With over eight years of experience in radio, Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi has endeared herself to the hearts of Nigerians with her shows on both Cool FM where she started and now, Beat FM. With her ‘say it as it is’ persona, she has fans tuning in to say their most honest of thoughts on air.
Now, also in charge of programming for the Beat FM’s sister station, Naija FM, Gbemi has managed to climb up the ladder to be the one calling the shots. Having studied Communication at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, Gbemi returned to Nigeria in 2004 to find good fortune in an industry that seemed it was just waiting for her.
With a passion for TV as well, Gbemi is still in the process of producing her own talk show and decided to speak to BN in a tell-all interview about what to expect from her as well as sharing her opinion on some very interesting topics.
“To get into radio, you do not need a foreign accent”
How did you get into radio?
I would say that it’s almost by accident. I returned to Nigeria at the end of 2004 right after my graduation from university in the United States. When I got back, I started serving at NTA, Victoria Island and I noticed that my work hours wouldn’t start until after noon. So, I felt I should get a part-time job at maybe a radio station just to see how it is because what I really wanted to do after school was to become a news anchor on TV. I thought that people who used to read the news were just so cool.
After sending a letter, CV and everything, I got a call. I was basically to assist in editing the news at Cool FM. You know before the news is read, it has to be collated, compressed and edited; so that was what I was doing for some weeks. I was basically an intern and I would work from about 6.00am till noon.
One morning, I walked into the Cool FM studio to hand over the news to Dan Foster. I introduced myself, asked him a few questions and we started gisting. When it was time for his show to start, he goes “Don’t go anywhere, sit here; here are headphones. Let’s go on air”. And, that was it!
The next day, I went to my news desk to continue writing and he came to look for me. From then on, I started doing the morning show with Dan Foster. I was his co-anchor for about a year until I got my own show. And, I’ve been doing radio ever since so that’s about eight years in the business now.
How did you go from being Dan’s co-anchor to gaining a big enough fan base to host your own show?
I don’t know. I think it just happened. I came onto the radio as Gbemi, myself. I’m very sarcastic and blunt so I would just say what I felt. It wasn’t to be mean or anything. It was just – look! Let’s be real. This is what it is; and I think people like that. At that point in time, a lot of people were returning to Nigeria with loads of accents and I was just like – ‘Hey! I grew up here. I was born here. I cannot go to yankee for five years and just come back and be like yerrr sirrr’ (laughs). I mean, there are some inflections here and there but it is what it is.
Most people who get big doing radio usually make a swift transition to television. Have you dabbled in TV or have any plans to?
I have actually done some TV. I did the ‘win your dream’ promo with Celtel back in 2007. I’ve done a few TV projects here and there albeit more of freelance. I’m working right now on my own television show. It’s a talk show titled ‘Gbemi’ where we’ll be discussing everything that affects us as human beings – human interest stories, entertainment, everything. It’s not just going to be me seated with a celebrity every week. There are serious stories I think we can talk about and explore and that’s what I’m looking to do. I’ve always wanted to do the TV Thing. I greatly admire Oprah, Funmi Iyanda, Adesuwa Onyenokwe and Mo Abudu.
What’s going to make your show stand out from all the other talk shows out there?
I think that, first of all, we all need to accept that there is no topic that has not been discussed before. Every topic you can think o f has been discussed, one way or other, both locally and internationally. What I’m bringing to the table is how I tackle these issues and topics. I can’t go into too much detail but I’m sure if you search online, there’s a photo of me with a bald head and you’ll find out why very soon. It’s just a sneak peek of what I was tackling that episode. I’m going to be very involved and go a little deeper, scratch beneath the surface.
Not many celebrities have been in the entertainment industry for this long and have remained somewhat scandal free. How have you achieved this?
I called Olivia Pope to save me from scandal. I’m joking. I think it’s because I’m very into my work. I’m what they call a workaholic. Even when I’m on vacation, I’m thinking about what work to do. So, there’s really been very little time for scandal. It doesn’t mean I’m not a human being or that I haven’t done some things wrong. I’m just more focused on my work, I guess.
