25 years of radio broadcasting is not a child’s play. One needs to have something special to last this long, hence only a few have managed to reach this legendary milestone. Come to think of it, one may ask: are these iconic figures that have been on the airwaves for more than two decades celebrated yet? This is the question for another day, perhaps.

Nevertheless, should South Africa decides to honour these veterans with lifetime achievement awards, Takalani Jimmy Netshilulu – one of the longest-serving presenters at SABC Phalaphala FM with 25 years attached to his radio career profile – will automatically make it to the legendary list.

His famous voice on the radio has been in existence longer than the country’s 20-year-old democracy, matric students who are busy writing exams are younger than his voice behind microphone, the nation‘s popular music genres such as kwaito, house and hip hop music were born and found the presenter waiting to popularise them on his show. 

Jimmy – born and raised in Bela-Bela, a township currently known as Warmbaths in the Limpopo Province, before he relocated to Phiphidi village in Venda – hosts a popular afternoon drive show, Dzi a Orowa, at Polokwane-based Tshivenda radio station.

In his first exclusive interview, the dread-locked radio broadcaster – nicknamed ‘The Scratcher’ – shares his exceptional radio marathon with The Voice of SA writer, Shonisani Clifford Mukondeleli.

 What is your school background?

JIMMY: I started my schooling at Phiphidi Primary School. From there I went to Guvhukuvhu Secondary School and completed my matric at Mbilwi Secondary School. And then went to Venda College of Education (VECO), where I acquired my Secondary Teacher’s Diploma; in fact, that is what enhances my presentation, my radio work, because I also studied methodology, acquiring the skills of presentations which are now becoming handy for my radio career today.

When did the love for radio begin?

JIMMY: I’ve been a radio junky since I was a little boy because I would listen to the soccer commentaries and stuff, but then as I was doing my standard 9 and 10 (your grade 11 and 12 today), I went to radio stations to audition for the radio dramas and that’s where my radio career started. I would spend most of my weekends at the stations doing drama. I did others for the former Radio Venda – that is where I started producing those dramas, even though I was still a student, because I was very good at dramas; even at Mbilwi I used to do those [dramas], at church we used to do those dramas as well.

 And radio presenting?

JIMMY: In 1988, when I was doing my final year at VECO, there were auditions at radio Thohoyandou, where they were looking for a young aspiring radio presenter, I took my chances – unfortunately, I was not taken. It was only the following year in 1989 when I was doing my teaching at Mphaphuli Secondary School, the manager of the station Mr Isaac Dagada called me to say there are considering [having me on board] since they still remember what I did during the 1988 auditions.

That is when I heard that I came second to that guy who came first. So I had to take my time to think about it. I went to Durban with the learners because I was a sport co-ordinator for the school; while in Durban, I gave it a thought… I wanted a bigger class; I wanted to have fun at work; I wanted to talk more to more people, that is when I reconsidered to do radio and in 1989 I joined the former Big T (Radio Thohoyandou).

How did the nickname Jimmy ‘The Scratcher’ come about?

JIMMY: I was nicknamed ‘Jimmy the Scratcher’ by a Scottish educator because I didn’t have an eraser during the scratches. So I would just scratch instead of using an eraser to delete my mistakes – so she would say: “why don’t you use a rubber?” The other day she became furious with me for my habit and she said from today your name will be ‘Jimmy The Scratcher’. And then from there the name stuck with me up until today.

Was it difficult to start a radio career back then?

JIMMY: Starting my career or joining the broadcasting industry wasn’t difficult at all because I grew up wishing I could be in the showbiz. Radio was my first love, so I got hooked up, the only thing I was supposed to do was to prove that I can do it because if I wasn’t comfortable I wouldn’t do it. I don’t feel comfortable doing things I am not comfortable with, I don’t like feeling like I am taking chances, so I knew I would make it. It was only a matter of time before Jimmy was a household name in different quotas.

Looking back, do you think the current radio industry has changed much?

