For the past decades, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has maintained its grip on the broadcast industry through its programming, which essentially revolves around educating, informing and entertaining its listenership.
Some programmes have come and gone. But one lasting impact is that such programmes created a platform for different personalities to make a name for themselves.
One name that is closer to many, especially those that grew up in the 1980s, is Geoffrey Kazembe.
His has been the voice behind different programmes that have had an impact on many listeners of the State-run broadcaster. Yet, when the story is told of how this man quit his teaching job for broadcasting just for the love of radio, it all seems like a story from another lifetime.
Kazembe did most of his school in Chiradzulu before being selected to Chancellor College where he studied for an education degree. He taught for four years before joining MBC on August 1 1989. And, ever since, he has never left the microphone.
“At first, I was spotted by the late Tennis Sineta who thought my voice was suitable for radio. That time, I was doing my internship at Malawi Housing Corporation. That triggered something inside me, which had been lying idle because I always admired Lucius Chikuni since I was very young, especially how he pronounced French words.
“I applied for a job in 1986, but the reply came in 1988, which was normal in those days because you had to be scrutinised by State agents in case you may have been associated with rebels or you were known or any of your relatives was known to have some kind of dissent to the Malawi Congress Party, the only party allowed in Malawi then. If you were found to be in that position, you would not be employed,” Kazembe recollects.
He adds: “The interviews were held in February 1989. In June, while working at Balaka Secondary School, I got the letter telling me that I had passed the interviews. I then made arrangements to resign and serve one month’s notice”.
It is tradition that people that work on radio give themselves names that connect them with listeners. With this in mind, Kazembe gave himself the moniker ‘Bra Joe’, which has remained his identity in his 25 years on radio.
Kazembe explains the origin of the moniker: “I chose to be a brother to all my listeners, thus brother Geoffrey. But as you can see, the name could be confusing to others who might have thought I was pursuing studies in priesthood and again it was mouthful. So, I shortened it to Bra Joe.
“There was a time I used to call myself The Slow Talking Boy. But some senior people advised me to change it in case I grew old on the job and I would not call myself boy”.
That was the beginning of his journey at the broadcasting house. He has since risen within the ranks from an announcer to his current position: acting director of news and current affairs.
“I worked at MBC as an announcer for five years before being promoted to senior announcer. Two years later, I rose to become principal announcer and four years down the line, I was again promoted to become chief announcer responsible for what we call special events. I was the first one to be promoted to that post and after sometime, management decided to change my post to be responsible for continuity,” he says.
Over the years, he has risen the ranks to assistant controller of MBC Radio 1 and then controller of the same radio station.
“I also became the first controller for research and projects, a new department that had just been established, but again I was also responsible for special assignments. This was to do with representing the director general at meetings that he could not attend.
“I was appointed chairperson of Entertainers of the Year for three consecutive years, which was another first as it used to rotate among senior members,” he recalls.
The MBC Entertainers of the Year event used to be a popular affair in the past and rewarded personalities for their achievements. The good news is that the event, which used to hold the country at attention at the end of every year, returns this year after over 10 years.
Kazembe also had a stretch with one of MBC’s flagship programme, Top of the Class. This is a programme that for years, inspired healthy academic competition among students. However, due to lack of sponsorship, the famous educational programme since 1972 vanished in 1998 before it returned this year both on MBC Radio and television.
It is this programme that created household quiz masters in the likes of Brightson Kalirani and later Kazembe and others. The quiz was pre-recorded and aired for 50 minutes on radio.
“I, together with my colleague the late Gresher Mwandira, also started understudying the late Kalirani as quiz master in 1992. The following year, we were able do some programmes and when Kalirani passed on, I took over the programme. When I went to London for studies at the BBC, Gresher was the fulltime quiz master until I returned in 1998 when the programme died because we could not meet minimum requirements by the Ministry of Education who were sponsoring the programme then,” he explained.
Kazembe’s passion and perseverance has made him endure challenges that have come his way. This is also one of his key advice to up-and-coming broadcasters.
With a tinge of emotion, Kazembe declares: “When you choose a career that you feel passionate about what you do, you endure. And this is exactly what I have done. A lot of unfair treatment has come my way, but I have persevered.
“Imagine, at times being told you have been successful in a promotional interview only to go for a second interview whereas others sailed through. I have received all sorts of injustices, but I sailed through and despite all these, I was able to be promoted to the rank of director of programmes before the merger. I was then sent to Lilongwe for 22 months. But God being what He is, He restores”.
In his life, Kazembe also gave theatre a go, but he never took it seriously.
“At secondary school, I used to act in the school’s drama group. And when I went to Chancellor College, I joined the then Travelling Theatre. The most memorable time of my acting career was when we acted at Kamuzu Institute for Sports. I continued to be involved in drama while teaching at Dedza Secondary School when our school was number two in the regional finals of the school drama competition,” he remembers.
Kazembe is an only child. He was born in Chiradzulu where both of his parents come from.