I was once labelled as the most anti-social OAP because you would only see me at work functions and I never used to come out for anything. The only time artists would see me was if I was interviewing them in the studio. You would never catch me at events. But, around 2009, I decided to start coming out a little bit more. I’m working on it. I’m trying to be a little more sociable but at the same time, I’m not trying to be in your face all the time. I believe in making your work talk for you.
Talking about the impression a lot of people have of you as anti-social, words like ‘rude’ or ‘mean tend to spring up in conversations, how does that make you feel?
I’m amused (laughs). I’ve heard a lot of people say to me – “Oh! You’re actually cool oh. I had the impression you’ll be this mean b****” because you don’t really smile and sound very straight-arrow.” But, at the end of the day, I’m just me; maybe I’m not as friendly as people want me to be. I don’t make friends like that. I kind of have to study you first before I welcome you to my ‘inner circle’.
I’m just very work-oriented so I cut out all the small talk in between. I don’t open up to people just like that. I think it’s also because I don’t like the ‘fakeness’. Let’s be honest, Lagos is full of fake people with fake lifestyles and I really don’t have time for that. I am just Gbemi, simple and short; trying to hustle, trying to make it.
I also think a lot of artists think I’m standoffish. I try to be as cordial to everybody in the industry no matter how big or small but I feel that the point where I start to become ‘best friends’ with you, it might affect my work. Think about it, am I going to keep quiet about a certain artist’s scandal because I’m friends with you? Or, should I do my job?
Are you in a relationship right now?
With Jesus Christ.
Do you think this perception has pursued potential suitors?
I think any suitor that doesn’t make a move based on what he has heard really doesn’t deserve the prize in the first place. If you really want someone or something, you wouldn’t just rely on hearsay. I think you would try to get to know the person and find out for yourself.
Do you regularly get propositioned by artists?
Of course. I can’t even begin to mention names but of course. Some seem very genuine and I briefly consider but nah! I’m very terrified of getting involved with anybody in the industry, especially artists. Hypothetically, I date Artist A and it doesn’t work out and then move on to Artist B and it doesn’t work out; before you know it, people will start to collate everyone that you’ve been with and you certainly don’t want to be industry p****.
Should I take it that you have never dated an artist?
No, I haven’t.
How do you feel about marriage?
I think that our society is very obsessed with marriage. It’s funny because I was reading Chimamanda’s book “Americanah” and no spoilers, but marriage is one of the first three questions anybody would ask you about. I have no problem with marriage. I just think that people need to relax and take their time because this thing is for life. A lot of people just think about the big ceremony, getting their parents off their back and not wanting to be the single one in their thirties.
Back to artists, have you ever been paid to play an artist’s song on your station?
Payola is illegal. I think when you do that you put yourself in a compromising position because it reflects on your playlist. You start to play songs not worthy of airplay because you owe somebody something. No, I don’t do that.
When it comes to you on the red carpet or at events, there are always a lot of mixed comments regarding your style. How would you describe your style and how do you handle the criticism?
I’m not going to pretend I’m some fashionista and say that my style is eclectic this and that and that. I just want to be comfortable and look nice. In terms of style, I don’t think anyone has had hits all their lives. I think even the most stylish and popular people have had misses. I look at some photos and I’m looking good in dresses I thought I didn’t like and vice versa. It happens. You can’t look 100% all the time.
There’s nothing wrong with being criticized if it’s constructive criticism; like looking at someone’s picture and you go, “I think she should have worn different shoes with that outfit” as opposed to “what kind of ugly shoe is that?” I think people are rather aggressive when it comes to comments on websites and blogs. I call them ‘keyboard warriors’ and half the time, these keyboard warriors have nothing going for them so why bother about who is saying what behind this anonymous persona. At the end of the day, they don’t affect my bank account so God bless you all (laughs).
Some people are of the belief that on-air personalities are really not celebrities. Can you shine some of your perspective on this assertion?
