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Prince Bisi Olatilo, the Founder/Chairman of Biscon Communications, is a brand to reckon with in the Nigerian broadcasting industry. He is a value-focused and valuable professional with enormous goodwill and a solid reputation. His brand equity has no doubt paved the way for the success of his media empire. With over 50 years of active professional engagement, he has become a positive reference point in the industry. In this interview with Ademola Akinbola, he speaks on his over 70 years of existence, 25 years of The Bisi Olatilo Show, the state of the broadcasting industry, his core values, and future projections. Here are excerpts. 

You have been here and there and you have done this and that. You are a pathfinder and an icon that needs to be celebrated. At 70 plus, you have practically seen it all. Who is Bisi Olatilo? Tell us your story. 

Let me first thank you very much. I know that there are millions of people out there who are more qualified to be featured in The Podium Magazine. I feel honoured, humbled, and very encouraged to do more. I want to congratulate you and The Podium International Magazine team for celebrating the best of humanity. 

I am an indigene of Osun State. My father, a prince, is from Igbajo, while my mother, of blessed memory, a princess, hailed from Ile-Ife. I grew up in Kano, having been born there on December 20, 1953. I attended Baptist Day School, Kano, with Igbos and Hausas as fellow pupils. What keeps shocking everyone is that despite not living in the East, I learned the Igbo language in the North and I can say to you that my Igbo is as smooth as my Hausa and Yoruba. So, that keeps baffling quite a lot of people. I tell them it is a gift.

My family had to move out of Kano in 1966 due to some eventful circumstances. I won’t like to go into the details. Getting to the South West, my mother chose Ibadan but there was this back and forth. My family eventually insisted that because I could not speak a smattering of Yoruba, I should go to school in my village, Igbajo for my secondary education. That was how I enrolled in Kiriji Memorial College in 1967 and passed out in 1971.  

As it was practice then, I didn’t go to the university immediately. I worked in a few places such as Base Honest Depot, a military store for all wears in the military somewhere in Eleyele in Ibadan. I also worked at the University of Ibadan library before Radio O-Y-O. My life got some focus and meaning because I had always wanted to be a broadcaster. So, I got a very good opportunity at Radio O-Y-O, and because I was one of the very few people who could speak more than one language, I was mandated to join Gloria Igunbo (she’s in the UK now) to present a programme called WAZOBIA. It was a request show where we spoke all the major languages, I could speak two and she occasionally came in with Pidgin. That programme made us popular, especially me. It paved the way for my meeting with the lady I eventually married. She couldn’t believe it when we met. She asked if I was the one speaking these languages, and I said yes. I say it jokingly most of the time that my wife toasted me (laughs).  

I joined Voice of Nigeria in 1979 and moved on to Radio Nigeria. I got into television even though NTA didn’t employ me. I produced and anchored my first programme, Night Train. From then on, my familiarity with TV started, and that was how the idea of the “Bisi Olatilo Show” show emanated. I was mentored by two broadcasting veterans, Ikenna Ndaguba and Ishola Folorunsho, both of blessed memories.

In search of greater fulfillment, I decided to go back to school, and at age 50, I went to Lagos State University to obtain a degree in Mass Communication, in addition to the courses I did at Radio Nigeria and the various on-the-job training. At Radio Nigeria, I must have been the man who read the news for the longest period between 1979 and 2009. I was also involved in programmes production. 

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By 2009, I was ready to step out and do my own thing. I went into PR/Publicity consulting, and over time, buoyed by the successes we recorded and my experience and exposure, I started the Bisi Olatilo Show (BOS) which has achieved 25 years of non-stop broadcasting. On the show, we promote Nigerians to the whole world.   Everything about us, the life that we are living, the art, culture, and the rest of it and I am happy it made a penetrating impact. I mean most of the awards you see here are products of what we’ve done, visiting not less than 15 countries around the world. 

These are visits solely sponsored by those I have not even met, I have not set my eyes on, I mean the kind of celebration I got, was a humongous celebration each time we go out like that with my crew, and I always thank God for that. I keep saying, just this one-hour programme? Ah, they say, men, you’ve revolutionised broadcasting because we see quite a lot of finesse in the things that you do. So, why would I not thank God? The Lord has been giving us strength because we also refused to just remain in a place. We’ve been doing a lot of rejigging that’s why we are still standing today.

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At what point did you discover that you would end up being a broadcaster? 

