Antoine Mensah talks Live FM and career

In this interview with Gameli Hamelo, he opens up on career, music, and other interests, and growth. Full interview below. Congrats on winning the most dedicated employee award at...

In this interview with Gameli Hamelo, he opens up on career, music, and other interests, and growth.

Full interview below.

Congrats on winning the most dedicated employee award at the annual Dream Holdings Dinner award Night.

Thank you very much.

What does the award mean to you?

A lot, especially for someone like me who was with Vibe FM before it was bought and made Live Fm. I’d been struggling day in day out. I know a lot of people know the Vibe FM story, lol you go to work, Mondays to Saturdays without pay but you believe in the dream, you believe in the station, and thus decide to stay loyal despite the many questions that come your way.

Apart from the lack of pay, I got a lot of offers from different stations but refused them.; why? Well, loyalty I guess. I will say that at diff points in time it feels like your efforts may not be recognized, so the reward for me was more like them saying “hey we do see what you are doing; we do appreciate it and don’t ever think we’re taking it for granted.”

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Let’s talk about how radio started for you?

Choice FM 2010, right out of PRESEC (Presbyterian Boys Secondary School, Legon). Before that though, I’d been listening to radio but I never really thought I’d be in the industry like I am today. So yeah, early 2010 I was talking to one of my very close friends Esi Hammah about how we’d make a great pair on radio, this was during the one year break after high school.

She got a job with a company that was rebranding choice FM and recommended me for one of their shows, I did a demo submitted it and eventually got a shot at it. It wasn’t easy though, I flopped a few times.lol

And had pretty bad experiences with a few ‘big named presenters’ at the time. You know there’s this perception in the media industry, the big guns a lot of times feel the young promising ones must go through the same wahala they went through before they made it to the top. So they tend to put you through a lot of unnecessary stress and pressure. It’s all good though. You just take it as one of those challenges. There was a lot of discouragement but overall it was an interesting experience; I think overall I went on air two weeks straight at Choice FM doing the Drive Time.

Obviously the managers liked what they heard and kept pushing for me. But at the same time I was working on a ‘once-a-week’ show for Vibe FM (233 LIVE Show), so when that was ready, I made that move.

I hosted that show with Yayra Tay. Mr Lee (then general manager of Vibe FM) heard it, and he loved it, he then sent it to Mike Cooke, (now the COO of Live FM), he liked it as well and put us on air straight away! So every Saturday morning, it was 233 live show. I hosted that show for the next 2 years with a number of female co-hosts, before Vibe switched to Live FM.

During that time I was asked to sit-in for the regular host of Traffic Jam (evening drive) .I did, and the next week they told me, it’s your show. It was incredible!

I had the liberty of learning on the job which I did because I was passionate about it, going in and out. I often got a lot of negative comments but I loved where I was, the room it gave me develops my talent and the opportunities it brought my way. I did that two years, my first and second year in University, it was hard but again, I loved every bit of it. Next thing I know, we hear the station has been bought, and it turns into this (Live FM) it’s amazing!

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What has been the transition from the then Vibe FM to the current Live FM for you?

Well I had a hint from Mike Cooke, he kept telling me “Antoine don’t go anywhere, hold on, you will be blown away, you will be impressed with what I’m going to do to Vibe FM”, so I just held on (painfully at times). Next thing we we’re told we have new management and will have to go on a 4 month break!

I was actually sitting there at home just wondering when I was going to get back on radio. Then the new station kicked off with all the top guns. Imagine all the people I grew up listening to ; George Brun, Giles Bossman, Kwame Farkye Kojo Mensah, Jeremie, Master Jay, DJ Mic Smith, all at this one station! You can imagine the pressure it brought on me . You’re basically walking in a star studded office, day in day out.

For a long time I kept on calling them ‘Sir’ and it was strange. They kept warming up to me though, and I have to say big up to them, they’ve been great support. They helped me transition into it. Despite the fact that I’m working shoulder to shoulder with them, I still have in my mind those memories from way back , when I was listening to them. The ‘Top Dogs’of that radio era. I still maintain that same respect even working with them now.

It’s incredible you know, I sit down about it and go like “that’s Kwame Faakye, that’s Giles …” It’s a reminder that chale I’m blessed, a constant reminder to stay humble. I keep telling them about instances in my life when I met them. I remember approaching X FM at a point in time when Kwame Faakye was programs manager, he says he doesn’t remember.lol And Master Jay as well, in my days of wanting to be a rapper; I took my CD to him to play! I was part of this reality rap star show on Choice FM!lol Remembering all this is incredible.

When news started filtering in that there was going to be a change of ownership at the then Vibe FM, did you at any point feel like you weren’t going to make the cut?

At that point in time, no. I had that assurance from Mike Cooke you know. He’s a figure that respects loyalty. He kept saying “wherever I’m going I’m taking you with me!”, I was pretty much assured of finding my place at Live FM, but when I got here, with all the top guns in the building, I did doubt it a few times. I mean how exactly do you fit into that plan?

I was ready to accept whatever they gave me. I was going to appreciate whatever space or corner they put me in as I was ready to work my way back up. I was straight out of hosting the Drive Time on Vibe FM, which is one of the high peak spots on radio, but seeing all the people around, I didn’t think they put me in mainstream peek time just yet. And still being in my final year in Legon, doing a once a week show worked perfectly with my schedule. I was thinking ‘all things come for a good reason’ , if I did have a peek time show, consistency was definitely going to be a problem.…I was passionate about it, going in and out, no money, no pay

So when they called me and said we want you to maintain the Saturday morning position you had back at Vibe Fm, I was very happy with it. I loved it, and said “I’m going to do my best with that time slot”

Along the line though, I’ve been a general regular back up for all the peek time presenters. The experience has been great! If Jeremie, Giles or Kwame aren’t around, my voice is what you’re most likely to hear .

