- With a background in acting and theatre, Gathoni’s radio career could be attributed to an encounter with a fan who fell in love with her voice. She’s become a leading voice in Swahili Radio, co-hosting the Staarabika and Maisha Countdown shows alongside Ann Njogu and Clemmo respectively. We speak to her on motherhood, the future of radio, societal expectations and more in this exclusive. Your background is in theatre, how did you get into radio?
I started acting professionally in 2013 at the Kenya National Theatre doing stage plays in both Kikuyu and English. I previously worked as a radio presenter in Eldoret under Reuben Kigame’s Fish FM soon after graduating in Mass Communication.
After one of my shows at KNT, one of the audience members called me aside and complimented my voice. He told me Tom Japanni was looking for someone lively to join a show for a new segment. I sent my email and was called for an interview. I waited for almost two months without receiving feedback and had already given up when I received a call to report to the Radio Maisha studio. I thought it was another interview but when I arrived, was told to go on air. I was so tense that first day but I started learning and growing into my role.
Most touching story you've heard on air?
I think it's a story of another lady who had endometriosis for 20 years. I didn’t understand how someone had lived with the condition but never gave up. Some things teach you not to be petty.
How has social media changed the way you work?
Previously, I didn’t post daily on social media because I might seem outgoing but I'm not. I don't like letting people in on my business so much. But now, people can keep tabs on me.
Is that a good thing?
No. It has become really hard to just be yourself. I want to board matatus just like everyone else but there’s a lot of pressure and societal expectations- but I'm never bothered. There's one time I met a fan in a matatu and later on, she inboxed me asking ‘kwani huwa unapanda matatu?’ But she told me she loved my humility and I was thinking, 'Oh, God, you guys have the worst perception of who we should be’.
What are some of the qualities that make a good radio presenter?
You have to be very consistent and authentic- you have to be original as you cannot be someone else, you don't have that space. Then you have to keep time because if your show is at 10, you have to be in the studio an hour before show preparation. Discipline and etiquette are also important- there are words you just can’t use on the radio. A good radio presenter must know their personality and stick with it.
What are some of the challenges you face when dispensing your duties as a radio presenter?
I'm very outspoken and speaking my mind can be dangerous- some things can rub off someone the wrong way. So I think the disadvantage is you sometimes have to overthink before speaking.
How would you describe working with Ann Njogu?
It's amazing- Ann has a very strong personality and she can come off as a bully. It's a good thing as she grounds you. But working together for the first time was hard and difficult. We worked hard on knowing each other and building that chemistry.
On your low days, how do you hype yourself before going on air?
I think a radio presenter is a part-time magician. I can't even explain how I switch into my radio role the moment that cue is on. I put all my worries aside- I think making that switch in an instant is one of the best things about radio and I love it.
What's the future of radio?
I believe that radio is never going to die. But we have witnessed a rise in podcasts giving radio a run for the money. I think generally, radio has become more negative as most stations talk badly about marriage and relationships. I believe a good strategy is vital in staying relevant and understanding your audience.
How would you describe motherhood?
It’s a scam (laughs). It's not easy especially for working moms but it's fulfilling. It is the best job I think I've ever done and not get paid for. Motherhood gives you purpose.
How do you juggle motherhood and work?
I don't have long hours on the radio so I plan my days accordingly. When I have to go back home I do it- sijipeangi shughuli sina.
What lessons from your late dad stuck with you?
My dad used to be worried about me constantly switching jobs- he could not understand why. I was always stressed and didn’t know how to rest. He taught me the value of patience and just going easy on yourself. Whether you have a family or not, you just don't deserve to die because you are working.
I'd love to host my show especially on a weekday and I believe that one day that dream will be realized- but I'm not planning on taking the show away from Ann Njogu.
Whatever you are doing, do it to the best of your abilities- you never know who’s watching. I approach each show like it’s my last one.