I have always known that, and I should have gone right from school. I developed an interest in listening early. Radio, as I said, was the vogue then. There wasn’t much TV in those days. So, when we listened to Rediffusion, one heavy voice would resonate and I would say ha-ha, what stops me from also doing this? That’s what first caught my attention and the voice of who was this, Ikenna Ndaguba, may God bless his soul. He eventually became my main mentor for news reading, but for Radio commentating, it was Ishola Folorunso. I did both while in school. 

Deacon Olagunju was my Principal at Kiriji Memorial College, may God bless his soul. I was very stubborn. Even though the same man would smack me publicly before the assembly, he was the same one who would also ask all of them to listen to my news because he asked me to gather news and present it. I read the news to about 500 people in the assembly daily. Then football, I was also the commentator of the school. I was doing mock commentaries each time there was a football match. Incidentally, I also played football; I was the goalkeeper of my school and I was in the league of Segun Odegbami and others.

What are the memories of your broadcasting career you would like to share with us?

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Let’s just say cumulatively, I have spent about 50 years of my over 70 years in broadcasting. I peaked early. Ok sorry, I forgot, in addition to all these things I have spoken about, I made a lot of impact as a Master of Ceremonies at all sorts of events, small and big, even at the highest level involving Presidents, Governors, Ministers, etc. I was the first choice, I was preferred, because then I just came in with these three languages and it was working like magic. Do you remember MAMSER? Professor Jerry Gana singled me out as somebody who could help. So, at the launch at the national stadium, I appeared. Ikenna Idaguba was the MC and I was the town crier. What did I do? I was breaking it down in all the languages. If you threw a pin, you would hear the sound, as full as the stadium was. That was the first breakthrough I had. Following that was when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. There was this big event to welcome him at the National Stadium. Ikenna and I also anchored it. These were some of the monumental things that I did, and I became closer to the corridors of power.

What would you ascribe your relevance to? What has kept you going?

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Broadcasting teaches you not to let up. Not letting up, always wanting to break new ground. Also, the passion that I have for this job is huge. It’s like it is in my DNA.  

Let’s talk about succession planning. How do you intend to replicate this? No matter how much passion you have, a time comes when the body will call for rest. This is a legacy that must be preserved. What is your plan?

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The body is already calling for it (laughs). Thank God that I have two sons, and they have promised to handle it. The eldest is the GMD and the younger one is the MD. They are the ones trying to package a few things, incorporating a lot of youth-centric things. So, we are working on preserving this God-given legacy and we are almost there. Not too long ago, the government looked in my direction after almost 25 years that I had been knocking. They made it a double for me. The irony of life is that I have never met the person that God used, beyond watching him on television or reading about him in the newspapers. The guys that I thought were my guys from the south, didn’t look in my direction, so I kept knocking and it was President Muhammadu Buhari, who decided to look in my direction, maybe because of the radio and television show. That’s the next thing we are looking at now. The Radio station will be based in Port Harcourt because the southwest is saturated. I intended to have it in Lagos but we were advised that Lagos is too congested, but the TV station will be in Lagos. 

What are your values? What values did you inherit from your parents?

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My parents are prayer warriors; they instilled that in us, and I am happy they did. My mother, God bless her soul, took me to every prayer programme. I do say it jokingly that I was like apamowo (handbag) for her when I was growing up because I was her last child.  Secondly, my parents taught me patience, to never be in a hurry, and to wait for God’s time. Whatever is going to come to us will come to us. They advised us to avoid things that may tarnish the family name. Although they didn’t claim to be rich, they treasured their names. They left a legacy of integrity and they expect us to leave that behind for our children. 

So, these are the things that have been driving me. They left a good legacy of integrity, kindness, selflessness, and hard work. They were generous and kind-hearted. God used them to bless numerous people. I am happy about that and I am praying to God daily to enable me to also do that to immortalise the name of the family. 

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Prince Olatilo with his wife, children and grandchildren.

There is no doubt about it that BISCON has come to stay, it’s a success story. What are the success principles? Apart from the God factor, what are the specific things that have brought you to where you are today?

What else apart from the God factor? It is God that will direct you in the right way. It is the same God that would if you want to go astray, nudge you and bring you back to the right path. It’s God that I have to praise. Another thing is to be moderate, not doing more than what you can take at a time. I have more successful friends, but I am not envious of them. I believe in following due process.  These are the things that have been guiding me and I want to thank God for His overwhelming mercies. 

How do you feel about the Bisi Olatilo Show clocking 25?

Glory to God. Our one-hour flagship weekly television programme has become very popular with over 75 million views. We have covered several high-profile events such as university convocations, the coronation of traditional rulers, the inauguration of state governors, the inauguration of Nigerian presidents, and President Barrack Obama of America. Our archive is replete with very exciting coverage of high-society weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and awards festivals. The BOS show is the first and the best, but it remains on the top. 

