Listening to BBC news inspired Ageno to become a news anchor

Listening to news may not be so pleasant since there are no graphics to add drama and evoke emotions. No wonder, many people instead opt for music-filled shows or a talk show only to move away when a news broadcast starts. However, there are voices that serenade you to listening even for no apparent reason save the creamy feel they conjure.

One such voice is that of Catherine Ageno, a news anchor with KFm (93.3) for she struggles not; effortlessly yet eloquently laying the facts, leaving your ears glued to the station.

Starting this journey in 2002, Ageno picked interest from listening to BBC news with her father. She loved and admired the anchors so much that she wanted to be one herself.

“I continued listening to BBC news with my dad even when the English used plus the accent were too hard for me to comprehend. Becoming a news anchor is all I ever dreamed of, even though my father wanted me to be a teacher,” she smiles.

After university, Ageno got an internship at UBC radio (then Radio Uganda). Welcomed by Mr David Okidi and Ms Florence Bonabaana as her very first point of contact with the airwaves, she credits them for supporting and nurturing her.

“While there, I was given a real hands-on experience on a weekly farmers’ show which I did in my local language (Japadhola). That built my confidence and was a great springboard for me to comfortably broadcast in more than six languages. Today, I earn from being a voice artist as well,” she shares.

Thereafter, Ageno was introduced to Radio Lira by a friend; Matilda Sengooba with whom she had studied at Uganda Institute of Business and Media Studies, Rubaga. “Matilda who was friends with Ms Julie Bell, the proprietor of Radio Lira and Busoga FM told her that I was interested in working on radio. Ms Bell was kind enough to give this inexperienced young girl an opportunity and this became my first radio job,” she smiles.

At Radio Lira in Lira District (now city), Ageno read news in Lusoga but after a few months, she became homesick, desiring to return to Jinja (home). Thankfully, Ms Julie Bell, the owner of Radio Lira also owned Busoga FM.  “It was thus easy to cross over and at Busoga FM, I co-hosted the morning show with Uncle Meddy Ndhakaba, read news and did the gospel show on Sunday. It was beautiful to be near home doing what I love.”

Working at Lira FM was a great experience, one that afforded Ageno a learning opportunity. However, she also notes that it was tough working for “young” stations that were struggling on many fronts.  “Everything was in short supply; a limited number of reporters which meant limited scope for news coverage, no music bank for presenters that at times I looked for music for my gospel show which was really tough then given the limited access to the Internet and the high related costs. However, work had to be done and we did it.”

At Busoga FM, apart from being closer to home, the situation was no different with difficulty in switching from the morning show at 10am straight into news. Then as is the norm for most new stations, she and her workmates went without pay for months.

“I endured because I was focused on gaining experience and exposure, which I achieved eventually. Thankfully, I did not have to rent or buy food so it was the “better devil”, but still not good enough so I kept looking for better opportunities.”

Being a team leader as well as team player, Ageno gleaned a few lessons such as learning how to motivate her team to work even with limited resources, a skill that has been helpful in many other areas of her work and social life.

“Owing to limited staffing, we were all required to multi-task and this helped me discover my otherwise hidden abilities in audio production, presenting, human resource management, and voice acting,” she shares. That has helped her get more opportunities as well as cement her worth.

More opportunities

After a while, an amazing opportunity presented itself in a new radio station that opened right next door and she seized it. When approached, Ageno didn’t think twice about joining NBS radio in 2003. “It promised better prospects given that it was owned by a prominent politician then; Jinja East MP Nathan Igeme.”

Ageno credits NBS for teaching her 70 per cent of what she knows about broadcast. For instance, I was thrown into the deep end when I was given the role of station manager on top of being a news anchor. It was baptism by fire but I worked hard because I knew what does not kill you makes you stronger. Moreover, I am not one to easily quit.”

Staying here for a year, she later moved on Monitor FM in 2004 where she started with doing the 15-minute business segment of News Night that was previously done by Patrick Kamara. The radio would later be rebranded to KFM.

The move to KFM was engineered by knowing never to feel content with today’s achievements in life and the need to constantly keep that hunger for growth. Ageno says she could have been easily blinded by the title of station manager but the desire to grow drove her from NBS and relocated to Kampala to look for greener pastures. “I felt I had outgrown the radio and wanted to compete for the space in Kampala on a bigger radio that covered the entire country. So, one morning I walked into Monitor FM and confidently asked to see the News Manager/Programs controller and the rest is history.”

Mentors and trailblazers on the journey

When your boss sees value in your and goes ahead to acknowledge, it makes you swell for all the right reasons and makes even cloudy days bright. Working with Mr Joseph Beyanga, the current head of radio NMG-Uganda and Mr Richard Langa, the former head of radio at KFM has been such a beautiful highlight in Ageno’s life as these believed in her from the onset, nurturing and propelling her to grow into a wholesome broadcaster who is able to serve across the board.

She also acknowledges those who have left a lasting impression on her and these include Ms Margaret Ssentamu, the Executive Director Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA) who she looks up to as a media manager role model because over the years, Ageno has learnt so much from her. Mr Okidi and Ms Bonabaana, both senior editors at UBC, at the time have also been influential.

Hard work

While these persons have and continue to play a huge role in Ageno’s growth, a combination of passion and hard work cannot be overlooked. “With this skillset, one can never go wrong. I also constantly seek to improve myself because learning never hurt or killed anyone. That includes attending different workshops, and online training to sharpen my skills,” she shares.

For any woman yearning to join this career path, Ageno says passion is extremely important. “Passion will drive you to move on despite the obstacles and beat negative energy. Additionally, one must possess the right skills set and know the basic principles of journalism because these apply not just to field reporting at the point of gathering news, but are also important for things such as anchoring and conducting on-air interviews, as well as handling live reporting.”

For one that desires to work in journalism but lacks the training, Ageno says the most important thing is to be confident and believe you can do it; work at it until you perfect it.

“Perfection comes with persistence and perseverance. You must not forget that the academic papers alone, without practical skill may not be very helpful, so pursuing both is the best way to go. Also note that in broadcast, your most important tool is your voice, therefore, work on it.”