After more than 12 years as a radio presenter, Bina Baibe says she can’t exchange it for anything else
It is hard to believe that Robina Mbabazi aka Bina Babie had originally desired to be a doctor. Listening to her on Radio, you know immediately that she was born to do this. Not keen on the exact year she joined radio, Bina Babie says it is at least more than 12 years because at the 12-year mark, she went on leave in the US for eight months. We can thus rightly say that she has been here forever. She adds that she has worked for Dembe FM since its inception, but the journey begun while at Nkumba University when she started applying for jobs as a radio presenter.
Bina Baibe says making this choice was easy because as an avid listener, she had noticed that listeners were not given ample time to send their greetings. Then there were moments people would send problems on air in need of advice from the audience. Unfortunately, the presenter would not air all the responses because of time. But most importantly, she admired and got inspiration from several radio presenters with her favourite at that time being Christine Mawadri.
Bina Babie also hated the fact that many presenters played songs only to stop them halfway for one reason or another forgetting that when someone loves that song, this would really irritate them.
The opportunity to fulfil her desire finally came when she called Green Channel in search of a job and one Oguide Man (never got to know his real name) said she could come over. “While I really wanted to work on Capital FM, after almost eight voice tests, I was told my voice was too young and I needed to grow it. Well, I do not know what that meant. I also tried Radio One where I was told to voice an advert but never got called back. At Green Channel, Oguide Man took me to his boss who has since passed on (may his soul rest in peace) and I did a voice test. To say that I was elated is an understatement; I had got in! I was then handed over to one Sarah Ndagire, a presenter, for training. However, she was not happy about this and did not want to teach me anything. I guess she thought I was going to take over her job. The cherry on this mean cake was that when the boss would walk in, she would say, “Anha….”, a cue for me to say something. However, being accustomed to being ignored, and her never switching on my microphone or telling me about the topic, the first time she did it, I went blank on radio. As such, learning was tough but from that experience, I learned to be more attentive because she would abruptly open the microphone. I did not want the same to happen again lest people say I am daft. Nonetheless, when the boss was not around, I never went on air, something I got used to,” she shares about her first days.
Soon, she had her own shows; a mid-afternoon request hour show and a Saturday mid-morning show for sending greetings. Looking back, the experience was good but there was a rude awakening awaiting her. “I had had the impression that radio presenters earned a lot of money but I was shocked when I was paid just 30,000 Uganda shillings at the end of the month. I told my boss that there were zeros missing and he asked, “What did you expect to get? I said, maybe three million shillings and he laughed saying we are paid per hour and that was what I had worked for.
I also learned not to wait for things on a silver plate- so I collected my own music and did my research. By the time I started working at Dembe FM in 2000, I knew how important it was not to take jobs for granted but work your way up, finding ways to deal with challenges,” she shares.
After some time at Green Channel, Peter Kaba, who had done her voice test at Capital FM told Bina Babie that Karim Hirji was opening a new radio station and asked if she was interested.
“I was ecstatic but wondered if my voice quality would fail me again. Thankfully, he said these were different people and encouraged me to try my luck,” she smiles. Bina Babie was then shocked that rather than radio professionals, Karim’s children interviewed them but borrowing a leaf from past lessons did as was instructed in the interview – to carry out a mock radio show. The deal was that if they like you, you would get the job. Thankfully, she found favour hence joining Dembe with a midmorning show (Tubada’bade – innovate), a Sunday show (Crazy for you) and a love show. Coming from Shs30,000 per month, here Bina Babie got this per hour and was over the moon. “I asked for Shs50,000 and they asked if that was my hourly pay. I got timid and agreed to reduce it but I also noticed that they were laughing. It was then that I learned that Radio Uganda robbed me all this while. In this new place, I worked three hours per day and got Shs90,000 per week. It was such an improvement that I was able to get myself a phone,” she laughed.
Bina Babie has never left Dembe, always part of the company as it changes hands as though she is one of the company assets. “It was so funny that at one point, an incoming CEO saw me and said, “So you are Bina Babie, this is how you look! Your name is bigger than you!”’ she laughed.
Looking at her journey, Bina Babie says her first show at Dembe FM was the worst experience ever and it made her appreciate her Luganda handicap. “When I would start talking, words would simply vanish from my head and whatever came out was wrong. At that point, Karim’s people were mad saying I was defaming Kabaka’s radio. At one point, Peter Ssematimba called complaining to Karim, then it got to the Production Director because the pronunciation was so wrong. I almost lost my job. So, I was advised to do a show where I presented in 70 per cent Luganda and 30 per cent English and it seemed to bail me out,” she shares.
However, in all this, God sent her an angel; Francis Bbaale who taught Bina Babie Luganda. At that time, she had got a slot to read news on Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) but had challenges pronouncing African names. “For a whole month, Mr Bbaale made for me prep work and a script that we continually went over with designate time to get on air. He also told me what certain things were called, groups of people to send greetings to and taught me show direction. Then he told me to get a slogan; “Emboozi ntono”, meaning one with few words, thus my new name was “Bina Babie mboozi ntono.”
People understood that I do not talk much and that way never noticed my flaws. The Bina Babie you hear on radio was all his energy. I had given up on radio, but owing to his efforts, I still stand and I am no longer ‘mboozi ntoono’ but ‘mboozi nyingi’ because unlike previously where I talked for one or two minutes, lately, my boss sometimes comments that I talk too much,” she sighs.
The lessons from this airwave mogul continue such as “do every show as though it is the last one”. “Bbaale taught me that there are so many people on radio and TV but as a broadcaster your voice should carry impact and use it to change someone else’s life. Additionally, people can listen to music from anywhere, but what is so special about your voice and personality? So, I make sure I have an ear on the ground. That is why I am still relevant on these airwaves,” she shares.
Bina Babie is eternally grateful to Francis Bbaale but also Peter Kaba because he fought wars for her, continually encouraging her that she could make it. “The amazing thing is that inasmuch as they offered all this help, they never asked for a penny,” she says.
The journey has also influenced her life personally, learning a lot from her audiences such as the struggles and triumphs of life having grown up in a gated home. Through the Sunday programmes, she has also learned to revere God and the value of His word.