702: Vitriol dims the radio’s star

After losing 10% of its audience, one of South Africa’s biggest talk radio stations says it is shifting its lineup. Old presenters — such as Eusebius McKaiser and Joanne Joseph — have left and new ones are being announced. 

But there appears to be more to the movement of personnel than has been announced. Instead, people both inside and outside the Gauteng-based station are talking of a purge. 

This week, the station unveiled seasoned broadcaster John Perlman as its new voice for the afternoon drive-time show. This was met with a mixed reaction, not because of Perlman himself, but because he was essentially replacing a black woman — Joanne Joseph — who has a similar show and a similar grasp of current affairs. 

The Mail & Guardian has established that Joseph’s contract was due to end in June next year, but was abruptly canned because of alleged differences with station manager Thabisile Mbete. 

Joseph’s departure, as well as that of Aki Anastasiou, is similar to that of political analyst McKaiser (who also writes comment and analysis for the M&G) earlier this year. There are allegations that the company responds with indifference to people who challenge the status quo at 702, or demand changes in facets such as production value. 


Eusebius Mckaiser
Eusebius McKaiser

According to the Radio Audience Measurements (Rams), the station has dropped from 440 000 to 401 000 listeners over the past 12 months. The station has also told its staff that there will be salary cuts, no increases and no 13th cheques this year. 

This is a reality for much of the media industry. In the past few years media companies have found themselves at odds with their staff members over retrenchments and cutting salaries. This has happened at Media24, M&G Media Limited, Arena Holdings, Kaya FM and other media houses. 

The Primedia Group, which owns 702, has had no permanent chief executive since the unceremonious  departure earlier this year of Omar Essack, who opted for a settlement with the company. 

Essack, as previously reported in the M&G, left amid claims he took personal leave, with the company’s chairperson saying he had decided to pursue other endeavours. However, this is alleged to not to have been a true reflection; sources now claim Essack was forced out.

Although Joseph and Anastasiou refused to comment, McKaiser has charged that the station has no space for presenters who challenge the status quo, demand top-quality producers and hold those in power accountable. 

“The truth is that I left because Thabisile [Mbete] didn’t provide me with the nuts and bolts that I needed to flourish. When I told her about the resources I needed in terms of producers, she just then made it my problem, as if it was impossible to find anyone, because she claims my standards are too high,” said McKaiser. As a result of not getting the calibre of producers he was looking for, being sick and having spent six months not talking to Mbete, McKaiser decided to resign. 

Those close to Mbete have, on the other hand, claimed that decisions made by the station were informed by research that showed that some listeners were unhappy with McKaiser and Joseph’s treatment of their listeners. 

The proposed retrenchment of 70 employees has also created fear among staff. This was made worse by a public spat between Anastasiou and management in a meeting in which the former produced evidence of alleged improper conduct against himself by management.

A source sympathetic to station manager Mbete said: “In reality, the culture there of people who have the talent who have left is that they have a vendetta, but also these are sort of the things that the station doesn’t want to air because it is their dirty laundry.”

Two senior staff members admitted there has been instability in the company for some years, and that this has translated to young talent finding it hard to thrive at Primedia. This has also led to questions about the board and how the station is being positioned. They cited the decision to replace Joseph with a white man as part of this repositioning, adding that the station was shooting itself in the foot. 

Primedia Group’s chief business manager, Geraint Crwys-Williams, dismissed the allegations, saying, “We also believe that our new format and personalities will be key to attracting a new listener base looking to connect with shows and presenters who align with their interests and deliver a quality radio experience. 

“Change can seem challenging, [but] we acknowledge that it is an unavoidable constant … How we step up to embrace that change is what makes the difference between a sustainable radio brand and one that stagnates,” he said. “At Primedia Broadcasting, we know that it is our ability to hear what the market says, adapt swiftly and make courageous decisions to meet listener demand that will gear us for long-term success.”

The internal problems at 702 are not unique to the broadcast industry. A long-term decline in the commercial model for media, exacerbated by the economic effects of Covid-19, has left radio, print, online and television outlets scrambling to try to find a way to survive. This, in turn, has created strife inside organisations. 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Thanduxolo Jika
Thanduxolo Jika

Thanduxolo Jika is an investigative Journalist and Co-Author of We are going to kill each other today:The Marikana Story. The Messiah of Abantu.

Related stories

Steenhuisen remains simply the best

With reference to Eusebius McKaiser “The DA’s next leader should have a diverse political toolkit” (Mail&Guardian, September 23)

McKaiser needs to challenge his inner racist too

COMMENT: Clicks - or some of its employees - demonstrated culpa, not dolus

Eusebius McKaiser: A letter to us people who live in the suburbs

The Covid-19 lockdown means wealthy citizens must take a long-overdue look at our privilege. Now is the time for cross-class solidarity

Steenhuisen is a shoo-in as DA leader, but he needs help

The biggest challenge for the next leader of the Democratic Alliance will be to get politicians like Mbali Ntuli onside

Let’s talk about workplace racism

It cannot be that, 25 years after democracy, young black professionals still have to deal with racism. We owe it to the next generation of young black professionals to expose even the subtlest forms of discrimination and racism

Don’t be distracted by liberalism debate

Unless it’s centred on egalitarianism. And the political left can’t guarantee equality either
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

WSU suspends classes and exams to avoid the spread of...

The university says it has to take the precautionary measures because 26 students have tested positive on its East London campus

Ithala backs its embattled chairperson

Roshan Morar is being investigated in connection with KwaZulu-Natal education department backpack sanitiser tender worth R4-million and a batch of face masks that vanished

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home

Entrepreneurs strike Covid gold

Some enterprising people found ways for their ventures to survive the strictest lockdown levels
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday