With more than two decades in broadcasting and having played a major role in growing audiences, revenue and profitability at numerous radio stations across South Africa, it’s no wonder that Omar Essack, Kagiso Media’s executive director and CEO of Kagiso Broadcasting, has been inducted into the MTN Radio Awards Hall of Fame.
Essack, who has headed up Kagiso Media’s broadcast assets since 2004, was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the annual MTN Radio Awards held last month.
“We’re immensely proud of Omar’s most recent achievement. In his time as CEO for the group’s broadcasting assets, Kagiso Media has grown its radio asset base to include two regional networks and four local stations along with South Africa’s only sales house for radio, TV, events and online media. This is testament to his absolute passion for the medium,” says Kagiso Media CEO, Mark Harris.
Essack’s broadcast career reads like a radio roll of honour. He was appointed managing director of East Coats Radio in 1998 at the tender age of 31. While at East Coast Radio he devised the station’s strategy to make it the first radio station in South Africa to appeal to audiences across the racial spectrum, which they achieved in 1999 with an equal mix of black, Indian and white audiences. At the same time he helped change the profile of the workforce within East Coast Radio by bringing black talent to management and on air positions. Essack has also been instrumental in helping turn around Gagasi and Heart FM from struggling businesses to viable radio stations. Both their audiences grew within one year to 18 months of Kagiso Media’s involvement. He’s also been actively involved in numerous key appointments – like that of Kagiso Media’s MD for radio Nick Grubb, Trish Taylor at ECR, and kick-started Jeff Moloi’s career as a sports presenter (now on e.tv) and the now popular breakfast presenters at both Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.
But using radio’s powerful position to be an agent of change is one of the things Essack is most proud of. “Making goodwill the cornerstone of our business philosophy at both Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio has been a highlight in my career. This was adopted by East Coast Radio from 1998 onwards and by Jacaranda FM when I got to Johannesburg in 2004, with the birth of Good Morning Angels,” he says.
The Kagiso Broadcasting head acknowledges that the radio landscape hasn’t stopped evolving since he became the first black person in the country to break into regional radio as ‘on air’ talent, in 1990.
“There is now a multitude of ways to engage with audiences through new channels that we never have had before. Social media has helped us to define our communities better and to respond to the conversations that our audiences are having.” He believes one of the biggest challenges facing radio stations today is being able to retain their audience’s attention when there are so many demands on their limited time,” Essack says. “Local relevance and accessibility are two really important concepts. If we’re not easily available, there are many other sources of information and entertainment that our audiences will use to get what they need.”
While he’s worked his way up, Essack is as passionate about the core of radio as when he started out in the industry. “Making great radio businesses is a mixture of art and science. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good ‘gut’, but if there is anything that I miss when I sit in my office, it is my involvement in programming – developing ideas that make a difference to audiences, trying to deliver new innovative concepts every day and the adrenalin rushes that comes, when those ideas work out well for our businesses.”
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