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Jones Usen: Broadcast quality has dropped, not standards

Citizen Jones Usen with The Daily Report’s Ify Onyegbule and Pelu Awofeso. All images by Adedeji Olalekan

Acclaimed broadcaster and presenter Jones Usen has said that contrary to widespread opinion, the standards of broadcasting in Nigeria haven’t fallen but the quality of practicing broadcasters leaves much to be desired, because real professionals are not running the stations anymore.

“Let’s look at it this way: the standard of education hasn’t fallen, because you still need the same number of subjects to be admitted into higher institutions,” he said to The Daily Report team, who interviewed him in Lagos for the ‘Candid Conversation’ series. “And the quality of broadcasting will fall, because the owners of television and radio stations won’t employ quality broadcasters. They pay peanuts, so unqualified people will come.”

Reading is an art

He added that many of the now-generation broadcasters are also not trainable and don’t read as broadcasters did in years past.

“Reading is an art, because it gives you a 360-degree view of issues,” he said. “And when you read, most of what you read stays with you. It’s there in your head; when you read, so many things hit you — quotes, catch phrases, sentence structure, word usage and so on. It is not the same when you think looking things up in a phone will do that for you.”  

Usen, 70, said he feels pained to see the profession lose its luster and professionalism over the decades.

Lighter mood — The Daily Report’s Executive Producer, Carles Kalu, prepares Mr Usen for the interview

“Broadcasting, like armed robbery, has ethics,” he pointed out, while answering questions from Ify Onyegbule. “Every vocation, every profession has a code of ethics – you stay by the ethics. Only broadcasting in this country appears not to have ethics, and that’s why you can’t have a league of broadcasters.

“Memory is very unkind to an old mind and in this case a broadcaster. When we missed our way, was anybody leading? When we were going our own way was anybody aware we were headed in a very wrong direction. I wish I could say this too can pass away.”

Usen, who named Ted Mukoro, Ibrahim Abba Gana and Martins Okoh among his mentors, also argued that in an age when the certificate appeared to be the be all and end all in most employment considerations, the best and brightest broadcasters of his time were not graduates.

“Let me list some names: Ikenna Ndaguba, Isola Folorunsho, Tony Ibeguna, Ernest Okonkwo, Sebastian Ofurun—they were fine, great broadcasters but they were NOT, I repeat, graduates. They all came in the way I did too,” he recalled to the team which also included, The Daily Report’s Executive Producer Charles Kalu.  “Take also Benson Idonije: he wasn’t a graduate but you couldn’t fault his writings.”

Broadcasting, he added, has three facets. “It has a teaching point, an entertaining element and, of course, the information angle to it. Broadcasting stands on a tripod, and nothing else. If you remove one, then it has nothing to stands on. The profession is plagued nowadays.”

Citizen Jones Usen

There are three sides to a story

Responding to questions from audiences watching the live stream on Facebook, he addressed the subject of journalists and the tendency for bias.

“As a journalist you are a middle man, an arbiter – you don’t take sides. Staying on the fence is not an easy thing, though, because the breeze will come and swing you is way and that way. This job thrives on facts. When you allow yourself to e swayed by emotions, you miss the mark.

“And contrary to popular opinion, there are actually three sides to a story – your side, my side and the truth/ fact. People hardly talk about the third side. Like a coin, the edge is also another side; nobody goes there. Your business as a journalist is to bring all the issues on the table and allow the listener to make his choice. I can’t make up your mind for you, but I will lay everything on you.”

Usen, who until recently was with Television Continental (TVC) and who used the host the hugely popular Kubanji Direct on Radio Continental, recalled his early days as a neophyte broadcaster. He joined the NBC TV in February 1974 and went through a 10-week training programme called Basic Announcers Course, where new intakes were put through the rudiment of the trade.

“So during the auditions what did they look out for,” Ify Onyegule asked.

“The texture of your voice – timbre — was what they were looking for. The clarity of your voice, breathe control and other qualities; pronunciation will come a distant tenth. After the training, you were made to ‘double-bank’, which is to understudy a senior colleague,” he said

Citizen Jones Usen with The Daily Report team, after the interview

Becoming Citizen Jones

“After a while you were made to say the time, if they thought you were confident enough, announce on and off programmes. And after about three or four months, you could run solo. My opening days, if you like months, were challenging; you had the scars but they heal along the way. As a freelance, the first script I read on radio was on a programme called Around Nigeria, a Sunday weekly magazine narrated by John Chukwu.”

Usen would have been an accountant, if his father had had his way. But the older Usen, who didn’t think his son had what it took to be on radio, passed away while Jones was in Class Three, and that marked a turning point in his life; he pursued his dream of becoming a broadcaster, buying newspapers with his pocket money and practicing as much as he could.

“I did mock news reading and my mates would laugh me to scorn,” Usen recalled. I was sure of myself. I knew I would make a good broadcaster. I thought I was ready for broadcasting. I became a broadcaster by force by fire, just to prove my father wrong.”

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