Bongani Bingwa on 16 years of broadcasting

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Bongani Bingwa says a good radio host is someone who understands the listeners needs.
Bongani Bingwa says a good radio host is someone who understands the listeners needs.

He is the host of the breakfast show on 702. Before joining the radio station, Bongani Bingwa (47) was a presenter and journalist on the investigative show Carte Blanche. For more than ten years, he interviewed politicians, thought leaders, celebrities, and highflyers.

His passion for broadcasting began at a young age in 1993 when he worked as a presenter for children’s television on the then TV1. He quickly progressed to hosting adult content on shows like Your Own Business and DSTV’s Channel O.

Bongani has now been nominated for two SA Radio Awards in the breakfast show categories. 

“The acknowledgment from my peers and industry is massive - but the listeners of my show are the true heroes, they are active participants in the creation of the show and content, and I share this recognition with them,” Bongani says.

This year he celebrates 16 years in broadcasting.

“My first year on the radio was in 2005 at the community station, Radio Today.”

Working in broadcasting, Bongani says he's driven by a passion for the truth and story-telling.

While he seems to be a natural-born host behind the microphone, Bongani says hosting comes with its challenges.

“There is a pressure to get things right but no-one knows everything about everything, there will be times I am wrong,” he says.

“In a live environment, there are many times I am learning on my feet, discovering information at the same time as my listeners. Being honest about that helps or even at times understanding that many of them [listeners] are at the top of their game - from science and technology to security and business and many fields and quite often my listeners teach me too. A talk show host who doesn’t know that will soon be in trouble.”

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Even with his years of experience, Bongani still looks up to radio icons.

“I grew up listening to the radio as my primary source of news and entertainment. As a kid listening to Radio Transkei - the station with a difference,” he says.

“Growing up in the Eastern Cape, there were many legends from presenters like Patrick Dalindyebo to Mhlangabezi Malgas. They taught me about charm and drama; radio as the theatre of the mind,” Bongani says.

“There was the newsreader at the time, Sanuse Nqoloba whose command of the Xhosa language made him legendary.”

As a teenager, Bongani was obsessed with Radio Metro, Radio Bop, and Radio 5.

“I can still remember the line-up from 1989. So, the names Boogie Harry, Shado Twala, Treasure Shabalala, George Manyosi, Alex Jay, Kevin Savage, Phill Wright, Brian Oxley, Amanda Farrow, are still loud in my ears. And then of course 702 popularized the talk format - from John Robbie to Jenny Crwys-Williams, Redi Thlabi and so many others - to choose one would be impossible! I am a life-long student of radio,” Bongani says.

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He was born in the Eastern Cape and lived in Gauteng from the time he was 12 years old. He was drawn to radio when he knew that people just wanted to make sense of the world.

“People want to make decisions about their lives, their children’s future, their investments, their traffic routes, their entertainment, their education - all these decisions; some trivial, some of the great consequence and you offer critical information they may use. It is a grave responsibility,” Bongani says.

When he started on radio, Bongani believes he was naïve.

“I was young and naïve and was preoccupied with how I sounded rather than necessarily the content of what I said. I was untested and not battle-scarred and thought that if you were simply smooth you could get far - nothing was further from the truth.” 

Every day he learns something new on the job.

“I also learned that you have to believe in yourself enough to be unafraid of starting over,” Bongani says.

“Don't believe a single narrative about yourself. We are the sum of many parts and if you want something badly enough, your self-belief is your only limit. Don't be afraid of re-invention." 

He's been back on talk radio since 2017 and has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“Goodness me! I’m just getting in my stride. It takes a while to settle on radio and for the audience to get used to you. I feel that is what I have achieved but there’s a lot more gas in this tank.”

He lives by humility and respect and believes a good radio host can be connected to the lives of their listeners. 

“You are not speaking into nothingness, radio is intimate. You are with people most often when they are alone - in the car, on their earphones, on the bus, in their kitchen when cooking or in their workspace, etc,” Bongani says. 

“You get to think about, Why does your show matter to them? How does it make their lives better? Why are they choosing to spend intimate time with you? What’s in it for them? each show has to be able to answer those questions - it isn’t about you but the audience.”

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