Radio divas still don't run the world

2014-08-04 18:45

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What is the state of play for women on the airwaves today? Gugulethu Mhlungu tunes in

Meet Anele Mdoda?–?radio and TV personality, comedienne and model (it all depends on the day)?–?on an uncharacteristically warm July morning.

She looks regal in a gorgeous cape and bold, plum lipstick.

We have an hour together and I realise that my plan to get a cover picture and an interview were a little ambitious.

Instead, we decide to make Anele stop traffic. Literally.

Standing in the middle of Fox Street and then on the even busier Commissioner Street in downtown Joburg, the 30-year-old seems perfectly at ease.

After all, she’s used to being the centre of attention?– as you might be, too, if you hosted 94.7 Highveld Stereo’s booming drive-time show.

This gig makes her the first woman in South Africa to host a drive-time show solo.

A look across commercial stations tells a concerning story about the lack of women in the driver’s seat of the breakfast and afternoon drive-time slots.

Women are not where the big money is made.

For the most part, they form part of breakfast teams, mainly anchored by men, and/or they occupy the midday slots, evenings and weekend afternoons.


Anele began her decade-long radio career at Tuks FM at the University of Pretoria in 2004, where she was studying. Unbeknown to her parents, she dropped out but continued to go to campus under the guise of studying.

Eventually, her game was up and her parents called her in to ask if she was serious about the radio thing.

The answer was an emphatic yes.

In 2007, she landed an evening slot on 94.7 Highveld Stereo, which she hosted with her longtime friend, Grant Nash, for a year before the duo joined national radio station 5FM as the hosts of the hugely popular 12pm-to-3pm slot.

In 2012, Anele was announced as the afternoon drive host for Highveld Stereo.

This was the same year she was honoured with the Women in The Media’s Rising Star Award.


At the time of her appointment to Highveld’s afternoon drive, Primedia Broadcasting CEO Terry Volkwyn was quoted as saying: “Stand by for a burst of energy from Anele that is going to transform the show and keep listeners hooked.

“Anele has a razor-sharp wit and is an exuberant personality who really interacts with her audience. Everyone at 94.7 is delighted to have Anele back.”

Anele is part of a formidable series of trendsetters to put women’s voices front and centre on the drive-time airwaves.

Before her, Dineo “Mam’ Daddy” Ranaka replaced Vukani “Chilli M” Masinga as afternoon drive-time host on YFM and took her place in broadcast history as YFM’s first female drive-time jock.

There’s also Pabi Moloi, who hosted YFM’s breakfast show after DJ Fresh bowed out in 2008.

And before the trendsetters came the trailblazers?–?like Shado Twala, who made history by being the first female host on the then Radio Metro in the 80s.

Shado’s still going strong. I speak to her after her SAfm show, which she hosts from Cape Town.

Three decades on, what still surprises her?

“It’s an ever-changing industry. There was a time when radio was the main information source, a connecting platform, and people depended on it to understand their world.

“I have no idea how all people are using it, but [especially talk radio] is being used in community building and as a social cohesion tool.

“Through it, South Africans have found a voice.”

Shado says the broadcast space is stranger and better.

“We never thought it would be around in 20 years?...?and yet here radio is.”

Before she joined the industry in 1986, Shado was listening to the Maputo-based LM Radio. She loved the music.

“Radio at the time was dominated by men and I thought: ‘This is something I want to do, and for women.’”

She had no idea that women were even on air.

“Mam’Winnie Mahlangu was doing stories and cooking on Radio Zulu [which later became what is the country’s biggest station, Ukhozi FM].

Afrikaans women were doing Women Today on Radio South Africa [which would later become SAfm] and I didn’t see myself in them until much later.”

It’s 2014 and radio is still largely a boys’ club, she says.

“It’s still very much a car show, where a woman is put on the bonnet of the car, but the car is the thing you’re selling.”

Shado says: “It’s never been drive [time] for women.

“I suppose we were thought of as people who couldn’t deal with serious hard news issues, the politics, the business news, despite women being qualified to do it.”


