Outgrown platform:Incisive journey of Caroline Mutoko, The Queen of Radio


Outgrown platform:Incisive journey of Caroline Mutoko, The Queen of Radio

Outgrown platform:Incisive journey of Caroline Mutoko, The Queen of RadioThe Queen of Radio Caroline Mutoko calls it a day after 14 wonderful years ruling the airwaves

The day I hit “send” on my executive challenge to Harvard Business School is when I knew without a doubt that I was ready to take on new challenges. My mission was simple — what do I do with my experience, contacts and leanings and how can I make a bigger impact in the country, region and on the continent?

It’s hard to say to anyone that you feel that the platform you sit on is small given the size of your dreams. It seems almost arrogant given that for many the Big Breakfast was as big a platform as there can be. But I had outgrown my platform; I needed to chart new waters. From about two years ago, every time I interviewed someone I thought had zeal and passion for the job, I always said the same thing to them: I am looking for my replacement. I said it to Lynda Nyangweso at all her appraisals, I said it to Adelle when I met her, I said it to Mwalimu Rachel, to Miss Mandi, to Joey — to anyone who seemed interested in career growth.

I’ll always look back to that “punch to the gut” conversation I had with John Ngumi. “Stop trading water and playing small, go to Harvard and shrink so you can grow again.” He is annoyingly right most of the time, so I went.

I have to admit that many years ago before Gerald Mahinda went to Cape town, he had told me the same thing — find a bigger platform, do more. He had just moved to Kenya Breweries Ltd from Standard Chartered and when I asked him if I should take the job at Kiss, he said “sometimes you have to move horizontally to move vertically.”

My journey is full of people gasping and ooohing and aahhhing simply because for them, things are linear and when you land somewhere that most people think is the very, very top, they expect you to stop growing. How? Why? I will never know.

I got into radio at a time when people mumbled about “now, what sort of job is that?” A great job, a fun job and it paid better than my banking job — yes, even back in 1997.

I started off doing the traffic update twice an hour for three hours for John Wilkins. I also inputted data into the radio software system, scheduling the music, fetching coffee for Phil Mathews and wow, running the desk between 9am and 10am on the “count-down” hour for Phil. No talking, just pushing buttons. I voiced classifieds with the amazing Eric Ndavi.

I finally got a show “The Jam” — yes, I created it. The idea was to “darken” the playlist on Capital because it was far, far too white. I was the token black on-air; I knew it and didn’t care. I had a show. I worked Monday to Monday. I also had a Saturday show with Sean Cardovillis — Saturday, Music and Sport and when that didn’t rock my boat, I got a Sunday show — the Groove Thing, more “dark” music.

To hear William Pike and Patrick Quarcoo speak, that’s where they first heard me and decided they wanted to hire me. Lesson: be awesome where you are. The stupidity of most radio presenters today is that they are waiting to get a prime show to be awesome. How short-sighted. Be awesome on that show you do now and you will be noticed.

When I came to Kiss 100, same mumbling started. She’s a girl; she can’t make it on morning radio. She sounds too young (same BS I see people floating around about Shaffie and Kalekye). It was said very openly that being black, female and under 30 meant there was no way I was going to succeed (wanna bet?). Morning radio success was male, white and over 40 (Phil Mathews). In fact I was meant to crash and burn in three months. In six months we were number one and we never looked back.

I have always carried a double or triple docket. Because of the nature of the business when we started, my GM ( Martin Khafafa) and I did almost everything. Martin did the music research input and I read out the figures to him. We went to sales meetings to try and convince the very intimidating George Lutta et al to give us revenue then we came back and wrote out the proposals and presented them. Those were 14-hour days. A 12-hour day in my world is a breeze.

I was senior presenter and head of Sponsorships & Promotions. I got tired of that after six years and with my usual “can do” manner , I asked my then boss if I could have the deputy programme controller position. There wasn’t one. I tend to create the position I want. I had been offered the same by Royal Media (I will always be grateful for the vote of confidence from SK Macharia for a girl who was barely 28). Hell broke loose at my request to be more. My boss commandeered a walk out, slandered me and then quit when senior management made it clear he should take up a group position and appoint Maina Kageni and myself programme controllers for Classic and Kiss respectively. Lesson: Your need for growth will threaten some people. Carry on.

2007 was my year of phenomenal awakening. I weathered the John Wilkins fallout, grew our numbers beyond our previous year with a simple campaign “The Kiss 100 Big Wedding”. Then came the elections and my perception of the job changed radically. The violence coming from the elections, the long hours, the sheer mental exhaustion from figuring out what to say on-air and how, changed me forever.

The 24 Hours for Kenya campaign in 2009 grew my mental muscle once again. I remember being awed as TRM at Nakumatt said yes to the idea of a 24-hour famine relief campaign in 10 minutes, Abbas Gullet setting a target for collection and Radull, James, Jasmine and Pete going along for the ride, all the while thinking (I could see it guys) she’s nuts! Shaffie was just petrified. I recall how happy he was that evening when we hit the target of 100 metric tonnes of food and surpassed it.

I don’t do regular and even when I make bold decisions, I have thought them through, prayed about them and then surrendered them to succeed. When we embarked on the second phase of 24 Hours for Kenya and we roped in another 14 radio stations across the country, my negotiation skills were tasked to the limit. It’s tough to be Radio Africa, to reach out to others and all along convince them that we need them. My biggest lesson ever in leadership: Make everyone part of the doing and the success, but be clear about where you are going and how.

When I took up my third docket as Group Marketing Manager, I did so once again to ensure there was more to my repertoire than just “senior radio presenter”. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but your resume needs more — do more. There are people who resent the fact that I refuse to tosheka with where I am, but I truly wonder why they think that we are allowed to “arrive”. Arriving is the beginning of the end and especially in our business.

As Eric Ndavi once told me, this is the single most thankless industry, the world over. If you don’t keep growing and moving and evolving, you are destined to end even as you kid yourself that you have arrived.

So my coming off The Big Breakfast (forget the lunatics saying I have left Radio Africa) is something I have wanted and worked towards for a while. I love starting conversations and shining a light on amazing, exemplary people. I need to regroup and figure out how I can continue doing that on a larger platform and better. I have been bitten by the oil, gas and mining bug. I realise we are not having the right conversations about this phenomenon, if at all. I want to pursue my role in that story.

But to the job at hand as chief marketing officer. Our business environment has changed drastically. Our clients need new media solutions for a new day, a new generation and a new time. What worked 10, five or even two years ago isn’t really working anymore. We need to find new ways to connect and add value. That’s my job description and my purpose. Launching Radio Africa 3.0 is my not just my dream, but my mission. Challenge accepted. Let’s go to work. A new chapter unfolds and I’m already there.



Outgrown platform:Incisive journey of Caroline Mutoko, The Queen of Radio


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