DEEJAY, RADIO PRESENTER, COMPANY OWNER AND FAMILY MAN BONGANI MTOLO SPOKE TO DEBBIE REYNOLDS ABOUT SACRIFICE, SUPPORT AND COMMITMENT
There’s nothing the young Bongani Mtolo wanted to be more than a radio presenter. “Growing up in the rural area of Richmond in KZN I was inspired by the popular Ukhozi FM DJ Bodloza, who came from the same area,” says Bongani. “He was even taught by my father who was a school principal. From those early days it was all I wanted to do.”
But, after graduating from Maritzburg College, life took him on quite a different course. “I ended up as a car salesman in PMB and it was only later when I was already married with a kid that I started pursuing the radio dream,” says Bongani. “With my diverse background I had my sights set on East Coast Radio (ECR) and started sending in demo tapes.
“I got no response at all until one day programme manager Zane Derbyshire called to say I was not what they were looking for. I asked if he would listen to one more demo tape and if that didn’t work, I promised I would never bother him again.”
Bongani’s persistence paid off and he was given the weekend midnight “training” slot, before being bumped up to the 4am to 6am weekday slot. “I was still living and working in PMB, so that meant getting up at 2am to get to ECR in time for show preparation, doing the show and then getting home to take the kids to school before starting my day job.”
His next big step was to the 6pm to 9pm weekday slot which meant he had to fully commit by giving up his well- paying day job and moving to Pinetown.
“Although my wife Zama thought I was crazy, she was very supportive and gave me three years to get it right,” says Bongani. “Quitting my job was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and because my radio salary barely covered petrol, I hired my car to a friend and used public transport.
“One of the craziest things was sitting squashed in a taxi seeing someone reading an article about me in the newspaper – that’s when I made up my mind that I was going to make this work.”
Even though his show grew to attracting the second largest listenership on the station, it took sometime– and a lot of tears– before he was offered his dream job as co-presenter of the 3pm to 6pm “drive time” show around two years ago.
Since then he’s won back- to-back national Liberty Radio Awards for Best Afternoon Drive Presenter. “I still can’t believe it,” he laughs. “Everything my family and I sacrificed led to that moment being recognised by my peers as the best in our industry.”
He says he thinks the secret to his success is letting the public be part of the show. “I want my listeners to feel they are having a conversation with their best friend, that person you sometimes love and sometimes hate.
“It’s about being as honest as you can without being offensive. I would rather hear the truth than be comforted with lies. We are all so politically correct that we aren’t bringing problems into the open where we can talk about them and hopefully fix them.” While radio is a huge part of his life, Bongani is also an accomplished DJ, having recently released his own house song, Spread Love; the owner of a marketing agency and, with Zama, an events and catering company.
With a schedule that usually starts with gym at 5am in the morning and ends late at night, he spends as much of his down time as he can with his two boys, Lwazi, 11, and Khwezi, six.
“Family is very important to me, as is touching as many people as I can along the way,” says Bongani. “I hope that I can inspire people to chase their dreams.”
“It’s the normal people who inspire me … like the security guard I met a while back who heard my story and told me how much he wanted to study law. The last I heard he had finished his first year of law school.”