Thursday , March 23 2023
Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi: A radio maven of Nigeria’s modern era

Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi: A radio maven of Nigeria’s modern era

In typical lighthearted manner, Ayeye noted that when she thinks of the name “Gbemi,” only one person comes to mind. She also jokingly nudged Olateru-Olagbegi to consider trademarking the name. Ayeye might have been joking, but she was right. This writer grew up in Akure, Ondo State. He only moved to Lagos in 2014 for Law School.

Despite that reality, “Gbemi” was a thing across the South-West, and top of mind awareness for the name, almost always meant Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi. And this had nothing to do with her blood relation to the regal and legal Olateru-Olagbegi dynasty from Owo, Ondo State. Anybody who came to Lagos in the 2000s and the 2010s almost always wanted to listen to two women: Gbemi and Toolz.

Their fame wasn’t bluster either. For Olateru-Olagbegi, she was a combination of astute enunciation, sultry vocal texture, poignant sense of humour, effortless on-air swagger, original technique, analytical brilliance and humane edge.

More importantly, she was intense at her work and her success, and fame wasn’t handed to her for being a beautiful woman – which she is. In the world of Nigerian entertainment, objectification and elevation by sexuality reign supreme. But amidst the chaos, the mother of one managed to make the conversation around her, solely focus on her work.

She has interviewed all the Nigerian and nearly all the African superstars. Any international celebrity, who touched down in Lagos, almost always paid Beat FM a visit, to be interviewed by Gbemi. During one of those sessions, Nigerian-American rapper, Wale was a guest on her show in 2017.

Nigerians were particularly impressed with the way she called the rapper, Wale – like a proper Yoruba person. She ignored the subconscious tendency to call him, “Whaley,” like most people. But more importantly, to that chat, there was a familiar backdrop: Olateru-Olagbegi used her charm to ask some tough questions, in typical Angie Martinez-esque fashion.

Her technique was always simple: douse any tension in the room. Make the artist feel comfortable with banter, laced with warm remarks and alluring compliments, then hit them with lay-ups of hard-hitting questions, sandwiched between easier questions, all while wearing that famous, charming smile.

In a viral Twitter thread on January 8, 2022, she wrote that, “One of the things I know I will forever be remembered for is my interviews. I was able to ask the big celebrities the questions that others were too scared to ask. They answered these questions and would often reveal more! And they always came back!

She continues, “One of them said “I know you’re doing your job but I also trust you. You’re about your work and not trying to use me /my story to blow or clout chase. It’s like gisting with a friend. I don’t know [how] you do it.

“I never got into this industry to be popular or be an “IT girl.” So being friends with celebs was never ever my goal. Many celebs tried to get close to me but I would always dodge . I never wanted to be so close that I could not do my job anymore. Everyone was treated fairly.

“If there’s a great story about you, I’ll talk about it. If there’s a negative story , I’ll also talk about it. The thing about this industry is, if your goal is to be popular, it will show.”

These days, she can proudly toot her own horn, but her confidence is a product of years of grind.

On December 24, 2021, Olateru-Olagbegi made a cryptic post on Twitter, “About to make an important announcement on air. Anxious.

She then added a funny emoji.

Her announcement: after 16 years of sparkling service, that day was her last on radio.

The response was a mix of shock, awe and encomiums. It was the end of an era, for someone so synonymous with contemporary Nigerian pop culture via media and radio. But according to her, that decision was two years in the making.

In 2019, I started the year with the goal of resigning in December of that same year. So many unexpected things happened. A surprise pregnancy (and a difficult one too !), a painful miscarriage and major fibroid surgery months after,” she says in that viral Twitter thread. “It was a LOT! I wasn’t prepared.”

So I said maybe next year. 2020 smacked us all in the face with COVID-19,” she continues.