I think it’s left to people to decide for themselves who is a celebrity. People are always going to argue with you if Kim Kardashian is a ‘worthy’ celebrity. There are different types of celebrities. Back in the day, you had to be an artist, an actor or actress to be a celebrity but things are changing. I’m really not bothered about that because I didn’t get into this business because I wanted to be popular. I got into the business because of what I like and what interests me and what makes me happy. Let me give you an example. Let’s look at a bigger market, the US, for example.
Wendy Williams is a very well-known name, even before she got into TV, and she had years and years of experience in radio. Look at Angie Martinez, Miss Info, Funkmaster Flex, Big Boy – those guys have been on radio for years and they are celebrities. I’d say they are celebrities. They might not be on a Beyonce or Jay-Z level but they are celebrities for their work and for how much they have contributed to their industry. I think your work should speak for you.
In that case, would you say that the OAPs who become ‘celebrities’ are the ones who have worked the hardest?
Absolutely not! I think that right now people (the audience) recognize only what they get to see. You don’t necessarily know what is going on in the studio. Because you hear me for four or five hours a day, you don’t know what I’ve done for the rest of the twenty four hours of the day. A lot of people assume that I just roll out of my bed at two o’clock because my show is at four and saunter into the studio, talk, play music and go home. If you do that in this industry, you will starve. I do a lot more.
I own a company called Speakerboxx and we have worked with loads of artists with their music careers. For example, when it comes to radio or video plug-in, we do that. We do PR. We also do CSR for companies and I’ve been running Speaker Box for over five years now. So that’s one aspect of something I do. I also MC events, weddings – there are so many things that I do. Anytime I get a chance to talk to young people trying to get into the industry, I always tell them, “please don’t believe the hype. Eighty percent of our industry is hype. You have to work and work hard. Even those who are very very popular had to put in a lot of work.” Everyone has one, two or three side hustles. I’m the queen of the side hustles.
I normally use social media to sell goods, from rechargeable fans to women’s shoes, but I’m bored of those now. Don’t think that because one person is more popular than another, that one works harder. There are a lot of quiet millionaires in this industry as well.
The past few months have somewhat been ‘endorsement season’ as a lot of people in the entertainment industry have snagged themselves new deals. In recent times, those deals formerly reserved for actors and soccer stars have started getting to musicians and media personalities. Are you in talks with anyone?
I’m in talks with a few brands right now. We’ve been going back and forth with the negotiations. I was a brand ambassador for Soulmate hair products, myself and Kel. Like I said, we’re still in talks. You also have to be careful what brands you endorse so the terms work best for both parties.
You have a very close relationship with fashion designer, Kunbi Oyelese for AprilByKunbi. How did you meet and what is the relationship like?
Kunbi is a very close friend of mine, if not my closest friend. I actually met her at Cool FM back in 2006 or 2007 when she came to intern there. I think that she’s a fantastic individual and I’ve watched her grow. I sat with her when she applied to fashion school. It’s just good to see both of us doing what we love and we encourage each other as much as possible.
On the topic of side hustles, you’re involved with ‘The naked convos’, a forum where people tend to explore very sexually explicit topics openly. How did you get into this and why are you so passionate about it?
(Laughs) I’m laughing because you made it seem like that is all we go there to talk about. First of all, it came about when my partner, Wale Adetula started this as a blog. The reason we chose that name is because we wanted to create a forum where young people could speak their minds and ask questions on a lot of things that are really not talked about at all in our society especially. We like to all pretend that Nigeria is a conservative society. We’re not conservative at all. We are very pretentious. But, that aside, there were lots of questions and loads of young people seeking answers and this blog created a platform for that to happen. And, it has grown a lot, from just being anonymous names on a screen to showing up to events to openly talk about our realities. We’ve been doing this for about two years now and all our events have been wildly successful. The naked convos is not a sex thing.
Even if you admitted to being a workaholic, you must have a few pastimes when you’re ‘off-duty’. What are they?
Chilling with my friends, drinking wine, watching movies… I love my reality TV shows and I am the chief of the ‘Scandal’ fan club. I love food. I think anybody who doesn’t like food or music is odd or has something wrong with them.
It was great chatting with Gbemi and from BellaNaija, we wish her the very best!
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