The Socio-Cultural Impact of Private Radio in Ghana: A Review of Philip Nyakpo’s book, Absolute Radio
By Dr Jerome Masamaka
Title: Absolute Radio: The Inspiring True Story of the First Private Radio Station in Ghana’s Western Region
Author: Philip Nyakpo
Published in Paperback, eBook (Kindle) and as an Audiobook (read by the author)
Year of Publication: September 2022
Place of Publication: Perth, Western Australia
Number of Pages: 370
Availability: All Online Bookstores Worldwide, including Amazon
WhatsApp: +61 493 219 774
Book website: www.nyakpo.com.au
Philip Nyakpo’s book, Absolute Radio, presents a thrilling historical account of how the Sekondi-Takoradi based Skyy Power FM evolved from a modest experimental beginning to transform the socio-cultural lives of the people of the Twin City of Ghana’s Western Region.
For Ghanaians who grew up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was not coup d’etat and civil strife that shaped their consciousness of what Ghana stands for. Along with the hip-hop culture that captivated Ghanaian youth in the early 1990s came a new and equally intoxicating fascination: private radio broadcast.
Ghana’s first private radio, Joy FM, began in 1995 and ushered in a new era in which radio broadcast moved beyond trite state-sanctioned programmes to become an avenue for passionate political talk shows and vibrant infotainment. By the mid-2000s, private radio broadcast in Ghana spawned a new subculture of socio-political awareness defined by trendy music, comprehensive coverage of local and international news, feisty political debates, and euphonic radio commercials.
Star presenters in those days include Komla Dumor, Doreen Andoh, Kwaku-Sakyi-Addo, Gabe Adjetey, Bola Ray, Fred Chidi, Fiifi Banson, Kwame Sefa Kayi and Bernard Avle. Private radio became the new gatekeeper of political and social norms among the emerging middle class and among millions of young people across Ghana.
In as much as Joy FM, Radio Gold, Peace FM and Citi FM are considered among the pioneers of Ghana’s private radio revolution, Philip Nyakpo’s book suggests that the Sekondi-Takoradi based Skyy Power FM rivals, and probably upstages, the Accra stations in terms of transformational impact on the socio-cultural life of local audiences. Absolute Radio chronicles the influential role that Skyy Power FM played in revitalizing an enduring sense of socio-cultural belonging in the Twin City.
The book recounts how the station started as an audacious experiment by its young founder, Wilson Arthur. The reader will enjoy the detailed insight Nyakpo provides on the Station’s early operational challenges and breakthroughs, its instant connection with the people of Sekondi-Takoradi, its pool of talented presenters who became local and national celebrities, and the station’s remarkable commercial successes.
One of the remarkable elements of this book is its biographical commentary on an array of young women and men who spent their formative years at a radio station, being nurtured into an industry that was as exciting as it was new.
Absolute Radio has 44 chapters, averaging six pages a chapter. Nyakpo’s page turning technique comes from his fusion of fictional narrative devices, such as suspense, episodic plot arrangement, and factual retelling of events of which he was an integral part.
As he explains in the introduction, Nyakpo invested a lot of time interviewing dozens of his former colleagues across four continents. As a result, each chapter features a biographical overview of a key presenter who contributed to the success story of Skyy Power since its inception.
One such chapter, (chapter 15), features Naa Adoley Thompson. Titled “From Skyy Power FM to the White House,” the chapter recounts how an 18-year-old Naa Adoley walked into the studio of Skyy Power and found she could only work at the reception. When the host of the first children’s programme, Skyy Kiddie Time, failed to turn up, Wilson Arthur called the young receptionist to stand in.
Naa Adoley performed incredibly well on that first show and earned the role of the substantive host of a programme that shot her into instant fame. As she reveals in the book, that success as host of Skyy Kiddie Time gave her a remarkable exposure as she later moved to the US to work at the White House during Barack Obama’s presidency. Adoley Thompson’s experience with Skyy Power is just the kind of underdog success story that is repeated throughout the book.
