Bola Sonola (The Genie) was born on 31st October in London. A proud Scorpio and an avid Arsenal fan, Genie started his foray into the radio broadcast industry when he was still in school at the University of Jos where he studied Mass Communication. He was influenced to go for an audition by his late friend, McArthur Fom, an actor in the then popular television soap “Behind The Clouds”, where he made a few cameo appearances. Genie got the job and became one of the pioneering radio hosts of the radio station and an instant hit with the listeners. After 2 years on the station he decided he wanted to return to London.
During his stay in London, he did a few stints at some community radio stations, and worked as a Foreign Correspondent for Rhythm FM in the Lekki area of Lagos. Afterwards he was homesick and he decided he wanted to come back to Nigeria. He joined Classic FM in May of 2009 and March 2010 joined Smooth 98.1 FM where he felt was home for him. He has interviewed some of the world’s famous stars like 112, Jennifer Lopez, Tyrese, Vesta Williams, Deborah Cox, Chaka Khan, Next, TQ, TLC, TOTAL, Faith Evans, and Queen Pen.
Genie, whose aim is to make Smooth 98.1 FM globally known and is making headway there, has also interviewed Donnell Jones, Teddy Riley and Blackstreet, Rena Scott, Femi Temowo, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Angela Johnson, Gerald Albright, Richard Bona, Mike Stern, and Pamela Williams on Smooth FM.
In an interview with City People’s General Editor WOLE ALAKIJA and his Showbiz Reporter DANIJI EMMANUEL, Genie spoke extensively on his journey into radio and all that surrounds his nick “The Genie” and his success as a recognized veteran broadcaster. Enjoy Excerpts.
For the sake of your fans, tell us a little about yourself
My name is Bola Sonola, I am from Abeokuta. I think my foray into broadcasting started when my late father used to record a lot of foreign radio programs on cassettes when he travels and play them in his car. He would be bumping his head to them like he was listening to a foreign radio station while he was driving in Lagos. I got my first taste of radio in 1989. Then I was in Jos and the late McArthur Fom. He said I had this fantastic voice and he believed I was going to be good for radio. He took to the program director of this new radio station that they wanted to start in Jos and when I got there, they had about 3000 presenters that were waiting to be auditioned. As they say, 13 is a lucky number, I happened to be the 13th person chosen out of the 13 presenters needed. It was Radio Plateau 2 then, which is now called Peace FM.
How did you come about the name “The Genie”?
Then I was in the university and it was a part-time thing for me with the radio station. I remember when it was time to choose programs to be presented by the OAPs, I was in Abuja then and by the time I got to the radio station, programs had already started so I opened the door and peered inside and the program director was there and he said “look at him and how he is popping his head like a Genie out of a bottle. That’s how the name THE GENIE came to be for me. While at the station, my friend the Late McArthur Fom also lured me into acting in the then popular TV Soap, Behind the Clouds and it was fun for me. I made a few cameo appearances but I had to pull out because I couldn’t combine all 3, Schooling, Radio and Acting.
How were you able to follow the transition/ascension of radio over the decades?
When we started radio in Jos, it was about the number at the time. The station played more music and that was what people wanted to hear and the radio program director was also very good. But radio has changed from then to today, most of the so called On Air Personalities are more concerned about the glamour than the basics of presentation. They didn’t go through any basic training and always want their faces known. You’ll catch most of them on the Red Carpet or at events.
Did you go through any form of training?
I studied Mass Communication in Jos. My major was Film Production and I never thought I was going to be a Radio Presenter. Most of my friends who we graduated from school together are now into movie production. Steve Coker just made the movie 93 Days and he has been calling me to come back to movie.
How were you able to convey your career from Jos to Lagos?
What happened was, after the Nosa died, we spent some few nights together before I came to Lagos, and I remember him asking “What happens to Behind the Clouds after I die” and we kept telling him that death is not something you talk about like that. After his death, my joy for radio fizzled away and I came to Lagos in December 1989 and I said I was not going to go back to Radio. So I went into PR just for a bit and I joined Union Bank, after that I joined a production outfit. It was called Achaka films. I was with them for a few months and I then left for England in 1990.
People want to know how you got your accent
I was born and bred in England before coming back to Nigeria. After spending some years in Nigeria I decided to go back to England and there I spent 17 years in England where I was coming and going in-between the time.
Shuffling between Nigeria and London and making a mark in Smooth FM, what’s the big story?
