Kenya's leading audio-visual radio, Spice FM, turns four

The former President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, on Spice FM's lead show 'The Situation Room', in September 2021. [File, Standard]

From the very beginning, they were cautiously optimistic that the station would gain more than just a toehold in the market because they had identified a clear gap:

"Spice FM was born out of the need to clean the radio space and bring something that is very compelling, journalistically and entertainment-wise. We thought the Kenyan radio space was flooded with many stations but there were very few niche ones. Capital FM and a handful of religious or vernacular stations were as niche as you got at the time. Other than that you had a lot of stations targeting the mass market," says Japanni.

The Situation Room

One of the things that set Spice FM apart is its focus on in-depth journalism. The station's flagship show, The Situation Room, features four hours of daily conversation with a who's who of local policymakers, subject experts, a smattering of leading lights from across the continent, and occasionally, a President or two. The show has been praised for its tough but fair interviews and its willingness to tackle difficult topics.

According to Japanni, this didn't happen by accident:

"We set out to turn the usual morning offering on Kenyan radio, which is having a presenter and a comedian in the studio, on its head. Instead, we wanted to do serious, top-shelf journalism. That's how The Situation Room came up. We were seeking to influence policy and speak truth to power," he explains.

It's safe to say the bet has paid off. The Situation Room has achieved appointment listening status in a crowded field. Kenyans have grown accustomed to tuning in to the show on the radio, on TV, and via streaming to benefit from the banter of hosts Eric Latiff, Ndu Okoh, and CT Muga. The show's illustrious guests often comment about how they are honored to finally be in the "hot seat".

GM of Radio Products at The Standard Group, Tom Japanni. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Given the inherent newsworthiness of its guests every morning, The Situation Room often breaks national news, much to the delight of the station's dynamic news-reading team made up of the talented duo of Leah Ubaga and Dennis Aseto:

"Unlike many other radio stations, the news is read live on Spice FM, making it the perfect platform to break news on, especially for developing stories," says Leah.

Teamwork makes the dream work

In addition to its news and current affairs programming, Spice FM also features a variety of other shows that appeal to a wide range of listeners with a unique blend of charismatic and engaging hosts and DJs with a knack for old-school hits with their fingers on the pulse for new releases that have a taste of the old.

Japanni says this offering was also very deliberately thought out:

"On the mid-morning show, Sugar & Spice, you have the 90s sound and a lot of comic relief. On The Spice Drive where we brought back the likes of Edward Kwach with his baritone and really good presentation skills. And of course, on Saturday afternoons we have the great Jimmi Gathu doing his thing as only he can," he elaborates.

Yolanda Mulwa, co-host of Sugar & Spice (weekdays, 11 AM - 3 PM), attributes the show's triumph to the power of teamwork:

"I know it sounds like a terrible cliche' but teamwork definitely makes the dream work," says Yolanda.

The Spice Drive co-host Edward Kwach. [File, Standard]

"It's the unique selling point of presenting content that most people can't find anywhere else. It's about conversations that people want to have but probably don't have the platform for," he asserts.

Amulyoto, who is also a fixture on Sugar & Spice and on Jimmi Gathu Live, is grateful to the multitudes that have jumped on the Spice FM's wagon online because he remembers a time when things were different:

"We've moved from zero followers and zero subscribers to almost 900K followers and subscribers across all our social media platforms. Thank you for your support and keep sharing your feedback because that's how we grow" he says.

Spice FM's success is also evident on the monetary side of things, as the GM explains:

"We've done very well also on the revenue side. Spice FM has been able to break even," he says.

This was no mean feat. Sharleen Maloba, one of the Business Executives who helped Spice FM cross over the financial milestone, explains what it took to do it:

"It was not easy at first to sell to clients the concept of an audio-visual radio station but we kept at it and we were very persistent. The clients finally gave us one chance and we delivered," says Sharleen.

The beat goes on

In a world of monotonous radio playlists, Spice FM has also made a name for itself by upending the expectations of its loyal listeners. This is something that Brian Evusa, the station's acting Programme Controller, is very proud of:

"We looked in the market and saw a gap in terms of music because the thing that a lot of stations do is repeat their playlists over and over again. We try to keep it very fresh while still tapping into the nostalgia by playing Billboard hits from 1976 all the way to 2000. That is very unique," he explains.

Cheplelachbei Primary School pupils during a past tour of Spice FM studios. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Japanni is happy with how the station has become a permanent part of the media landscape and hopes to continue rewarding the trust and loyalty of the listeners:

"Spice FM has become part of society. I am very sure if you took away Spice FM today there's a huge chunk of society that will actually go up in arms. It's gained a lot of ownership through our audiences and even the guests that we host. Therefore, the only way to proceed is by doing good for society."