by Wilfred Okiche
Augustine ‘Tintin’ Imevbore is the founder of iGroove Radio, the biggest and most influential online radio station on the African continent. He began his career as an intern and for more than 2 decades, gradually worked his way up the food chain.
He spoke with YNaija.com about humble beginnings, working with Beat FM, running an extra-terrestrial platform and why online is the future of radio.
Enjoy excerpts from the conversation.
The attraction to radio
As a child, I remember my dad used to listen to his massive Grundig satellite 2100 radio. He used to listen to BBC a lot and hearing how information was disseminated was quite intriguing to me. I thought to myself that one day I would like to own a radio station so I did everything in my life to stay close to the broadcasting world especially from the music point of view. Playing something that you love and sharing it with others for me is a great satisfaction.
It is a long way from dreaming about creating a radio station to actually owning one. The process
Owning a radio station or business does not come overnight. One thing we tend to do is jump from not owning something to owning it without having to do the work for it. It has taken me 25 years to own a platform. I started as an intern, started learning production, OAP, producer, advertising, commercialization. I worked at different radio stations in the UK, UAE, Spain, and Nigeria where I had the opportunity to work with Megaelectric the team behind Beat FM, Naija FM and Classic FM. I was programme director and was responsible for creating the whole crew behind Beat, Classic and Naija, I trained the presenters, did a lot of stuff until one day, after about 3 and a half years with Megaelectrics, I decided I was ready for my own thing. I got the finance together, built this place. From experience I knew what I wanted so it was easier. The whole baggage of my 25years has led to this. When you are passionate and ready to work hard at the same time, these things determine success
iGroove is a different kind of radio station, a pan-African station that is only available online. We enjoy huge followership all over the world. It was set up purposely to be a pan-African extra-terrestrial station
But your background is terrestrial
Well, the internet wasn’t always around.
But you could have chosen to do terrestrial, why not?
It is not going against the grain per say but going where the future is. The FM guys basically have to create an online platform to reach as many people as I am currently doing. There are not as many restrictions online, government isn’t telling you what you can or cannot play. I am a great Fela fan and I can play all the Fela that I want. We can penetrate with social media and use it to educate. Social networking helps us get statistics of how many people exactly are listening. Terrestrial guys have to rely on a random sampling that may be fictitious. Here we go to other sites that are following us and we get our real figures from there. I love statistics because it is a weapon that helps you monitor whether you are doing well or not. You can go anywhere with us and take iGroove with you because we have apps across all mobile devices. We have eliminated all the costs and government wahala and I am creating my own future. We are the future.
There is a wrong perception that in Nigeria we have no good internet. I have a device I carry with me. To be able to stream, you need a certain amount of bandwidth and that bandwidth can be derived from even your mobile phone. From your phone you can stream to the world, all it takes is a know-how and you can share. There are companies here doing well with the internet but people do not go out to find out which service providers are doing good. There are companies paying for diesel and ensuring there is stable service. We have been doing this for 2 years and have made sure that there is non-stop service over 24hours.
How iGroove works
People with iPhones and iPads can go to the apple store and look for iGroove radio, the app comes up, you download for free. On Android phones you have the Google play store or window stores. We are with everybody. 45million smartphone users in Nigeria are with MTN alone. Even CNN, Al Jazeera they have their own websites and app. There is a radio station in London, Choice FM and they have had this quote for years now, “Your network for the internet” which means they started early to direct people to the online station. I understand that for us, our level of influence has to be created in Nigeria but we will pick up. Nowadays the average mallam has 2 phones, crime has decreased because people can now report crime. This is a radio station that has no transmitter and no mast. It is the same as Beat FM but without these things. What we have is a streaming device or computer beaming our signals to the world. It is the same advertising we go after but we are offering a wider choice. We are pan African and so create content for different African countries in their own languages, we tailor shows so in Kenya, Ghana, Africa they can listen to their own shows in their own languages. There is no point doing a Pan-African show on terrestrial radio. We have audiences as far as Vietnam and it is beautiful to watch the spread.
Our biggest audience is in Nigeria, United Kingdom and USA. The Nigerian numbers are as high as these countries with steady internet and this speaks a lot. There is this common attitude here in Nigeria that when we don’t see something, we don’t believe it works. You’ll be surprised the amount of Nigerians that download music. People shop in their homes these days. We are offering people a choice.
It is just a matter of time. The beautiful thing is people want both an online and offline experience, they are 2 different things. A big company like Nigerian breweries sells Star and they only advertise in the evening because of kids. But online they can do so 24/7. So they have gone online to create apps and interactive experiences. Advertising executives are beginning to be receptive. It is a beautiful thing to always be a pioneer in life. When you do things first, people remember.
I cannot give you secrets. We all look for the same money from the same pool of sponsors but It is a lucrative business, I had to build it from scratch with my money and usually you don’t do business with your money but I love what I do and I have the know-how. I have 6 full staff and 10 presenters from around the world. It is a passionate place to be and without passion you cannot be here
Music drives the mood. Once there is too much talk I am changing stations. Unless there is something that catches me. People tune in to iGroove because they want to catch a particular show. We have different kinds of listeners at all times. We develop content to catch people. Sometimes in the mornings we play cool music which is the opposite of what the FM stations do because we have done our research and that is what people want to listen to.