In 2004, Wilson Kitatta sat before Alex Mukulu. The latter was manager of Dembe FM and was interviewing him for a job. Kitatta, an upstart at the time, was willing to do anything to earn his place at one of the top local FM radios at the time.
He felt he had done his time on ‘small’ radio and wanted bigger listenership. Plus, he wanted a steady income. He was not going to take anything for granted though.
Unlike your conventional radio presenter who sits behind a microphone, speaks and engages listeners, Kitatta’s idea was different.
His experience as a stage actor had given him a chance to understand what people wanted to hear; many theatregoers were drawn in for comic relief. He found a clever way to present this on radio.
Kitatta planned to bring skits to radio, so when he met Mukulu he was ready to try out comical characters on air. His plus was he could speak a few local languages like Runyankole, Gishu, Acholi, Luganda and English.
After listening to his comical presentations, Mukulu decided Kitatta did the Gishu, one of the eastern Uganda languages, better. ‘Mayende, the quick reporter’ was born.
His lingua skill
The reason he is good at Gishu is a funny story.
“As children we had a Gishu neighbour called Wephukulu from Namulonge staff quarters. His son was my friend. I liked the way they spoke and I picked interest because they spoke like they had something hidden in their mouths,” Kitatta recalls.
Kitatta basically kept making fun of these people but little did he know that this mimicry could earn him a livelihood someday.
When Kitatta went on air, listeners picked interest in the jokes that he presented in form of skits. After a while, legislators from eastern Uganda picked interest in the hilarious presenter and befriended him. He was yet to meet more important people in this country.
“President Museveni invited me to State House in Nakasero in 2008 after elections to thank me for the skit I had performed during the campaign trail at Kololo Independence Grounds,” Kitatta recounts.
Kitatta was excited and could not have dreamt of meeting the president. From that day on, he took his job more seriously hoping to meet more dignitaries.
Rising through the ranks
He kept filling his creative brain with more jokes through reading newspapers, watching fellow actors perform and keeping his ear to the ground to find out what people were interested in.
But he is grateful to Bakayimbira Dramactors who gave him a chance to shine as an actor during the early 2000s, particularly because he had joined the group as a service provider.
“I’m a professional carpenter and I started out by constructing stage settings for Bakayimbira Dramactors. Andrew Benon Kibuuka realised I was a hilarious fellow so he started giving me minor roles to act in their plays. I proved myself,” Kitatta explains how he found space on stage as an actor.
Then he became Bakayimbira’s stage manager and for every stage construction he earned Shs100, 000. He knew this money was not enough to keep him going.
So, he sacrificed through saving and rented space in a container where he began a grocery unit that sold home necessities in Bwaise.
Kitatta says the urge to start business was born out of the fact that he had not studied beyond high school.
So it was one way to secure his future. When he began earning considerable profit from his small business, he enrolled for a course in radio presentation and production at Royal Media Institute in Wandegeya. What he studied spurred him on to look for a job on radio. He found placement at Mama FM and later on Kara FM.
He was happy to have a job but then he was not paid for his work.
“I worked for 11 months without pay. The station manager at one of the two stations was belittling, saying my voice was so low. I remember another manager telling me I was not radio material but when we later met at Dembe FM he told me that I was excellent,” he recalls, laughing it off.
He said the same manager had sliced his salary by Shs200, 000 saying he did not deserve being paid Shs600,000. Kitatta says much as he needed money, he was more focused on learning as much as he could about radio and planning a career in the field. Even then, he did not have a wealthy family to fall back to. He hails from an extended family of 21 siblings and two mothers.
“I had to sacrifice to chase my dream of becoming a radio presenter. I used to walk from Bwaise to Kisaasi everyday where Mama FM is located. When I got there, I had to create 10 skits per day. It is hard creating when you are hungry but I tried,” he explains about his initial days as a presenter.
From way back
“From childhood I had told my father I wanted to become a radio personality. He would quarrel with me for wasting his radio batteries as I listened to David Diiba Segawa, Willy Mukalazi kyobe and uncle Dick Mulima who were presenters on Radio Uganda. When the FM era set in, I switched to listening to Allan The Cantankerous of Capital FM and Omulangira Ndausi on Radio Simba,” Kitatta adds.
Today, Kitatta presents Dembe Taxi as Dr Mayes with Sam Gombya and Jennifer Basemera. He confesses being funny is not just his bread. “I was a stubborn and funny child who made my peers laugh. I also loved playing football,” he reveals. The 42-year-old is married with two children, a girl and boy.