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Competition between Live and Y FM?

You have to correct that, that’s a certain misconception because Live FM is a station that … our tagline is ‘your lifestyle radio’, so we’re appealing to the lifestyles of everyone in general which includes both the young and old. You’ll realize in our programming that we have something that appeals to everybody. I guess because you have me and Kwame out there a lot, people relate us to the young market target that YFM also appeals to, but hey, we’re here for everybody! And I believe we’ve been able to send that message across through the events and other on-air activities we’ve executed.

I wouldn’t say one station is winning but I would say we are gaining a lot of momentum.

ENT LIVE? How different?

ENT, Entertainment Live, I just thought of a show that would actually be more than just the regular radio shows that you hear in the morning.

With ENT LIVE I like to emphasize on the live aspect where you listen to a show and enjoy different sound bites from different parts of the world. A lot of exciting interviews, different inserts. We also have our live Google + session where with the cameras in there which adds more to that live experience. The entertaining experience extends online as well, giving both the visual and the audio.

Impact?

With a lot of the artistes that I’ve met through the show, I’ve been able to maintain a good relationship with them. Through their song/album releases and other activities. I’ve been able to be part of their growth which is important to this industry.

Now the same show is picked up by Afrobeat 94FM in London same time as it airs here in Ghana, and I hear it’s going to be in other parts of Africa really soon.

Are there enough talents to make it on the world music scene?

The problem is how to go about it, how to manage it because whenever you meet the artists they always complain about the structures not being in place, that’s the main problem.

Giving them the help they need to actually go international. And it starts with little things like royalties. They getting paid from different aspects of their music apart from their shows. Proper management, proper copyrighting of their music, proper publishing of their music.

The structures really aren’t in place but we definitely have the potential. I think we are on that path especially with artistes like Efya and co, getting nominations from MTV Base Africa, event to the World Music Awards stages.

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Any other artistes you think can make Ghana proud on the world music stage?

Sena Huks, a lot of people may not know him, for a long time and he’s still underground when it comes to Ghana but in Japan, they love his music and you have the corporate institutions in there embracing his music. He was number on ITunes in Japan. There’s also Paapa Music signed to the Skillions doing great in the States. Sandra Huson , a jazz artiste signed to Skillions Records as well and Ofie Kudjoe. Mainstream you’ve got Sarkodie , Fuse , EL … I feel like we are doing it, if we collectively as the media put them out there the way the way we should be I’m telling you people would catch on quickly to what we’re offering the world.

Do you think Ghanaians artistes largely get the required support to succeed?

Not the way they should. I mean everybody is seen this attitude with Nigerians where they throw their weight 100% behind their artistes whether it be music or movies. They are into their country’s products. Ghana, it’s only recently that the president wore Horseman Shoes during the State of the Nation address and gave them props. After that, everyone was on Horseman shoes, all the corporate folks.

They recently launched and I was amazed by the people there, Horseman was there three years ago, but nobody was paying attention to them ,so it’s like until somebody gives somebody the necessary hype we keep silent and just pass by.

It’s left to the very few people who are actually pushing. If we are consistent enough we’ll definitely get there. Imagine if everyone was doing their part, not only music but the arts in general. I think it’s coming … the momentum, is building up. If it had being done earlier though , trust me , it’s incredible what we’d be able to do for our very own people.

Your take on Ghanaian artists and their understanding of branding?

A lot of them are now being educated when it comes to that. You see artistes like Efya, EL, Manifest, Sarkodie and Fuse; artistes who have associated themselves with managers who are keen on branding

Someone like StoneBwoy is picking up nicely when it comes to that. He’s got a live band he performs with now. He knows things have moved from miming and to performing with a live band. Okyeame Kwame is incredible with social media now, his growth has been impressive, at first he wasn’t that active but now he is. It’s become very necessary to connect with your fan base, so its encouraging to see the artistes prioritizing the need to brand themselves right.

We started as a radio show but all along we’d been working on events straight out of high school to university. So we decided to start a fully fledged entertainment that works hand in hand with artistes. We started with few events, we did the Unplugged Editions; 233 Unplugged with different artists. We’d take one artist, promote them or whatever project they’d be working on, at the end of that project they’d do a live show specially for their fan base.

We soon realized we had a lot of impact when it came to putting together shows and working with artistes. We were approached by different halls especially Legon campuses, and soon we got into organizing hall week celebrations.

I remember the first one with Jean Nelson Hall. It was one of the biggest events with Efya, Ded Buddy, EL & the afro harmony band; it was amazing, one of my most memorable shows. We did another one the year after with the SRC with Live Fm. And then there were the PAAPA concerts. We’ve done about three concerts with him so far. Yeah so that’s what we’re mainly into now. Event organization and PR services.

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You work with Stained Wear as its creative manager, what exactly do you do?

Stained Wear was the very first company I started; it we were mainly into designing and producing T-shirts. With time we got into merchandising fully for various schools and corporate bodies..

When it comes to what I do, I design concepts from scratch; the logo’s, colors, the intended look of the finished product and then some. Also work with an amazing team to create ad campaigns for Stained Wear and Couture Afrique.

Originally published on enewsgh.com on July 2, 2014.

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