NO doubt, broadcasting on radio (Metro FM, Lagos), and sometimes on TV, has brought Cordelia Okpei a measure of fulfilment. But Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME) Reporter of the Year 2011 and broadcast trainer and coach to budding broadcasters is convinced there is more to be done to help focus Nigeria’s pool of young talents. To drive this, Okpei has a collaborative project, Road to Fame, which she will roll out soon to help youngsters with talent in the entertainment industry, especially those who have vague ideas, on how to employ such talent to good effect.
“Road to Fame is a project targeted at those young people interested in show business,” she says in a recent online encounter. “It is designed to act as a handbook and guide. My partner and I hope to work with a lot of known names in show business to tap into their experiences to make the dreams of talented young people come true or get some direction. We will be using all arms of the media, especially through well thought-out radio and televison programmes plus one on one mentoring, too.
“This will be of great benefit to young talents because there is hardly anybody taking time off to show them the ropes. We can't run away from the fact that show business is a strong force and source of livelihood now.So, let's help as many as possible understand it. There are too many misguided artists out there, crashing and burning. If we can save many more before they hit the limelights, why not?
“Also, we’ll help budding talents assess and access their inert gifts. By the way, it is not a reality show. Reality shows leave a lot of them high and dry... We want to give them a life after the reality shows. It’s foryouths who have dreams of becoming stars. They need a knowing hand to guide them at the intial stage and even beyond.”
Nevertheless, Okpei is worried about her profession and what latter-day entrants have turned it into. But she is not alone in mulling the decline in broadcast standards in Nigeria’s airwaves. Former artist manager and columnist, Benson Idonije shares the same concerns as Okpei in agonising over poor presentations amongst the nation’s new breed of ‘on-air-personalities’ (OAPs) or presenters, especially with the advent of Frequency Modulated (FM) stations across the country. The Metro FM presenter argues that most latter-day presenters and media owner have all got it wrong in their perception of broadcasting.
First, Okpei strongly believes that most of those who open stations have their eyes fixed only on the gains to be made rather that service to the community. As a result, they fail to train their staff and out the right things in place to enhance broadcast professionalism. For those recruited to man these stations, Okpei says, fame is the first consideration. She argues that in their pursuit of fame, the OAPs have resorted to a wrong, and indeed, a terrible mix of diction and elocution that rings so false and unnatural that it jars on the eardrums of listeners.
She submits, “It truly is sad what is happening to the industry and I believe a lot of the blame is at the door-steps of people who get the go-ahead to start stations with nothing on their minds other than the gain they hope to make. They have no idea what the rudiments of the trade are and so believe it is all about having on-air-personalities that speak with American, British or 'Ambrit' accents.
“That is an error for it is not all about the accent. It is about speaking right and that can be done with just a clear accent. Now, all the accents are blended (Ambrit). Have you ever heard a Western or European OAP trying to speak with a Nigerian accent? Unfortunately, this is what some of the stations want. Aside that, they employ without proper training and so you end up hearing strange things on air.
“For instance, I had an encounter with a 'producer' who didn't have a single idea what production formats are. He already had his wings spread out and was even giving me attitude. Worse off, someone was already calling him, a five-year-old producer, a ‘veteran’. Now, tell me what he would agree to learn and what hewould impact on the trade. I was so upset, and was so anxious about the next generation because this is a bad trend. We see a lot of freshers who just want to be OAPs because they want to be famous. Haba no naa!Broadcasting is more than fame...it is a means of change”.
Like every sector of economic activities in Nigeria, Okpei believes broadcasting has its own challenges, with lack of training being first on the card. For Okpei, the change-agent role of broadcasting places it in a peculiar position where monetary gain shouldn’t be the reason for setting up business. Although she started her broadcasting career as an amateur way back in Benin City in the early 1990s with many awards already in her kitty, she still yearns for more training to better equip herself for the job for its onerous change-agent role for society.
So, she asserts strongly, “One major challenge is training. Stations should invest more in training their staff to be abreast of new trends in programming, proper diction, work ethics and so on. No man is all-knowing and so we need to train and re-train. Even though I am also a trainer, I’m still looking forward to more personal training to horn my skills... If not, stagnation sets in; which is bad.
“Also, content is a problem. Owners of stations and OAPs shouldn't just see the tool in their hands as a money-making one. It should be seen as a solid means of making the society better. We are change-agents and the mere fact that when we speak on the air thousands stop to listen to what we have to say, should make usimprove on the content we churn out. The youths can be turned to the right things by us; governments can quiver because of us and a lot can happen based on what we say on the air; so let's do the right thing with the right content, especially at a time like this when a lot of people are loosing faith in their leaders and life generally.
“Focus should not just be on entertainment and foreign content. That is a major challenge now, too. Finances are adding to the problems we have because a lot of us are poorly paid or owed salaries. That is not a way to go”.
At the Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME) held in December 2011, Okpei, who is from a broadcast family, emerged winner, DAME Reporter of the Year. She says while the award is a sign of appreciation for her work, it also means more responsibility thrust on her to do more to uphold the broadcast profession, stating, “Hmmm, it means a lot. It also means I am appreciated and my work is speaking for itself. And as you know, with any award received, one is expected to work harder to prove it was not a fluke. And,as for what the broadcasting world should expect, the answer would be a lot more professional work that would keep the spark alive”.
For Okpei fulfilment in broadcasting is seeing those she has trained performing excellently while she watches, saying, “My fulfilment comes from watching people whom I have groomed, one way or the other, doing very well in the industry. I watch younger producers and presenters, especially in my station (Metro FM) striving for excellence under my watch and that makes me glad. But the major trip will be when I eventually get my own project running. That I am so looking forward to”.