JIMMY: The dynamics in the radio industry have changed a lot because with us when we started, it was not all about money. You will remember the former Venda government didn’t have that much money to can pay well, but comparatively to teaching, it was far much better and I knew within the radio industry I had a chance to grow and keep on doing what I love, and even today I am still doing what I love behind the microphone. I am not yearning to be a manager or any other things; I just love production and presentation.

The difference comparatively to now, you would see that this industry pays a lot of money depending on what kind of radio station you work for. If you’re working for the commercial radio stations, you stand a chance of making big money, but PBS (Public Broadcasting Services) it’s not, but with me it is just passion.

Did you ever struggle with fame?

JIMMY: There are quite a lot of challenges particularly in terms of being famous, your behaviour wise and being a role model. At primary and high school I have always being popular, so I have never been taken away by being famous to a point where it starts bringing pressure to myself. I have always tried to tackle and be able to realise that being famous can be very-very stressful; so with my behaviour, I don’t behave like someone who is famous.

What keeps Jimmy going?

JIMMY: The love and the passion for doing something that I love so much, yearning to see people smiling and having a good time. You could take me on when I am on stage during gigs, when I grab the microphone, you would feel that the house changes immediately because that is what I am driving at, wanting to see people happy, that is my main and ultimate goal. Seeing people having a good time, enjoying themselves, quality entertainment, that’s what I am about.

Do you think young aspiring radio broadcasters have the staying power?

JIMMY: They don’t have staying powers, because they are not fully sketched entertainer. They lack the quality that moulds the real deal when it comes to being an entertainer. Your style and approach of presentation must be dynamic, you must always sound like you are new all the time, otherwise if you can’t, if you don’t prepare, if you are not up-to-date, you turn to be bored and ultimately lose the intact for a radio personality.

Do you fear competition from youngsters?

JIMMY: I am not under any pressure, except to say that there is competition these days, I can’t ignore that. There are youngsters that are coming up, but I dare them, I say come on, bring it on! If I was not improving, the SABC would have chucked me out long time ago, my man; I mean, 25 years on radio and you are still behind the microphone doing a prime time slot, it’s no by mistake. You have to focus, work hard and know your stuff, otherwise you will be bored and once you are bored, there’s no show, then they will chuck you out quickly.

The best memories of your career, please share?

JIMMY: I have quite a lot of best memories. From radio Thohoyandou to radio Venda to Phalaphala FM. Remember I joined radio Venda in 1993 after I was chucked out of radio Thohoyandou. Joining radio Venda, coming with ideas for different shows, slotting and stuff. You know during those days the PBS were using old ways of broadcasting, where you work in the morning, the next day you work at night, so I was part and parcel of bringing change to that kind of set-up.

During the 94’ – 95’ I played a role of changing radio Venda into Phalaphala FM as we were moving into the new dispensation. Those were my best days where things were changing within the country for the better, radio stations trying to align with those changes those days.

Sharing moments with artist of massive proportions, the likes of Stimela, Ray Phiri, the interviews we had with my main man Nana Khoyote, you know him as Koyote Mthijwana, may his soul rest in peace. There is a number of interviews we had with the Colbert Mukwevho’s, Hugh Masekela, Tshepo Tshola, great artists that entertained a lot during the apartheid era and during the new dispensation. There were great moments.

Your most embarrassing moment on air?

JIMMY: I’ll never forget that because usually it happens at the beginning of your career. I think it was on my second day when we went to the studio to do what they used to call observation. They would show how the machines are operated; I was with one of my colleagues who was well established. So instead of him organising me well before I could be put on air, I didn’t know that I was already on air, he had the microphone on, and he asked me something, and I was like ‘Ndiri mini?’ (What should I say?), and I was on air you know. The red light was on, and I was not ready; and the whole world was listening to me.

But it’s something that builds you. I don’t feel embarrassed now, but I was embarrassed then. When you start whatever you are doing, you will fumble, but that does not mean you won’t make it, particularly if you really want that situation to work for you. You really need to dust yourself up and pick yourself up and start moving.

This article was written by  Shonisani Clifford Mukondeleli for The Voice of S.A

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