Not that radio is alone.

More than half of university graduates are women, but only 44% are employed in corporate South Africa. Only 19% of top managers are women and just 9% of these top managers are black women.

A World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report for 2013 noted that South African women earned up to 33% less than their male counterparts for the same work.

The current international pay gap average is 13%.

The government is mulling tougher laws that will force the private and public sectors to actually make gender transformation happen. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Shado says the gender representation in broadcasting represents South Africa as a whole.

“Even Parliament is a story of poor representation. Across the board, women are not represented,” she says.

She’s right. The story is no better in the community radio sector, where women should be learning and eyeing the climb to greater heights.

The sector is supposed to have given marginalised groups like women greater access, but in my experience, there remains a 20:80 ratio of women to men here, much like large parts of the commercial media space.

Station and programme managers are still mostly men, while women dominate (and excel) at news desks and in producing shows.


In 2008, I became the country’s youngest female station manager in community broadcasting at Grahamstown’s Rhodes Music Radio, one of the oldest community broadcasters in South Africa.

This highlights the extent of transformation in the sector.

And when I tell you I only ever met one other woman in the same position, at a community level, you’ll understand how far we have to go.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Primedia Broadcasting is flourishing under CEO Volkwyn and three of the four radio brands under her leadership are run by women.

5FM has had two female station managers in succession?–Helen Graham and Aisha Mohamed.

Siya Tyali of Unisa’s Media Policy and Democracy Project says: “As far as I’m concerned, not much has been written or researched about the transformation of radio?–?especially in relation to the gender question.

“I would say this neglect comes from the assumption that the media industry is progressive [or meant to be] and therefore there is not much need to scrutinise that aspect.

“In addition to this, one can argue that seeing we have had female voices on radio all our lives, most researchers tend to assume that all is well.”

He believes the MTN Radio Awards are an interesting initiative that could, in future, be studied to understand how the role of women can be celebrated or accelerated.

Anele, of course, is an exception to the rule.

She’s been entrusted with some of her industry’s most lucrative advertising space.

“I don’t go out of my way to make [money] because I don’t want a billboard of a show.

So if I have been given something to read, I am going to read it as Anele and this means that sometimes I am just as surprised as the listener. You’re going to get me.”

How much does her status as the lone woman anchoring a drive-time show matter to her?

“Initially it did, and it does because you realise there should be more?–?and there are women in primetime slots.

But they are thought of as sidekicks.

“The idea is still that the guy is the funny one, the entertainer, and women do the weather and news, or laugh.

“But those ‘sidekicks’ actually make the show. They are incredibly talented women who, when they aren’t on the show, you notice.”

She’s 30 and at the top of her game.

Is she ready for the hallowed breakfast show next? It’s the mecca of broadcasting, after all.


“You see, breakfast is a lifestyle change. It’s like having a baby.

In many ways, you need to be okay with missing out because you need to go to sleep so you can get people ready for their day the next day.

“I’m still incredibly curious. I still want to be up till 3am watching and seeing things to talk about on my show later.

I am still far too inquisitive, so breakfast is not yet for me.

“At 25, I said ‘I want my own drive show and talk show by the time I am 30’, and that’s happened.”

Her talk show launches later this year, but the finer details are under wraps.

Anele has a busy life outside radio.

“The things I do keep me colourful for radio, and I also exercise and shop with the very people I talk to every weekday, so I am you,” she says.

“My fear is that we are going to start talking at, instead of to and with, people.

“If there is one person who needs to listen it’s me, it’s us.”


When we meet for the second part of our conversation, we pop into Melrose Arch, where she picks up an outfit for the M-Net Galaxy of Stars event that evening.

We are in and out in under 15 minutes.

Upon leaving the centre, Anele inserts her parking ticket and finds that the parking price is R10.

She gasps and, in that distinct voice millions across the country recognise, exclaims: “R10!”

She notes: “See, if this kind of stuff didn’t happen, we would have nothing to talk about.”

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