On air and in person, he’s charismatic, open, warm, and playfully respectful to everyone with whom he interacts. There’s another side to him too, and it’s those complex layers which make him relatable to his rising listenership on East Coast Radio, writes Anne Schauffer.
You don’t need young Styles Mbatha, East Coast Radio presenter, to tell you he loves people. He’s open and welcoming from the second he sees you, and you feel the feeling strongly. This low dose of ego is slightly surprising for someone who’s not only going places, who’s determined to keep climbing, but as his name suggests, looks the part!
It’s no real surprise to learn his working life began in hospitality, particularly working and playing with children. He’s fun, young at heart and, as it turns out, adventurous. South African born, raised and matriculated, when Styles began analysing his strengths with a view to his future, he knew one thing for sure: “I love people,” so he thought “hospitality”.
He spent three months in Zinkwazi running a children’s holiday programme, and for the next eight, ran similar entertainment programmes in Drakensberg resorts. He believed he’d found his niche – but nothing’s ever cast in stone.
Covid hit, and being in one of the worst affected industries, he ended up locked down for six months on a farm in Bergville. A grin: “I learnt to be a farmer.” This was never going to be his career.
Back in Durban, he won’t ever forget a particular Wednesday: “I was busy frying chicken at a Durban North takeaway, and my phone pinged with a link to The East Coast Radio Presenter Search – my friends believed this would be for me. I had until Friday midnight to put it together. Long story short, I wanted a fresh challenge, and was intrigued by this. My dad had passed away in 2019, and not long before, he’d asked what I’d like to do with my life. ‘Be a radio presenter’ was my reply.”
This competition seemed serendipitous: “With no clear idea of what was required, I listened and watched other entrants online. The video had to be posted on the entrant’s social media platforms, with the relevant hashtags and that of East Coast Radio.” When entries closed, there were 5 000 submissions.
Styles chose videographer Kyron Allen: “I wanted to shoot my content in a different way. I showcased Durban, places that people knew – the beachfront or the Sharks stadium – all recognisable. Instead of introducing myself in a predictable way, I interviewed random people about random topics, I learnt to ride a bicycle, I showcased myself through my surroundings.” Styles’ video squeaked in before the deadline and, just before he was heading to bed, a friend phoned to tell him to check his social media: “They’re loving you!” Over 50 000 views, people he knew and many he didn’t, from KZN to Gauteng.”
Next morning, he woke to an email announcing he was in the quarter finals. He jumped through the various hoops, and finally, gets the call live on air – “Hello Hi,” he answers with his trademark greeting – he’d bagged the number one slot on the East Coast Radio Presenter Search.
Yes, a contract with East Coast Radio, R20 000, and a range of merchandise was his. His life changed from that moment, not only because of his Saturday 2 to 6 show, but the wonderful spinoffs. For Styles, this world of sponsorship or ambassadorship was a foreign one. He represents a brand within Edgars called J Exchange, which has grown to include fragrances and beauty; he works with Cell C campaigns, and he has a sponsored Toyota Urban Cruiser vehicle. He’s loving all this, and understands that as a public figure, he can’t be that guy in flip flops all the time: “I now own two suits,” he grins. “First suit I’ve ever owned. Mind blowing.”
A few weeks ago, he wore Mickey Mouse pjs. Another laugh, “I was quite nervous about the Disney shoot, but they were very cool items. I have a strong audience from Grade 7 to late 20s; on air, my audience is quite a bit older, so I’m talking to a wide age range.”
From the outside looking in, Styles is a good-looking young man with the world at his feet. Before Styles, he was Cecil. Styles came about back when he was a freeSTYLE rapper, and his friends dubbed him Styles. He’s happy with Styles, and very happy with this new life: “I feel most alive when I’m in front of people entertaining them – anything that involves complete strangers and showcasing who I am. For that split second, you’re giving everything of yourself, and they’re receiving it. It’s just a moment of connection, but I value that.”
Styles understands the value of that connection, and he puts it down to “how relatable your story is”. He believes his story is relatable, even though he’s firm about radio’s focus on the listener, not the presenter. He’s a facilitator. That said, he feels “Listeners are trying to find a friend in a voice. Why do you think radio listenership rose so substantially during lockdown?”
Whether it’s radio or sporting the latest PUMA sneakers – he’s a self-confessed sneakerhead – Styles is adamant: “Be the best version of yourself, whatever you’re doing. Always give more than is expected.” He has a great work ethic, but it’s not just a job, it’s a future: “I’m afraid of a lot of things, but one thing I’m not afraid of is work. I have a blueprint in my mind of what I want for the next five years. I’ve accomplished three of them, and look forward to watching the other two play out,” he grins conspiratorially. “You must be your best ‘hype man’, no one else can be that person. Only you know yourself; know what you’re capable of. I aim high – over there, but further.”
Listen on the radio or watch this space.