Hey guys! So this week’s post is going to be the interview that I did with Kofi Smiles. Kofi is a radio presenter from BBC Radio Humberside which is one of the local radio stations in the Hull area. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember that I got to meet him last year at the Big Malarkey Festival. This was amazing for me since I’d been wanting to meet him ever since he became the face of 2017 city of culture for the BBC. He was kind enough to sit and chat with me for a while and I got his email address so I could contact him in the future. We had been trying to fix a date ever since then so I could interview him and we eventually organised it for this last Monday. I really appreciate Kofi for taking time out of his day so I could interview him and even organising it with me in the first place! So in today’s post, I will be interviewing Kofi Smiles about his career in media/radio.
- DESCRIBE YOUR JOB- I’m a presenter and a digital producer at Radio Humberside so my day to day, Monday to Friday is generally spent preparing for the BBC No Filter web page and radio show (which is Kofi’s own show that he hosts). If BBC 3 and Youtube had a baby and raised it in this area, it would result in the BBC No Filter web page. It’s all user generated content so we go out and find interesting people, people with interesting things going on in their lives and people come to us who’ve just got things to say or skills to show off. People will get in touch with us to start the conversation about something that is important to them and we go out, work with these individuals, film them and put them on the page. In turn, we take these videos on the page and things that are happening around the world and see if we can associate them with things that are occurring locally. We take these conversations, bring people into the studio and then we do a show on a Monday night all about new music, breaking new artists and play stuff that generally doesn’t get played on our station. It’s a 3 hour long show, a bit of a long slog but it’s something that I look forward to every week. I know loads of people hate Mondays but I always wake up buzzed because we get to do the show in the evening. So we are script writing, finding different people to talk to, finding stories, finding interesting things to write about, searching for new music and trying to put together a playlist that we think our listeners will like. I think we have very very different sounds on the show to the rest of the output on the station.
- HOW DID YOU FIRST GET A JOB WITH THE BBC? – Not through lack of trying, I mean I’d been trying to get work with the BBC for ages. When I graduated uni, I was applying to all sorts of apprenticeship schemes, trainee schemes probably for the better part of 5 or 6 years. I was working for Apple for a while but I stopped because as much as I enjoyed working with computers, I knew that I always wanted to work in media like filming, editing and presenting. I worked on film and TV sets for a while, lived in London for a year just doing bits of work with radio stations. Then the work dried up. So I came back to Hull in 2016 and I worked at the job centre for a bit. The BBC were looking for someone to represent Hull during the city of culture year, to be the face of 2017 in terms of reporting on all the wonderful attractions that we had during our city of culture year. They had an open audition and I went along and we had 60 seconds to convince the judges why we should be the person to represent Hull. I made like a pie chart a bit like the wheel of fortune with 6 sections on it with 6 things that attach me to the city so I had 10 seconds for each section. I asked one of the judges to come up and be my volunteer because you would spin the wheel and there was a stopper at the top. Each section that you got through, there was a little box of prizes for. There were 4 judges so they had the potential to win 6 prizes and they won 5 in total. From the initial 200 people who auditioned, it was cut down to 10 people and then we had a day’s testing here. We did a voice test, two screen tests and then I had an interview with the editor of Look North and the editor of Radio Humberside. After that, it was cut down from 10 to 3 people and then 3 to me. I’m not sure how they made the final decision but that’s how I got in.
- HOW DID YOU FIND THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING THE FACE OF 2017? – Looking back, I didn’t realise how much impact we were having during that year. We couldn’t cover everything but we set out to cover as much as possible. There was so much happening every single day. At the start, it was quite overwhelming as I’d finally made it into the BBC and I was getting to do all this amazing stuff but also because I had to learn the craft of doing radio and presenting in the BBC way and find my own voice as a presenter. I also had to learn how to film, edit, tell stories and understand that we needed material for the webpage, my radio show at the weekend and for Look North to use on a weekend. A lot of people didn’t know about things that were going on until they saw our videos on a Thursday and that was pretty massive. Plus, we were right in the centre of it, getting into places first and being able to package and introduce it to the rest of the city, the region and sometimes even the world. A lot of the clips we took were used on the news and BBC world service so people throughout the country could see what was going on in Hull. Everybody was loving it and I was caught up in this marathon of a year which we didn’t know would be so good. It was nice to surprise the doubters of city of culture too who would rather have spent the money elsewhere. I was very proud to be a part of it because we might not get something like that again in our lifetime. I hadn’t seen the city as unified as it was in 2017 for a while prior to that.
- WHAT DID YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT HULL BEING CITY OF CULTURE 2017? – It was great getting people in to come and do my radio show. Usually, with all the other journalists, we couldn’t go into much depth during an interview and you’d only get 10-15 minutes with that person which included setting up the equipment so in the end, you’d only get just over 5 minutes with someone. It was good to sit down with people in the radio station for an hour, get to know them better, find out about their creative process and how they were involved with city of culture. It was nice also to go out on the streets and talk to people so we could hear their varying opinions on things they might not usually talk about or things they might not usually go to. I think one of the main things that city of culture aimed to do was to make people confident enough to venture into worlds that usually aren’t presented to them.
- WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE CITY OF CULTURE EVENT? – The problem is that we worked on so many of them! I would say ‘One day maybe’. I didn’t expect them to do something like that but I’d like for them to do more things like that. That was the one thing that I managed to get my two best friends to come along to since it had been really difficult to convince them to come along to events. They loved it and it was great to see their reaction. I went around with some friends a couple of days before to see how it was all done and it was still getting put together. When they were describing it to us, I sort of had an image of how it could work. Then, actually being in it with the physical guards was so weird. Radio 1 Big Weekend was amazing, I got to do my show live from there and we interviewed a lot of really cool people. It felt like a house party with some awesome acts and lots of people that you knew from the area. My sister was there, my friends were there and they had some amazing acts. I’m just a big festivals fan. The Blade is up there too. I’m still really annoyed that they took it away as it would’ve been great to leave it there as a remnant of 2017. Victoria Square does look beautiful but the Blade was just so intrusive and was a great symbol of Hull’s industry.
- DID YOU ALWAYS SEE YOURSELF WORKING IN THIS CAREER/AREA OF WORK?- Yeah I always wanted to as a kid and music and TV have always been big loves for me. Me and my friends used to always get together to watch the MTV movie awards with funny cut scenes where whoever the host was would re-enact iconic movie scenes from that year. Me and my friends would be in hysterics because they’d sometimes be from spiderman or batman and we were massive comic book fans. I used to love listening to Zane Lowe on Radio 1 and also when he was on Gonzo on MTV because it was interesting to see one dude talk about so many different genres despite the fact that this wasn’t what all presenters typically did. It was encouraging to see him have love for so many different artists. The difficulty for me was despite wanting a career in this area, I never really saw that many black people on TV and I didn’t hear that many black voices on the radio. How could I find my place in this industry? I didn’t get much help from my school with it. It wasn’t until I went to uni that it became something that was a bit more tangible. Doing student radio at uni, we were going out and interviewing and filming bands and artists in Newcastle. Our lecturers put us in contact with producers, people at various radio stations and media publications in Newcastle. It all became a bit more real. But that wasn’t until I was in my early to mid twenties.
- DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN 3 WORDS- I would say that I’m enthusiastic, I persevere as I feel that you have to in this industry and I’m quite fun. It can be quite difficult when you hear some of the stories that you have to report on that might get you down. But you have to make the work that you do enjoyable even in the times when you spend ages working on a piece and it doesn’t get the engagement that you hoped for.
- WHO INSPIRES YOU THE MOST? – Probably my mum and my sisters. They are very encouraging, always have my back and I can always talk to them if I have a problem as their rationale will guide me to the right answer, teaching me that sometimes you need to discover the answers yourself. As a kid, my inspirations were people like Reggie Yates and Donald Glover who can show you that you need to work at your craft and be yourself. Kanye West too, give or take a few incidents and issues, as you can look at the contrast between the person he was and the person he became. But Reggie Yates and Donald Glover have really shown me that I have a place in this world. I’ve got a lot of good friends around me too who are working towards their own goals and in our group chats, everyone is very encouraging and inspiring. It drives you to want to be better as well and I think no matter what journey you take in life, you need to surround yourself with the right people who are driven with their own goals and knowledge and who really want to help and support you too. You need to watch out for people who try to talk you out of stuff and who question why you are doing things instead of encouraging you or even helping you to see things in a different way but still supporting you in going ahead with things.
- WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS? – I love that question because I like to work in 4 year templates so I always wonder where that will leave me in the 5th one. I would like to have done some short documentaries with BBC 3 or Vice or to have done a web series with Netflix. It would be great to do some radio work with Radio 1 or Beats 1 just purely so I can talk about and celebrate music. I’d love to work with some more artists and musicians as I love making music and talking about music. Hopefully, I’ll still be working in this field but taking it a bit further. I’d like to tell more original stories on a wider and bigger platform and to have a bit more independence. I’d want to be engaging new communities and getting the voices of marginalised communities heard.
- DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO’D LIKE TO HAVE A JOB IN THIS AREA IN THE FUTURE? – It’s hard to tell people what to do as everyone takes a different path into this industry. But I would say to build up a portfolio, write a blog or set up a Youtube channel so you can put yourself out there. Don’t feel like everything has to go viral and focus on things that you are passionate about, not what is popular as people will be able to see through it if you fake an interest in something. You just need to persevere and create opportunities by reaching out to people, asking if you can spend a day here or do this and hopefully it will open doors for you. Having experience on your CV will help because working in your own time shows employers that you are driven and hard working. Keep doing what you enjoy, talk about what you love and hone your skills.
Thank you so much to Kofi for letting me interview him! I really enjoyed listening to his answers and the opportunity to have a tour of the radio station and offices. Also, don’t forget to tune into No Filter on a Monday Night on BBC Radio Humberside. There’ll be another post out soon but until then bye for now!
Amelia Grace a.k.a Amelia in Hull