Cape Town - First there was Gareth Cliff who was suspended from 5fm after interviewing “Jesus”. Then DJ Sbu was sent packing from Metro FM for promoting his energy drink at the Metro FM Awards. And who can forget Phat Joe being axed from Radio 2000 for making homophobic comments? South Africa has no shortage of jocks being kicked off air.
Then popular radio personality DJ Fresh found himself under fire for using foul language on air and his future in radio became the talk of the town after he was suspended from Metro FM. But Fresh (47), fed up with the drawnout disciplinary procedure, decided to cross over to 947 where he now heads up the radio station’s drive-time show in addition to his show on KFM.
It’s the first time he’d been in hot water at work, he says, but it’s not the first time he’s said something out of line. “I have, at times, put both feet in my mouth, but it comes with the territory,” Fresh tells DRUM. “Sometimes people buy into your personality and if people love you for pushing boundaries, then that’s usually the reason they may love me. “But generally, I don’t misbehave.
“As a talent or a creative you tend to push boundaries that management does not often understand,” he continues. “Not everyone can manage talent.”
He’s not one to harbour grudges but Fresh feels Metro FM didn’t handle the matter well. He was suspended for saying “m***ery”, an adaptation of the isiZulu profanity used to refer to female genitalia. He’s disappointed he was taken off air “without a salary over one silly word”, as he puts it.
“Metro FM dragged something that could have been resolved in less than a week, just to try and prove a point,” he says. “If I was wrong, I didn’t mind dealing with the consequences. But I feel the consequences became too much. “They were unhappy with the word I used. If I needed to apologise, I should’ve been given a slap on the hand and then we move on. But it dragged on and they lied saying I didn’t want to apologise, and then only for the BCCSA (Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA) to come back and say that the word does not exist, and they can’t punish me. So I left and went somewhere else.”
When contacted for comment the SABC referred us to a statement in which the broadcaster said they’d been found guilty of and sanctioned for using offensive language on air.
For two months, the family man had no source of income. But Fresh, who has had success in music, TV and business, had saved for a rainy day. “I’ve always preached about saving money. I was able to go through for two months without feeling the pinch. “With every R100 a person makes, they should be able to save up R25 for a rainy day and this plan helped me to survive.”
He used the time off work to reflect. “It was two months of clarity,” he says. “I’ve been doing breakfast shows for five years now, two years at Metro FM and three years at 5FM. “When my son was born four years ago I was on the radio and I missed out on many milestones in his life.”
It was only after his suspension that he realised just how much work had occupied his life. “On the first day my son asked me why I was taking him to school and it dawned on me that I had never taken him to school,” Fresh says.
“So I made use of the time catching up with my family, my children, doing gigs here and there and more interviews than I had done in a long time. “I appreciated being away from work. I wasn’t miserable at all, but my listeners might have been frustrated,” he quips. He has one of the most recognisable voices on radio, but “Big Dawg” was still blown away by how fans rallied behind him on social media.
Scores of followers called for his reinstatement and threatened to boycott Metro FM until Fresh was back on the airwaves. “Generally, I don’t base my life on social media standards,” he says. “I work in radio and numbers talk. But the support from people was overwhelming. “I knew people appreciated what I do but I never fully grasped the love people had for me and I am eternally grateful. I wish there was more I could do for people showing me all this love. “If I could, I would throw one big party for everyone, drinks on me!”
He’s been riding the airwaves on the breakfast show for years. Now Fresh has changed gears as a drive-time show host. “After all these years, I still love radio because I can change people’s lives every day. Every day I ask myself: am I giving people hope and changing their lives for the better?
“Radio happens in real time. You’re always a song away from giving somebody hope.” The Botswana-born mix master owes his love of people to his parents, mom Francinah and dad Francis Sikwane, who taught him to be humble. “I was raised by people who achieved a lot but never allowed their achievements to guide or dictate how they treat people,” he says.
“A lot of what I do is about my calling and not about the superstar life of ‘Oh s**t I’m famous, people dig me, therefore, I am cool’. That’s not why I do what I do. “I’m a radio personality because since I was 13, I genuinely believed I was brought onto Earth to change people’s lives positively. For as long as I’m doing that I don’t care about the noise and the hype. It has helped me to stay grounded.” He’s happy the storm has passed and the whole experience has allowed him to practise what he preaches. “It’s a matter of principle,” Fresh says. “Don’t be embarrassed to see what you believe in. Sometimes we are afraid of losing our jobs and are too worried about what people will say. “Stand up for what you believe in and carry the cross.”