Success is about making an impact, not money —Toun Okewale Sonaiya, CEO, WFM 91.7

Toun Okewale Sonaiya is the Chief Executive Officer of WFM 91.7, the first female- centric radio station in Nigeria,  aimed at promoting the voice of  women. In this interview with TAYO GESINDE, she speaks on why she is passionate about women and youth empowerment.


Foray into broadcasting

My father was a broadcaster so I was born into broadcasting. I grew up in the television environment in Ibadan and that of radio in Abeokuta. I would go with dad to the TV and Radio stations. Intrigued by the cameras, lights, microphones, vinyl and the great men and women doing their thing.  I was one of the children on kiddies’ radio at age seven on Ogun Radio. We got picked up early in the morning to the studio to record.  We read our poems, stories, sang songs. I was just a happy girl having fun talk on radio. As I grew older, I was allowed to co-present. I loved the radio setting and just wanted to be a part of it. While I was a student at the polytechnic and university, I continued to sit in with the masters on the job. I would leave for Abeokuta most Fridays then go back to school on Sunday evening. I’m very grateful for the opportunity given by Ogun Radio management for the hands on practical training. I did my youth service at the Ministry of Information, Ibadan and was fully involved in the production of two programmes; Spotlight and Insight for BCOS and NTA. After the service, I moved back home to Ogun Radio where I was fortunate to be gainfully employed and blessed to be part of OGBC-2 FM station as a continuity announcer, presenter and producer.  This was where it all started falling into place for me. The zeal, punctuality, preparedness, discipline,  passion, positive competition, learning, all under the tutelage of Olusesan Ekisola with personal mentoring and guidance from Mrs Moji Okubanjo. She was the benchmark for me then and I aspired to be her. DAAR Communications came calling and had the opportunity to be part of management. I was proud to be the 1st Nigerian to work at Choice FM now  Capital Extra promoting music of African origin especially from Nigeria. I produced a 13-episode independent TV series for OHTV London and the female voice for BBC campaign for education in Africa.


Most defining moment of my career so far

That would be the day we got news that  our licence had been approved. I was rolling on the floor in the hotel room humbled by God’s hand. I was in the hotel when the call came that the licence had been approved. I went downstairs and asked the hotel manager to please tell me I wasn’t dreaming. A licence we had been waiting for for a long time. I called my husband and brother to share the good news. My friends decided to celebrate and popped Champagne, I drank just water because I needed to see the license approval in black and white. So I waited the longest weekend that seemed like eternity to physically sight the good news. That was the defining moment for me so far.


Why I started a women’s radio station

toun-okewale-sonaiya-2In 2010, we had a vision for a female-centric radio station. There are many radio stations in this part of Nigeria doing very well. For one to break into the market, you have to do something different to complement existing radio stations. Different for us was a female-centric radio station. We saw an advert in a newspaper and we applied to NBC. I must acknowledge NBC because if it had not granted this licence, Nigeria will not be talking about operating the first radio station for women. Indeed the first commercial radio station in Africa and we are very grateful to God Almighty for the opportunity to chart this course. While waiting for licence approval, we did a study in 2012 on radio as a tool for women development. We wanted to focus on women and the family. We targeted corporate women, female students in tertiary institutions and small medium female entrepreneurs. The study identified a gap and indicated a need for women radio. It showed  only 17 per cent of existing radio programmes are targetted at women. 73 per cent of the women we spoke to complained that the (17 per cent) programmes on radio about women are not balanced. They were prejudiced, one sided and did not represent the total woman. The study further indicated these programmes focus on women being victims of domestic violence and struggling with parenting. However same study showed that while women may suffer domestic violence and need support with parenting;  they want programmes that discuss business, politics, money management, career and sport. Women who love sports shared their favourite football clubs. 77 per cent of the women spoken to said if radio programmes focused more on representing the total women, they will not just listen, they will participate. They called for more women in radio management, programme production and presentation to reflect and represent women from all  diverse backgrounds. We knew we were on the right course. Yes we prayed about it, we had the vision and we continued to pray. In 2013, a year after we completed the study, our chairman stumbled on a report on radio convergence and development in Africa by Oreoluwa Somolu of WTECH. Her findings kind of validated our study that there is a lack of women targeted programmes on radio. This informed our decision to float a radio station for the woman and her family. Women need to be more involved in radio management.


Operating a women’s radio station in Nigeria

There are no hard and fast rules about operating a women radio station in Nigeria.  A radio station is a radio station whether women, news, sport or entertainment. You run a radio structure and operate on radio equipment. It’s the programming that is different. Our niche is women. We encounter the same challenges that other stations and  businesses face; financial sustainability, need for basic infrastructure- uninterrupted power supply, running water and good roads. Being a new station that is women and family focused means we need to work harder to convince the listening public to key into the vision to garner the required followership which will hopefully translate into corporate endorsement and sponsorship. My colleagues play key roles in ensuring that the vision and mission of WFM91.7 are achieved and I acknowledge their hardwork.


Youth empowerment

I got into radio at the tender age of seven. If I was not given the opportunity and support from home, family and managers, I won’t be here today. The young are the future and the challenges faced by today’s youths are quite different from when I was growing up. However the fundamental values are and should still be the same. They need a lot of support and guidance in all areas: education, values, faith, finance independencce, vision, morals. A couple of months ago, we had a workshop The Financial Girl  for 50 girls between 15 and 30. They had practical hands on tutoring on being financially independent living a healthy lifestyle while saving or cutting out health bills, the importance of insurance to protect life and business, choosing a career path and to add value to life. Thank you to Bank of Industry, Sovereign Trust, MTN and Lagos State WAPA who alligned with our vision and gave the 50 girls the opportunity to learn and be prepared-benefits of living a healthy life, savings, dignity in work, having a vision and being guided. Every youth should be enabled to harness his/her skills and talents to pursue interests and dreams.

WFM91.7 runs the first youth radio on this side of Nigeria. It’s the “weekendtakeover” where they take over the management of WFM91.7 at weekends They produce and present their kind of programmes. The idea was initiated by my nephew. He called his friends and together, they carried out a survey under our guidiance. They came up with the name and programme style. Most of them are still in school and learning life time skills on the job.


Tips on how to have a successful career

For me, success is not about making money but making a difference, making an impact.  To succeed in anything, you need to work hard. Master your art. Check out what others are doing well and look at ways to improve. Tenacity. Continuous development. Certainly no need playing the gender card. Only play the card of hard work.  Above all, God in everything to suceed. A personal relationship with God to guide and order one’s step.


Curbing immoral decadence in our society

When I was growing up, it was not only my parents that disciplined me, our neighbours did too. You don’t even want to do anything wrong when your parents are not around because the neighbours will discipline you more. I was raised to respect myself as a girl. Integrity, table manners, sitting properly, etiquette, hometraining,  household chores, cooking, cleaning despite having househelps. Faith played a big role. Waking up 6am for family devotion and before 9pm network news. Being punctual for church service. Not that I enjoyed it. I actually found it boring as I hated waking up so early.  All these I took away from my parents, used and still using same yardstick for mine.  Dads and mums must take total control to raise good and Godly children.