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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reminisce: Remembering 101.9 Metro FM

By Pete R Njenga.
As I type this, I'm listening to Indian music on 101.9 FM (Nairobi Area), reminding me of the Metro FM I once loved and truly miss.

101.9 Capital FM

Back in the day, specifically in April 1996, Kenya's national broadcaster KBC started test transmissions for what many considered revolutionary broadcasting. The frequency was 101.9 MHz. The station was 101.9 Capital FM.

To understand why this was so important, Kenya had only one public broadcaster at the time - the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, ne Voice of Kenya (VOK). TV broadcasting was from 4pm till midnight, on Channel 4 VHF. Radio broadcasting was through General (now English) Service, KBC Idhaa ya Taifa and the Vernacular Service. All radio broadcasting was on Medium Wave (MW). Radio broadcasting was from 5am to midnight.

This new station would broadcast on FM and for 24 hours, seven days a week.

It is worth noting that the privately-owned KTN (Kenya Television Network) had since 1990, been transmitting on Channel 62 UHF.

98.4 Capital FM 

In August 1996, another private FM station commenced test transmission on the 98.4 MHz frequency. This station was headed by Lynda Holt.
101.9 Capital FM was then renamed 101.9 Metro FM and this second FM station took on the initial name to become 98.4 Capital FM.

The Original Metro FM

The original 101.9 Metro FM had a most interesting tagline: The Power is in the Music!
The music format was quite broad with specialist shows during the weekend. With few competitors, Metro FM had R&B shows, Ra and Hip Hop, Lingala and Reggae Shows. There was even a French Show hosted by one Kajuju Kaburia!

Other memorable presenters are veteran Jeff Mwangemi, Ann Lemaiyan, Tony Msalame (RIP), Yunia Amunga, John Karani and Josh Maiyo. And many others.

In all honesty, Metro FM was an amazing station. I kept praying and hoping that KBC would move the broadcast antenna from Broadcasting House in Nairobi CBD to the KBC Transmitting site at Rironi which accords any station better coverage and a stronger signal. For the record, the Rironi site is the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) designated official broadcast site for Nairobi and its environs. It is for this reason that KTN moved its Channel 59 to Limuru and ceased Channel 62 which originally broadcast from Nyayo House in Nairobi. At this point, I must loudly wonder why 98.4 Capital FM still broadcasts from Nairobi CBD (Lonrho House) instead of Rironi as everyone else is supposed to? ... I digress.

Sadly, this never happened until the bad stuff started hitting the fan at KBC and Metro as I'll explain later.

During a class visit when I was a member of Journalism Club at Mangu High School, I recall the Metro FM boss at the time telling us how much people love Metro FM. Which was actually very true. Advertisers too, loved it. It was competing for top advertising revenue spots with, and often making more than, KBC Swahili, Sound Asia (FM 88.0 MHz) and 98.4 Capital FM.

But as all things which are not built to last go, Metro FM's downfall was soon to come.

The Reggae Station

Thanks to bad management decisions and the rise of specialist radio stations, KBC decided to rebrand Metro FM and make it an all-reggae station. The day that happened, I moved on to other stations, for good.
At this time, the Metro FM signal became very strong and covered a much greater area, after broadcasting was moved from Nairobi CBD to Rironi in Limuru.

Blame it on my dislike for that particular kind of music, but the market too decided this was a bad decision. Make no mistake, Reggae and Ragga music is wildly popular in Kenya. I always heard it played in near all the 'Kitchen' parties next to my Hall 6 room in JKUAT. Heck, even Capital has a popular reggae show on Sunday afternoons (hosted by Ras Luigi). Ghetto Radio was much better at handling reggae than the all-reggae Metro FM.
Audience numbers plummeted and advertisers vanished.

The Funny, Final Fatal Change

Something needed to be changed, and thanks to management changes at KBC and the emergence of celebrity radio personalities, one Walter Mong'are was appointed Head of Radio at KBC. With all due respect to the Redykulass hero aka Nyambane from his days at Kiss 100, what Walter did to an already dying Metro FM can be considered very funny would it not have been so tragic. He decided to make it an all-girls station. Consequently, Metro FM became Venus FM.

We Want 'Metro' Back!

In this post, I personally add my voice to the many who once loved and now miss the original Metro FM. I must admit that I currently find radio in Kenya most wanting. For this reason, I often find solace listening to BBC, VOA and at times CRI. To a point, I even wish I learned French in High School, which would make RFI one of my favorites.

Other than the Morning Show on Nation FM, many radio stations often spew garbage and what I personally consider (and make no apologies calling) garbage. No intelligent talk. Lots of needless personal information. The same music over and over again. Mindless discussions and scripted phone-ins. Regurgitated news with no attempt to putting context to it. Merely reporting what we already know thanks to Twitter and the Internet.

I end this rant with a personal appeal to the higher ups at KBC to reconsider and bring back Metro FM. Not the original Metro FM but a radio station that will carry relevant music and significant amounts of sensible talk radio that will shape opinion, elicit topical discourse, shape perceptions, make a difference and ultimately add value.

Locally, that is what Bob Kioko and Zawadi Mawanda once did on Nation FM's Morning Drive. What Angela Angwenyi and Lorna Irungu-Macharia currently do every weekday morning on the Nation's Talking Point. That is what Julie Gichuru used to do on Capital Openline. What Jimmy Gathu did on The People's Parliament on Kiss 100 evenings.
Across the world, you can take a cue from ABC's Radio National, NPR, PRI and BBC Radio 4.

The 101.9 FM frequency is a scarce public resource entrusted to KBC by the government of Kenya.
Do the needful and use it to broadcast content that makes the lives of Kenyans better.