What happened was, a good friend of mine, Joseph Akinyemi Johnson – JAJ brought me in and I started doing some shows, a Music show which was broadcasted Live and that was the year my daughter was born and the following year I said I had had enough and I went back to London. There I had a short stint with a community radio station in London, Climax FM 92.9, I then decided to work with London underground, I worked there for 12 years, I was the station manager before I left. The closest thing to radio there that I did was to Announce. That was how the feel to come back to radio started. I returned back to Nigeria in December 2007 and I decided to take some time off, that was what I told them at the office, 6 months off work. I finally made up my mind that I wasn’t going back to London and I told them at the office in 2008. At that time, I had almost exhausted all the money I brought with me and I started looking for work. I went to different stations, Cool FM, Eko FM, Radio Continental and they all were looking at me like “who are you”. I returned to Cool FM and met Chris Obosi and he said they were about to start a new station and that I should stay in touch. One day I was sitting in my room and a friend of mine called me and said he was listening to this new station and he thinks that is where I should be. So I called Chris and asked if they had started the new station and he said yes, gave me the address and told me to come. It was Classic FM. I went there everyday spending 12 hours from 10am to 10pm without been paid. So after about 2 months, they considered bringing me on board and asked how much I would like to be paid. After much deliberation, they came down on the fee and I started. So they asked what I was going to call my show and I told tem I am calling it the Reminisce. It’s a show that reminisce about the past and we would be playing old school songs from the past. And I would also be bringing old heads on the show to talk about their most memorable old school moments and songs. They asked who I would be bringing on the show first and I told them I would call Segun Arinze and Yinka Davies and they were skeptical that I should not call them because they felt they wouldn’t come on the show and I shouldn’t announce that I was bringing them on the show. As God would have it, I called Segun Arinze and Yinka Davies that I had started this new radio program and I would love for them to come on the show. I contacted them both just in case one doesn’t pull through, the other would. They both pulled through and I started the show and it was very lovely. They both knew each other and they made the show lively. I turned it into a Red Corner, Blue Corner Old school interactive program and the station started to take notice. They started to believe that if I could pull off such feat, that I definitely was somebody. The MD called me after a while and told me he had been listening to my Weekend shows and he would love to have me on the weekdays, and that was how I started working 7 days in a week before I requested that I get Thursday off.
How did you get to be in Smooth FM?
I was at Classic FM for a total of 7 Months and Smooth FM started their test transmission in November 2009 and I listened to them and I said this is good and I loved the way they sounded. They sounded classical and a friend of mine called again and dragged me into his car and said I should be in Smooth FM. When I got there, the guy in the radio looked at me and apparently they had been listening to me and loved my program. I was actually wearing a Classic FM T-Shirt. They took me on a tour and later introduced me to the Late Kirk Anthony and I had known Kirk from the past, we met once and had been talking. At the time Kirk was with Choice FM, London this was in March 1990, I heard him on radio and I loved his voice and I called him and asked him if he does Voice Over and he said no, so I went to see him and convinced him that his voice could make him some good money via Voice Over. He tried it and made a voice over for a Jamaican Rum Advert and that was how he started. After a while we lost contact. I met him in 1990 and I didn’t see him till 2010. When he met he introduced himself as Derik and said he worked with Choice FM and I was like wow! Because I knew a guy who works with Choice FM from way back who I advised to do voice overs and he did. Derik was shocked and asked if I was the one who advised him back then and I asked if he was Kirk and that was how we connected again and so on… He is now late, The Late Derik Kirk Anthony. I resigned with Classic FM and started with Smooth FM. That’s the big story.
Share with us your first radio experience on air with Smooth FM
My first show on Smooth FM was on a Friday, Kirk was doing the Drive Time show and he introduced me in via his show as a new addition to the Smooth Family and that was how I started. I started at 8’O Clock and after 30 Minutes I told them I had a guest on the show who we would be interviewing and people kept buzzing and praising me. At around Midnight when the show was about to end, the MD of the radio station walked in and told me since I started my show, his phone hadn’t stopped ringing. That was it for me.
Any plan to return to Film/Movie?
I do have plans going back to film. It has always been my first love. I have a script for the past 8 to 10 years which I have been sitting upon but I felt we didn’t have all the necessary things to shoot a good and standard movie. But with this new Nollywood, we have improved and I just might be a part of it pretty soon.
What’s the line between Presenters from the time of JAJ and new OAPS today?
I think a lot of the new OAPs don’t really know JAJ. JAJ started a very long time, 1979. I used to listen to him and a whole lot of other veterans back in the days. The likes of JAJ, Manny Omonomu, Patrick Oke and so on. This people were passionate and articulate about their job unlike some of the new OAPs today who are only concerned about the Glamour and Social Media of these days.
What’s your daily routine for a week?
I spend a lot of times in the studio. I am head of Director for music in the station and most times this keeps me in the station for a longer time. I live on the Mainland I shuttle between both the Mainland and the Island. I sometimes cover up for those on leave and most times I sleep in the station. It’s a big task but I love it.