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Man who made vernacular radio popular

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Fred Afune, programmes director, Royal Media Services. Photo/DIANA NGILA

Fred Afune, programmes director, Royal Media Services. Photo/DIANA NGILA  Nation Media Group

By JACKSON BIKO

Posted  Thursday, November 29   2012 at  17:07

In Summary

FRED AFUNE, PROGRAMMES DIRECTOR, ROYAL MEDIA SERVICES

BIO

Age: 38

Education:

  • Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) (University of Nairobi)
  • CPA
  • Creative Diploma (AAA School of Advertising, SA)

Career

  • Copywriter - Century Grey Advertising
  • Senior Copywriter and AV producer – MCL Saatchi
  • Creative Director - McCann Erickson
  • Programmes Director – Royal Media

Accolades

  • Numerous Advertising Creative Awards in Kenya, SA and Singapore
  • Honorary Warrior Award - MSK
  • Set up 14 radio stations for Royal Media Services.
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It’s no secret that before Fred Afune came onto the scene, vernacular radio was as dead as a dodo. He turned FM radio local at a time when the hullabaloo of radio was for, as he calls it, “the wanna-be city dwellers.” Now he boasts of running 14 local radio stations, with the 15th (for Turkana County) in the pipeline.

The irony, however, is that for the dynamics of radio to change, it had to take someone - not from mainstream media – but from advertising.

A copywriter to be precise, because that’s what he was before he got into radio. And before that he was an accountant with an auditing firm, a job he laboured in as he nursed his dream to be a writer.

Meet Afune in person, and his success in radio is quickly explained by the fact that he’s a simple and regular guy.

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An accountant. What was that all about?

Oh yes, pressure from parents. But in my hearts of hearts, I always wanted to write. I wanted a by-line. I found journalists really cool.

One day, I saw an ad in the newspaper that was looking for copywriters at Century Grey Advertising, I applied, got the job and the rest, as they say, is history. Plus the whole suit and tie thing just wasn’t my thing, man. (Smiles).

How did you make vernacular radio sexy, or is that a secret for the vaults?

No. Being in advertising helped. There was a way we would profile consumers that I didn’t quite agree with because I remember that back in the day, I’d spend a lot of time at Kengeles ABC, a happening place back then.

I would see guys dunda-ing there until morning, and realised they were staying until morning in order to catch a matatu to town yet this was supposed to be a high-end joint.

Then on a loose Sunday, I would go eat nyama choma at Dagoretti, and there I’d see guys park luxury cars, drink soup from tin cups and sit on stools. And yet this was supposed to be a joint for the C1s etc.

I realised that we were getting the profiling all wrong. It taught me one thing; that money is a generational thing, in Kenya, we might acquire more but essentially, we still remain who we are.

Ah, so you are saying if you used to go to Choices Bar then you run into some money, you’d still be that guy who goes to “Choi”, yes?

(Smiles) Yeah. Habits really don’t change much. Most Kenyans live in the estates, talk about the economy, football, land prices, school fees etc. That’s the daily conversation, I decided to take those conversations onto radio by taking normal guys and training them to talk to people in the same way they would talk in their respective areas.

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