In the world of journalism, the most visible faces are those of those on television. Those in other areas hardly get to be seen and you could quite easily fall in love with a writer or an On Air Personality without ever meeting the person. Those that own the voices and pens hardly get to be seen and they most times never bother about this because it generally makes life less complicated for them and they don't have to struggle to impress anyone or live above their means in order to fit into the conventional stereotypes of stardom.
Most faces behind the voices and pens are also rather shy and when exposed to situations outside the confines of their broadcast studios and libraries from where they talk and write, they are most times shocked back. At other times, a fan or an admirer who comes in contact with them is left disillusioned because the person they get to meet is a sharp and unpleasant contrast with the persona they have grown to love on air or in print.
You won't feel disillusioned when you get to meet Azaria. You will only notice that her rather petite and beautiful stature is struggling to contain the large amount of warmth and friendliness cocooned inside and that she is also unsuccessfully trying to convey them to you all at once. We had fixed this interview to coincide with her first anniversary on Top Radio in May but because of her very busy schedule we had been unable to do anything up until now. She drove down to our office in Ogba, Lagos on a rainy afternoon last week and we talked.
Her real name is Oluwakemi Asekun-Isu and she is the host of Azaria In The System on Top Radio 90.9FM. Her station being one of the most popular urbane radio stations in Lagos, makes her one of the most popular On Air Personalities in Lagos. She is from Epe in Lagos State and her first stint on radio was with Eko FM while at the same time writing for the online portal of Ghetto Radio, a station based in the Netherlands. They were the ones that sponsored her to South Africa for a course in Basic Journalism and she returned to work at Radio Continental for a short time before getting on board at Top Radio in May last year.
Things were a little rough for her at the beginning but with the help of her boss, Mr. Lekan Onimole, she was able to survive those initial stages. He gave her some ideas and she picked up fast and since everyone at Top Radio had themes for the days they present, she also got some for herself and in the past one year, the evenings of every weekday has had these themes:
Money Mondays is a programme that explores how far one can go for some crazy amounts of money. People were coming up with various crazy ideas and some people actually had the impression that the money was available so she included “fantasy” to make it “Fantasy Money Monday.” “The idea was to take away the tension usually associated with Mondays and put some fun it,” Azaria says of the programme.
Peoples' Parliament came up on Tuesdays. It initially looked at politics from humorous points of view. They substituted actual political positions like the President with Class Captain and on that platform people could safely express their view. It went on till her boss once again came up with a new idea and the programme took a different dimension. People now talk about their localities and villages and how things are done in those places. Different topics like food, taboos, monarchs and so were discussed and the programme is quite enlightening and entertaining as people get to learn about areas that they have never been to before and how things happen over there.
Wednesday was Battle Of The Sexes which has now changed to Battle of the Opinions. “I have done Battle Of The Sexes for a year now and I feel it would be nice to change it. It used to have men and women voting on who does better when faced with different situations in life and more. Then depending on who wins, some advice would be offered to the losing sex on how to up their game. But the new format would no longer concentrate on competition among the sexes- a broader view would be taken at different issues in life.
Thursday is Gratitude Thursday. The idea came from Oprah Winfrey who is Azaria's role model. “When I wanted to go into broadcasting, I read a lot about Oprah and realized that one of the things she loved to do most was to be grateful. I also found out that most of the time we are angry and complaining because we are always looking at the bad side of things. I can sometimes be guilty of that too,” she says. “So I brought in Gratitude Thursday where people give testimonies of things that happened to them in the past week. It doesn't always have to be pleasant but one can be grateful for all things because it takes the decaying of the seed for the plant to grow,” she adds with a smile.
Fridays are freer and people can let down their hairs and have fun. The topics are lighter and funny and sometimes star guests come in. But when there are no guests, Friday evenings are still fun on Top Radio with Azaria. This is Azaria's day from Monday till Friday so what about her weekends?
“My weekends are mainly “Me” time,” she answers. “I love to stay at home surfing the net, “Beebeeing” my friends with the Blackberry and so on. I like to say I am an introvert and even though I am not a timid person but I am a bit shy. Then I love to read.
The mention of reading led to the question about her favourite authors. “My authors have evolved over time. I started to read Mills and Boon as early as my primary school days. My parents believed that the house was big enough for all of us to play in so they bought us a lot of books. At a point I had finished all the younger people's books in our house and needed to explore new grounds so I started borrowing from my neighbours and gradually go addicted to Mills and Boon and a few other romance novels I got.” The addiction grew and a lot of romantic fantasies followed until her brother caught her reading them and threatened to report her to their father. A deal followed and she would have to give him her piece of meat every night for an unstipulated period and he didn't tell their father. But he kept the book and brought it out anytime she tried to breach the agreement.
This was during Azaria's first year in secondary school but when she got into J.S 2 at Command Day Secondary School, Ikeja, she was almost killed by a train at Oshodi and her parents immediately withdrew her from the school and sent her to Federal Government Girls College, New Busa, Niger State. This put an end to the Mills and Boon and her brother's blackmail. She was later brought back to Lagos to complete her secondary school education at Lagos State Model College, Badore. After that she did a Diploma in Computer Technology at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife before studying Food Technology at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos.
So far nothing in her education has suggested a career in broadcasting. She has nurtured the passion with Oprah as her role model. She was into the marketing of wears before one of her friends and customers directed her to Eko FM and since Oprah started out on radio, she believed she was on the right path. And to further empower herself, she went for a two month course in Basic Presentation at the FRCN School in Ikeja GRA and also studied on the internet before the Ghetto Radio-sponsored trip to South Africa and gradually the dream is being realized.
Challenges: “None bigger than the fact that I have to sound happy and cheerful even when I don't feel so because I know I owe it to my listeners so that they can also be happy themselves. There is also the brainwork of having to come up with the right ideas and programmes on air and being on point all the time while I am on air. But I believe that people should always realize that there can be mistakes atimes but the fact that one always gives it her best shot all the time should be enough to make up for any mistakes.
Best moments on radio: Interviewing the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mrs. Sarah Sosan, in 2008 was one big moment for her and the fact that Mrs. Sosan even complimented her work made her day. Another high point was when she interviewed Chief Ajibola Ogunsola of The Punch and he sent her a text afterwards saying that he was impressed with how she handled the interview and that she would go far if she continued so. “That really blew me away,” Azaria exclaimed. “That somebody in the media could actually appreciate my work like that made me believe more in myself and I kept that message till that phone crashed.”
There has also been some low points too. One that sticks out for her was a day she had asked people to talk about the different herbal remedies used in their localities on the Peoples' Parliament but her boss asked her not to go on air with it because the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation could have problems with the topic. “It was very disappointing because if I had known, I would never had brought it up on air.”
Any romance? Yes, there's someone in her life but she wasn't going disclose him yet.
Future Ambition? To continue on the path of broadcasting with Oprah Winfrey as her guiding light. “I have always looked up to her and believe that I can go as far as I want in whatever I want to do by the Grace of God,” she concludes with a smile.