OFM, the sound of central South Africa, turns 25 this year and is already in the process of a three-month celebration. A roadshow crisscrossing its territory, a birthday party in Mauritius, a golf experience, a family fun day…all of this is on the cards. But TheMediaOnline wanted to know a bit more about the station’s history so we asked CEO Gary Stroebel to unpack five defining moments of the Free State station’s lifespan.
“In 1996, Radio Oranje became the very first station out of the SABC to be privatised. Sold for R11m to a consortium of investors, it would pay its purchase price back within 18 months. The original management team was recruited from the SABC, and most of them had worked for or with the station for a number of years. That stability was to be the key to the stations early financial success, as local advertisers flocked to support the station. Many the original presenters had also come across from the SABC, although a number of new voices were also recruited.
“In 1997, the station relocated to the new Waterfront development in Bloemfontein, and this gave the station a very visible and highly professional look for the first time. In the six years the station was to be there, the glass-fronted studio became iconic as the brand suddenly became tangible, and the voices became real people. The office layout won a few awards, and for the first time I think staff felt as they were part of a professional and successful company – we had outgrown the ‘startup’ feel that had been there in the first building.
“In 2002, the station underwent a radical lineup shift, and many presenters that had been with the station since inception were left out of a major shakeup. This signaled the end of the ‘Radio Oranje’ sound (and name), and many younger voices were breaking through, and the American style AC format was strictly implemented. The audience initially reacted with derision, but audience numbers started to swell, and the station never looked back as the new sound reflected modern trends, not only in broadcasting but also music.
“In 2006, OFM launched the current logo, look and corporate identity. This finally put the past in the past, and the change in focus saw the station finally start to appeal to black and coloured listeners. As a result, audience numbers swelled through the magical 500 000 mark, and have continued to grow ever since, especially in the lucrative LSM 9 and 10. The bright logo allowed OFM maximum visibility on its various sports sponsorships. Yellow and Red, as opposed to Orange and Purple, also dropped the Oranje (Blanje Blou) association. It heralded a new era of media professionalism, and a brand that could have a universal appeal to the various audiences in its footprint.
“In 2010, Tim Thabethe became the first black presenter to host a breakfast show on one of the regional stations. The fact that he is an English-speaking chap from a Zulu heritage, makes it even more monumental. The Breakfast Club has powered ahead, and boasts double the audience that listened to breakfast back in 2003 when the iconic Manie Kitching was the host. It also represents over 110% growth in cume audience since 2009 for the stations biggest show. This proved to advertisers and staff alike that good content well delivered is universally appreciated. It also is a major step forward for OFM, and puts the station at the cutting edge of South African radio. Developing our own talent (Thabethe has been at the station since 2005, and hosted the PM drive show and mid-morning shows amongst others) was a definite strategy, and the success of the current show is a pivotal milestone.”
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