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Chat with the kings: Calvin Wanguku, Kevin Y. Brown and James Smart are in the business of producing great sound for online audiences but these are no ordinary podcasters. Each is accomplished in his own right as they share with Angella Nampewo
At the start of this month, a week after Nation Media Uganda launched its rebranded website www.monitor.co.ug, three guys jetted in from Nairobi to meet their Ugandan counterparts with whom they had been corresponding for months on the setup of podcasts for the Monitor site. Podcasts are digital audio files made available on the internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device. The three; Calvin Wanguku, Kevin Y. Brown and James Smart are in the business of producing great sound for online audiences but these are no ordinary podcasters. Each is accomplished in his own right. It was thus a super talented team that flew in to actualise a partnership between Afripods and Nation Media Uganda.
In podcasting, diligence is key and the show must go on because the listeners expect you to deliver and on time, something Calvin Wanguku knows only so well. He is a breakfast radio presenter at Trace East Africa and podcaster of “The mics are open”, currently rated the number one podcast in Kenya. The podcast which started in 2018 is finally reaping the rewards of prime time after a lot of work and investment. While that now wildly popular podcast started in 2018, Calvin as an individual began podcasting in 2014. Wanguku is head of partnerships at Afripods.
“The scene in Kenya has grown. I’d say in the past one and half years, it has blown up,” Wanguku says of the podcasting scene across the border. Now, for instance, over there, the question, “what podcast are you listening to?” is the equivalent of being asked, “What book are you reading?”
The crew of “The mics are open”, have known each other for years. “G-Money, my co-host on the podcast, and I worked on radio together for eight years. We just sit and open the mics and boom…but this is because we have been at it for a long time,” emphasises Calvin as he attempts to describe the connection that has grown into a brotherhood of sorts on air.
Kevin. Y. Brown
“With podcasting, your energy has to be up the entire time,” says Kevin Y. Brown, the award-winning entrepreneur, international speaker, radio show host and author. The former MTV host has created an international following as a speaker on personal excellence, effective communication and leadership across three continents.
As the host of the Create Your Life Series, a health and fitness podcast which has recorded more than 180 episodes, Brown has been featured by Black Enterprise magazine as a modern man of distinction and highlighted in various publications such as Inc. magazine and Forbes for his work.
Kevin is currently the CEO of Podcast Laundry, a podcast production company that has produced over 700 episodes with more than 15 million downloads for its clients. He is also the chief content officer and head of strategy at Afripods. He has been in podcasting since 2015 and was on radio in New York.
In person, Kevin is contemplative and picks his words carefully. He swears by the right branding. So if you are creating something or starting a venture, he will tell you it must look and sound right in order to reel in the right audiences. He practises what he preaches. On the Apple podcasts preview for his Create Your Life series, there is a gripping shot of him mid-air, flying over some railing in his avatar. On Apple, Kevin’s podcast has a five star rating; meaning that customers are extremely happy with it and to quote one of them: “AMAZING, AMAZING, AMAZING! This podcast is absolutely amazing. It has added value to my business. This podcast truly helps me “Create My Life!” Thank you!” And this is out of more than 100 ratings; a mean feat, if you dabble in the world of online rankings. Customers are rarely so happy with you that they will give you five out of five.
“To me, the personal evolution should never stop. You should always be getting better and always pushing yourself to become something more. It’s like you are shedding your whole person,” says Brown in the intro of the 187th episode of the Create Your Life series.
In true style of personal evolution, Kevin Brown took a trip around Africa and along the way decided on a change of scenery from his American roots, thus settling in Kenya. If you ask him how he feels about Uganda, he will smile and say it gives him the same vibe as being in the Caribbean.
James Smart is an experienced journalist, television anchor, and talk-show host. He has worked with BBC in producing its “Focus on Africa” broadcast, a flagship TV news programme that highlights stories from across the African continent. He has over a decade experience in working extensively with Kenya’s leading TV stations, including Kenyan Television Network (KTN) and NTV. Most notably, he successfully launched two of the country’s top television shows, #TheTrend and #KTNLivewire, which integrated social media platforms such as Twitter to enable viewers engage directly with the hosts and guests of each programme.
Most recently, Mr Smart conceptualised #Newssources for KTNNEWS, during the run-up to the 2017 elections he co-hosted #Afropolitico, a programme designed for online consumption with economics and political content connecting younger audiences with current affairs. As part of his media work, James Smart focuses on public opinion in government and politics, youth inclusion into participatory governance, social audits, and minorities’ representation in media.
He is currently the podcast editor at Nation Media Group and pioneers new formats for audio storytelling that gives primacy to slow journalism.
James Smart holds a Masters’ degree in International Journalism from Cardiff University, he is also a graduate of Berkley Media Institute and is a NED (National Endowment on Democracy) fellow.
He is a big believer in the potential of podcast to flourish in Africa because he says, “our societies are really good on audio and stories. It is natural for us to listen to stories. We have grown up listening to stories. A lot of great things that have built us, built our character and personality are things we have been told by our grandparents or passed on by other friends in the playing field,” he explains.
According to Smart, podcast is a very good space to think about the limitless opportunities there are in storytelling and also because of the things it is going to help us do: break some myths on how we do things, who we are and “explain ourselves to ourselves first”.
“I am so big on us telling our own stories because of the importance of where we are. It is not just us but the continent [Africa] is in a juncture whereby there is enough awareness for us to say, ‘who are we and why are we doing what we are doing?’ and that is such an important question that I do not think the previous generation had the time to grapple with,” he adds.
He believes that the partnership with Afripods works because “they are here and they understand who we are.”
“I hope that we can use these spaces that we have to dig back into who we are so that the reserve of what is really me and what is this thing that I share with everyone in that space so our podcasting space becomes a place for discovery, for the young continent, a place that we find expression and this media house becomes this space where we are not just purveyors of information as it goes but we are living in that juncture of trying to explain to everyone else who we are.”
The three podcasters
If you went looking for Calvin Wanguku, you will find the same loud, boisterous character you hear on radio and podcast; as big a personality on air as in life. What is the secret to this energy that never seems to switch off, you may wonder. Calvin has a straight answer to that:
“It comes from the school of radio,” says the breakfast radio show host, adding, “you are told, no matter what you are having…if you are having a bad day, look at it like a coat hanging at the door. No one tunes into radio to hear about your bad day. For me, it is a personal thing, when I do my radio show, it’s about creating a vibe.”
“At Afripods we are creating the largest library for African stories on the continent,” says Wanguku, explaining that this will help imprint the image of Africa on the world in much the same way as we can visualise places in New York as seen in the movies.
While radically different in some ways, the three guys; Calvin Wanguku, Kevin Y. Brown and James Smart are connected by a common strand. If you were looking for a description that fits all three, I would say they are straight shooters, which is no accident because that is one of the basic ingredients of a good podcaster; you have to be authentic. Be yourself and audiences are more likely to trust you.