Not so big hitters beat odds in commercial radio
IN THE RECENT BATTLE for a commercial radio licence for Limpopo – that pitted high flyers such as Sello Rasethaba, Moss Ngoasheng and Nkwenkwe Nkomo against one another – you could be forgiven for discounting the Simphiwe Mdlalose- and Given Mkhari-led MSG consortium.
In fairness, they were up against heavy hitters in the black economic empowerment deal arena. If the trend backing the usual suspects – a turn of phrase coined to describe the same serial empowerment dealers who have helped themselves to high value deals – were a measure of progress, the Mdlaloseand Mkhari-led consortium stood no chance. Yet MSG triumphed against the odds. That pretty much sums up the rise of Capricorn FM, Limpopo’s year-old (yet SA’s fastest growing) commercial radio station.
“It’s sheer determination and the need to exploit an opportunity that prompted us to bid for this licence. I think regulator Icasa’s licence issuing officers weren’t really looking for big names but a consortium that had a compelling business strategy,” says Mdlalose, who is now CE of Capricorn FM. “Our research informed us of the need to create a station that would solely focus on the lifestyle of the province’s growing black middle class market.
“The SABC’s three radio stations – Thobela FM (which mainly targets the Pedi speaking group), Muzane Lonene (the Tsonga) and Phalaphala FM (the Venda) – didn’t adequately address the preferences of the middle class until we came on to the scene,” says Mdlalose.
While the three existing stations are splintered in their segmentation, Capricorn’s management elected to adopt the position of a unifier. In fact, the name Capricorn is derived from the Tropic of Capricorn, a line that cuts east to west across Limpopo province. “Some 70% of our broadcast is in English, with other African languages covering the balance,” says Mdlalose.
That racially inclusive strategy is telling in the station’s early successes. Barely 10 months into its launch Capricorn exceeded its target of achieving 1m listeners in September. Figures released last week by the SA Advertising Research Foundation show Capricorn FM – situated in the Polokwane suburb of Bendor – now has 1,5m of Limpopo’s 3,3m radio listeners.
“As a new entrant in the market we also focused on being innovative and fresh. That helped us to assume market leadership from launch date,” says Mdlalose. “We really changed the province’s radio landscape.”
Indeed, some of the feedback Mdlalose gets from listeners is that Capricorn has become a major feature and lifestyle benchmark in the lives of Limpopo’s people. The station’s breakfast show – hosted by former Y-FM disc jockey and TV funny man Shonisani “Ashifa Shabba” Muleya – is so far
Despite the challenges, the station has still
been able to attract notable
proving to be one of the biggest drawcards in Capricorn’s programming.
And there are awards to back Mdlalose’s claims to success and fortune. Early this year the station was awarded the Professional Management Review Award for excellence in overall entertainment. Another feather in its cap was coming second in the provincial Best News and Current Affairs category at a glitzy ceremony held recently. In a sure sign of projected growth, Mdlalose expects Capricorn’s current staff complement of 46 fulltime employees to swell over the next couple of months.
While the station has yet to make its maiden net profit, Mdlalose is cautiously upbeat. “The volatile financial market will certainly have a negative impact on the advertising expenditure of big corporates, but the situation should stabilise in the foreseeable future.”
Yet, despite the challenges, Mdlalose says the station has still been able to attract notable advertising heavyweights, including cellular group MTN, financial services group Standard Bank and pay-TV purveyor DStv, as well as both national and provincial governments.
“Our objective is to dominate the province’s radio landscape. Then we can go back to potential advertisers and say: ‘This is the kind of exposure we’re giving you.’ And we’re not behind in any of the targets we’ve set,” says Mdlalose, adding he’d been confident about the station’s popularity from day one.
In a move to broaden the station’s equity structure, both Mdlalose and Mkhari have significantly whittled down their equity in the company. Nearly 64% of equity has been disposed of to local community groups. It’s a strategy management hopes will give the local people some sense of ownership. But it also guarantees Capricorn a foothold in that market.
Shaking up the commercial radio landscape. Simphiwe Mdlalose