When I had the amazing opportunity to interview Dirk Hartford, the founder of YFM years ago, as part of my school assignment, what was meant to be an hour interview turned out to be a four hour interview.
The discussion ranged from the Why of Y, the challenges of challenging the status-quo, building a challenger brand, and more.
One thing that stood out from that interview amongst others is when Dirk said to me:
“Greg Maloka [station manager] and myself took a decision that we are going to defend our Djs and Hosts every time there is a complaint from the BCCSA [Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa], as result, we were at BCCSA offices more often than not, they might as well have given us access cards to their offices.”
Born just after South Africa’s new democratic dispensation, YFM is a youth radio station targeting the youth in townships and urban areas of Gauteng.
Y as popular referred to at the time was a platform that gave Kwaito music [SA’s version of Hip Hop] a voice, the language on the station was local kasi and tsotsi dialect and slang, the slogan being Yona Ke Yona [It is the real thing, the real Makoya, take from the The real McCoy].
The station pushed boundaries, they redefined what radio meant, they went to the edges, they said things that were hardly said on radio, they played music that was hardly played on radio such as Arthur’s Don’t Call Me A Kaffir or Mnike [Give her/him].
The conversations were not meant for parents, however they were not irresponsible.
At the time when you were channel hoping without looking at your radio but just listening to what was playing, you knew instantly when you got to YFM, they were different and it was clear.
When Dirk says we took a principle decision to defend our Djs and hosts every time there was a complaint from the listeners, the context was that most complaints were from parents who listened to a youth radio station and as expected took offense.
“How can they play that song, it if offensive maarn.”
“How can he say that, is this what our kids listen to on this station, they must just close this station?”
And on and on came the complaints.
And on and on Dirk and Greg were visitors at BCSSA.
The thing about innovation is if you are not upsetting anyone you are not innovating.
Meaningful achievements are, perversely, more likely to annoy the world around you.
The process of innovation entails that once in a while you will step on people’s toes [rightly or wrongly].
When you do, apologise and move on, you don’t fire your team just because in the process of innovating, they upset some people.
If you do that, you might as well stop innovating and start complying.
When Dirk and Greg left YFM, most of the Djs and hosts left the station soon after, and what was once a challenger brand, a purple cow, became a normal brand, just a cow.