Bisi Olatilo: How My School Principal Encouraged Me to Become a Broadcaster

The Chairman and CEO of Biscon Communications, Bisi Olatilo, who has 50 years on the grind, is a household name in Nigeria’s broadcasting fold. He is no doubt a man of many firsts, a yardstick, and a reference point. In this interview, he speaks on his journey, 25 years of The Bisi Olatilo Show, the state of the broadcasting industry, guiding principles, his age-long convictions, and succession plan. Adedayo Adejobi brings the excerpts 

The Journey

His interest in broadcasting dates back to his secondary school days at Kiriji Memorial College, Igbajo, his hometown in Osun State, Southwest Nigeria, between 1967 and 1971.

‘’My principal of blessed memory, D.K Olagunju, saw that talent in me, and he kept encouraging me. Because I was very stubborn, he might have punished me publicly for one offense or another, but he still gave me the platform to read the news at the assembly because I was the news gatherer and newsreader for the school and he liked my diction. I loved listening to the radio, and the only names that kept coming up at that time were Ikenna Nduaguba for news and Ishola Folorunsho for radio commentaries—both of blessed memories.’’

Alongside his early interest in broadcasting, Bisi also developed an interest in football and was the goalkeeper for his college in all the matches he played. He was so good at the goalpost that his late principal would hold up a match for his sake until he finished his commentaries.

What started as an interest has since blossomed and found expression after he left school and went off to Radio Oyo, where his professional journey in broadcasting started. There, he read the news and presented programmes for promotion and production.

 His journey in radio took a firmer grip and a national appeal when he joined Voice of Nigeria in 1979 and moved on to Radio Nigeria. He got into television even though NTA didn’t employ him, yet he produced and anchored his first program, Night Train. From then on, his familiarity with TV started, and that is why the idea of the “Bisi Olatilo” show began.

Olatilo had a voice made for radio and a face made for television. He was the toast of major government and state functions and corporate events. His plump, bright, and meaty face, with a prominent nose, fully thick hair, thin lips, and beady eyes. He is chunky with a glistening face and a good body to carry.

 In his trademark bow hat, signature beard, shirt sleeves, and suspenders, he slouched in a chair on his elbows and peered over a desk at his guests. His voice, a raspy rumble, delivered bursts of irreverence and humour, but his questions were usually brief and friendly.

Mentored by two Late broadcasting veterans, Ikenna Nduaguba and Isola Folorunsho, Olatilo’s oratorical power, and gift of the gab found expression. Thereon, he presented radio programmes, read the news for 22 years, and anchored major state functions as a master of ceremonies.

The topics were anything: politics, crime, religion, sports, business, and news events with endless players and analysts. He is known to plumb his subjects deeply and is not one to be accused by critics of pandering to the sensational.

Owing to his multi-lingual prowess, one sees him speak three prominent Nigerian languages. He started WAZOBIA, a request show that involved him speaking these three languages and pidgin. In no time, he became the toast of listeners across Nigeria.

Aside from the late professionals who were great influences, High Chief Aleogho Raymond Dokpesi, the late founder of Daar Communications and owner of AIT and Ray Power, remains an inspiration to the broadcaster.

How He Met His Wife

With the rare gift and power of language, the universe helped him spot the wife of his youth, to whom he has been married for 43 years and blessed with five children and five grandchildren.

These were his accounts of the chance meeting, as narrated by a teary-eyed broadcaster. “I had gone on a visit with a friend to one of his friends, and you know, television is very different from radio. Radio hides your identity, and all you know is the voice. So, when she heard my name, she was swept off her feet. So, instead of me following up, she followed up.’’

On the BOS Show at 25

His one-hour flagship weekly television programme became so popular with over 75 million views, so much so, that he moved forward to helping to build people’s image, especially as governors and other people across different walks of life. This he made a resounding success of.

Speaking on his works, which focused primarily on the wonders of broadcasting, and his passion which has garnered a cult following by Nigeria’s high and mighty, ‘‘The Bisi Olatilo show’s awesome archive of iconic events parade the coverage of convocations of universities, coronation of traditional rulers, inauguration of state governors in Nigeria, the inauguration of Nigerian presidents and president Barrack Obama of America. The BOS archive is replete with very exciting pan and beyond-Nigeria super coverages of high-society weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and awards festivals. The BOS show is the first and the best, but it still remains on the top of our game.

 The broadcasting industry

 When asked about the current state of broadcasting in Nigeria, this was what he had to say, “the younger ones have a great job to do in not trying to mimic and sound so unprofessional and unnatural because what we have in the broadcasting rules have never changed, and they won’t change. But most of them have gone off the line, they just do what they like. It’s a global village now. We must try and aim to align with international standards in all the things that we do. And the government itself needs to sit up so that we can be aligned with what’s happening internationally; otherwise, we will be left behind.’’

Does he think Nigerian broadcasters are competitive compared to other nations, he said, “the kind of training we had can be equated to what they say about Nigerians, the most educated immigrants in the world. The same goes for broadcasting because we go through the best in terms of training. After all, the broadcasting authorities in Nigeria don’t joke with that. They take their business and guard it jealously and they give it prime attention, so with that, we can operate comparatively. We are the best everywhere.’’

In a word of admonition to the government, he said, “Honestly, I think the federal government is dragging its feet too much; there have been all kinds of talks about taking us from the analogue to the digital.’’

 Life Experience

Experiencing one’s entire office complex burn to ashes on two separate occasions in the space of seven years can be devastating. But, like a phoenix, Olatilo rose and has continually flourished.

In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting for his life, the least news he was expecting to see on the internet was the purported news of his own death. This was indeed painful, but he took it in good strides and has since experienced a clean bill of health.

At the heart of his life’s journey and many travails, his wife has been rock-solid by his side.  In his words, ‘’My wife whom I have been married to for 43 years, is the champion of the many fights. I am eternally grateful to my wife and Pastor Wole Oladiyun for standing by me through these times’’

 On Business Succession

I’m blessed with five children and five grandchildren—three girls and two boys—and the eldest of my grandchildren is 15 years old. I hope my children come back to help me here soon.

His Guiding Principles

Quite a lot of his professional colleagues and friends see him as a reference point, and one thing has remained: his staying power, hard work, and undivided interest in his passion.

Olatilo is however, worried that values are fast eroding, and here is why: “In broadcasting, there’s a very popular saying that before you enter in a broadcasting environment, drop whatever problems you have, throw it behind the gate, don’t enter with it, because the slightest distraction is not good for what you do.

“If you met me here writing a script, if you drop a pin, you’ll hear the sound; that’s how quiet it has to be. Well, do we have that around here now? Most of them are doing the job as if they are being forced to do it and I say to them, in our days we developed; I mean, we just enjoy doing this job.

“I may not have been at the roaster to read the news or do anything, but because I was in the mood, I just went straight to the broadcasting house, and maybe there without not being roastered to work.’’

For Bisi Olatilo who clocked 70, a month ago, he isn’t showing signs of slowing down. Instead, these intrinsic lessons have been his guiding light, mantra, and what he has been able to do in his life, he enthused, ‘’I have learned never to contaminate my belief in God with other side attractions. If it is God, let it be God. Let the smaller gods be because they can only do negative things in your life. Be focused and think positively towards your next-door neighbour. These are things I have been able to do in my life.’’

 And if you’ve ever wondered what the secret is to his strength and success, it’s simple: a clear conscience, prayers, and not getting worried. Till his dying old age, Olatilo wants to remain focused, happy, and good to other people.

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