FM before moving to Kaya FM. He also did TV work in between.

He and another veteran broadcaster, Neil Johnson, were co-hosts of TV’s popular music chart show, Toyota Top 20, in the early 90s.

At the time, the dreadlocked, smooth-talking Tlhabane was the most eligible bachelor on TV.

“It was the most fun time of my life. And I cannot believe how much of an impact it left on people. There was a winning spirit with the production team I worked with and we had a wonderful time,” he says.

“The videos we played and the crossover music were great. South Africa’s borders were opening up and the show was the best platform for visiting musicians.

“There was magic in the air and I’m honoured to have been at the forefront of the change. I’m feeling like that right now.”

But the world has changed a lot since then with technology and social media. He has stayed away from it, but will soon make an appearance.

While he doesn’t have a formalised mentoring programme, Tlhabane says he often advises young talent on longevity in the industry. “I always tell young aspirant broadcasters that they should get into radio because that’s what they want to do.

“You can’t fake it for too long. You will do it effortlessly when it comes from within.”

» Power FM starts broadcasting on Tuesday at 6am on the 98.7FM frequency

» This story was updated after first published after it was brought to our attention that Tlhabane was not Tlhabane's father's surname but that of his great grandfather.

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