Such a scary year. I had no idea if I would even survive the year. And just like that, another surprise pregnancy! I was scared (as usual ) and determined to have this baby. So my focus was on survival & having a healthy baby & dodging the blogs! I did not want any blog in my business.

Olateru-Olagbegi rightly proclaimed herself to be, “One of the most influential OAPs in Nigeria.” For this reason, it was weird for some to see her live. Especially when you consider how she’s done other great things, while excelling on radio, building a repertoire and expanding her contacts.

But her reason was simple, “It’s time to do other things and give attention to my personal businesses and other hustles. I have had a great time, partied with rockstars, learned a whole lot & made some money. I have hosted radio shows, TV shows, events, organized events , created brands, worked on campaigns, acted, gotten a masters degree, signed endorsement deals, travelled the world!

“I want to see what else I can do! What other dragon can I slay? There is still so much more to do and so much to learn and I’m ready! It doesn’t mean I am not part of the media anymore or that I’ll never set foot in a media house again.

During her chat with Ayeye and Abudu on their podcast, this maven told her story. Upon completing her bachelor’s degree in communication at Oakland University, Rochester, Olateru-Olagbegi came to Nigeria at her father’s behest, to complete her mandatory year as a Corps member.

“I was posted to [Nigerian Television Authority [NTA] for NYSC] in VI and I started to cover stories as a junior reporter,” she says. “So junior, I was given all sorts of weird stories to cover. My most memorable one was about a family of mentally ill people who had turned Ahmadu Bello street to their residence.”

While serving at NTA, she began to work on the morning belt at Cool FM. There, she met the late Dan Foster, who took her under his wings, taught her a lot, gave her game, articles to read and mentored her. They connected so well that she appeared on Foster’s show, just hours after their first meeting.

Dan was a great teacher. He taught me all about radio. He gave me books and articles to read,” she enthused. “He pushed me to be a world class On Air Personality. He was really cool and never wasted time in telling me I had messed up if I did or [whether or not] my air check was on point. He was my teacher & my friend. And we quarreled ehn? [laughs]

One time we didn’t speak for months but we were co-hosting the most popular radio show in Nigeria! [laughs],” she continues. “We would banter on air and once the mics went off, we would ignore each other till it was time to go on again.”

She found success at NTA, but she thought that radio was her best option and stuck to it. She then pursued a Masters’ Degree in Communication at the Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, while juggling her job, assisted by the equally celebrated Do2dtun. Alongside OGs like Daddy Freeze, Olisa Adibua, Lakeside and more, she grew.

But Beat FM was where she truly became a celebrity, and a blueprint for Nigerian on-air personalities. She became the youngest Programs Director in the country.

“In 2011, I walked into the office ready to start my show & the MD informed me that I was now the Program Director of Naija Fm & Deputy for The Beat,” she says. “Naija Fm is a pidgin speaking sister station to Beatfm located in the same building. I was 27 and the youngest PD in the country. Also one of the very few female PD’s. I was heading a team of roughly 20 people who were mostly in their 30’s, 40’s & 50’s. It was tough.”

Alongside Oreka Godis and Toolz, she influenced the Nigerian pop music landscape, just as Afrobeats was rising fast.

If Gbemi tweets your song, chances are that you might get 10,000 downloads on NotJustOk. She also channeled her voice into expanding her conversations beyond entertainment. She began to host events and appear on the red carpet. A self-acclaimed awkward person, Gbemi was constantly slaughtered by blogs for her not-so-great sense of style.

But that didn’t stop her accent as the bags started to roll in. She was endorsed by tons of brands across different fields, and she excelled at the role. She then founded two companies, SpeakerBoxx Productions and Gbemisoke Shoes, to incredible success. She has also become an ace actor, in between marriage to Femisoro Ajayi and motherhood.

She is also the host of Off-Air Podcast, alongside Toolz.

Gbemi might have quit radio, but media will forever follow her. She etched her name onto the sands of Nigerian media times and her legacy has become a blueprint.

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