One important aspect of this book that students of media studies will find useful is the insight it offers on Skyy Power FM’s socio-cultural impact. Public figures such as the Paramount Chief of Essikado, Nana Kobina Nketsia V, and the former Member of Parliament for Sekondi, Papa Owusu Ankoma, were excited about the new station and gave it a stamp of approval. Sekondi-Takoradi music legends, Papaa Yankson and C. K. Mann were also fond of Skyy Power FM, according to Nyakpo.
The support and approval of prominent personalities in the Western Region helped to position that first private radio station as “the people’s station” and not simply a private business enterprise.
According to Absolute Radio, Skyy Power brought a new enthusiasm for radio as “every small shop and business” and household in the Twin City tuned in to 24-hour nonstop programmes in music, news and talk shows. The station brought a fresh urban subculture and the Paramount Chief of Essikado acknowledges this when he says “Skyy became a place that educated us and informed us … [The Station] helped this city to stand on its feet.”
Millions of fans of Kofi Kinaata, a native of Takoradi, would be happy to find that Skyy Power had a positive influence on their music superstar. Kinaata recounts that “Skyy brought a lot of artistes which we did not know to Takoradi.
My childhood memories would be incomplete without Skyy” (p115). Chapter 14 is devoted to Kinaata and readers will enjoy fascinating details about his relationship with the station. One of the book’s appealing qualities is how it presents Skyy Power as a communal radio station that had an instant appeal to the people of the Twin City, including young ones such as Kinaata.
Another thrilling aspect of Absolute Radio is how Nyakpo presents the Chief Executive, Wilson Arthur. The reader will see that Wilson’s entrepreneurial ingenuity, managerial acumen and marketing skills were key in the ultimate success of the station. When Wilson consulted a few people that he wanted to establish a private radio station in Sekond-Takoradi, he was told that it made no business sense.
With the support of his wife and older brother, Wilson ignored the warnings and embarked on this ambitious project with meagre resources from his CD rental business in Accra. Though starting off on a limited budget, his frugal lifestyle, smart hiring and convivial demeanor were key in running the station successfully.
In addition to his business expertise, Nyakpo presents Wilson as funny, friendly and the main source of the easygoing atmosphere at the station’s working environment. Always casual when other bosses would rather be formal, Wilson was often mistaken for an employee rather than the employer.
This often caused embarrassment to people who walked past him while looking for the boss only to be told that “the gentleman in the shorts and charlie-wote is the boss.” As a business leader in a revolutionary industry and a man who shaped the professional lives of many, Wilson Arthur is certainly one of the key characters that readers will find interesting in this book.
Indeed, Absolute Radio is a thrilling story which might herald similar books in which media stations, such as Joy FM, City FM, TV3, Metro TV and Radio Gold, provide historical and biographical accounts of their experiences.
Ghanaians have long been accustomed to star broadcasters such as Komla Dumor, Fiifi Banson, Bernard Avle, Kojo Yankah, Winston Amoah, Mamavi Owusu-Aboagye, Manasseh Azure Awuni and Abeiku Santana. How did they become broadcasters? What were some of the interesting moments that made or marred their day? How do they ward off political pressures and focus on dispassionate journalism?
Philip Nyakpo’s book shows that there are more fascinating behind-the-scenes stories than what we hear from our favourite presenters on air. It is revealing to know that many of the well-known presenters in Accra, such as Blakk Rasta, Kojo Frimpong, Winston Amoah, Mamavi Owusu-Aboagye, Ato-Kwamena Dadzie, and Elloeny Amande actually started their career at Skyy Power FM.
The stories of media houses in Ghana are certainly not just what we hear on air. It is also the behind-the-scenes (the tensions, the frantic dashes to stay on schedule, the frustrations, disappointments and light-hearted moments) that occasion the production of each show. Some of these backstories are as hilarious as they are revealing. Nyakpo lifts the curtain on Skyy Power FM and thrills the reader with scintillating tales such as Ato-Kwamena Dadzie’s “irreverent” antics, Kojo Frimpong’s contest over food, and Elloeny Amande’s tears while covering the National Reconciliation Commission proceedings in the early 2000s.
Absolute Radio has given us a must-read diary of some of the fascinating backstories behind the successes of Skyy Power FM and its long list of talented broadcast journalists. This book is an insightful account of how private broadcasting has contributed to the socio-political awareness of the present generation of Ghanaians.