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Were there occasions when you felt like quitting, I know there might have been several occasions that you would be asking yourself, am I on the right path? Am I doing the right thing? How were you able to overcome those challenging moments?

Two major events attempted to test my faith in the Lord. In 2006, this whole place went up in flames. Virtually everything was burnt. Up till now, nobody knows what happened. Then, in 2015, we experienced another fire incident. The first one was in 2006, we did everything we had to do in over a month, and we were able to sort things out. Our father in the Lord, Pastor Wole Oladiyun, came here. He donated new security doors and he prophesied that in a month, we would have more than we had lost. Under three weeks, I just don’t know how it happened, money kept flowing from everywhere, not that we asked anybody but those we’ve worked for were paying. 

The 2015 episode happened on the night of the presidential election. Given the 24-hour nature of our work, we were here keeping vigil, monitoring the news. I was right here, sitting here, flipping from one TV channel to the other, just to get acquainted with developments. Suddenly, I started perceiving some odour, like something was burning but I didn’t quite make anything out of it. Before we knew it, the whole place was engulfed in flames. My staff and neighbours tried their best, and they were able to move out a lot of our new cars and other items. The building and several pieces of equipment were burnt. I thank God no life was lost. The incidents could have signified the death of the business. God took over and made a way for us. That jolted our faith but what can we do?

Would you say you are fulfilled?

I am over-fulfilled. What else? I am not owing anybody a penny; I have an organisation that is known for what we do. I am not a minister or governor who gives contracts, yet I am courted and celebrated everywhere. That gives me joy. People appreciate what we do, and that energises me to do more.

I don’t want to call it regrets, but are there things you would have loved to do but have not done? Are there things you did that you felt you shouldn’t have done?

To be honest with you, the biggest drawback is not about me. I blame the government of this country for not giving me the broadcasting license which I am overqualified for before now. They waited till the twilight of my career, I mean at 70, you cannot be as agile as you used to be 50 years ago, and I mean 20 or 30 years ago. 

And what were the reasons for the refusal over the years?

There was a time they said they had given us and we went to Abuja. They said no, we should not have been given because they said they were waiting for digital technology and won’t grant analogue licenses any longer. Do you want to wait for the whole world? By the time the digital thing came, the story had changed. I don’t want to go into the details. In other climes, they would be begging people like us. They would provide the funding and say, take it Mr Man, and run it because it’s your profession. That’s a great regret honestly.

It brings us to the issue of standards, values, and ethics in the broadcasting industry. What is your assessment of the regulators and practitioners?

 The regulators, to start with, because they need to be more discretionary in the way they award broadcasting licences. The process should not be unduly politicised. Those who don’t have any reason to be there, because you want to score a political point, you just give it to them. I know of many politicians that don’t have any business with it and they have it. It takes an experienced professional to know how to properly manage a broadcasting station. What we see these days is pathetic. The current managers of these stations are impervious to corrections. Many of the ones we have access to and talked to, many of them would say, “Oga, una own time don pass, the thing don change”. It saddens experienced professionals like us with broadcasting pedigree. In fairness, I think the regulators are doing their best. NBC has done well. Many times, they have used the big hammer on erring television or radio stations. 

The younger ones have a lot of work to do in not trying to mimic and sound so unprofessional and unnatural because what we have in the broadcasting rules has not changed and won’t change. Most of the guys have gone off the path, 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. The government needs to sit up so that we can be aligned with what’s happening internationally, otherwise, we will be left behind.

However, there is a school of thought that believes that the regulatory framework is more reactive than proactive. Critics are saying the entry standards need to be raised, guidelines need to be strictly set, and screening should be tighter. By the time you ensure only professionals get the license, infractions will be reduce

That’s true. I mean, you don’t have to wait until the deed has been done. We are talking about mobilization, agenda-setting, power of the mass media, and people’s opinions are being shaped negatively already. All these fines of N10 million, and N20 million do not cover the damage because the deed has been done. It’s like medicine after death. I believe you have a strong point there but we are doing our bit and what we are doing is, because we are professionals who know the ethics, it’s like we worship the ethics here, we cannot go below the benchmarked international standards. For instance, we don’t go below that. We don’t go to an event and cover people spraying, we can never do that, so you cannot even see that on our station. We are also disciplined in that regard and I am hoping that others can be. 

Talking about the practitioners and operators. It’s very sad to see that standards have collapsed. I was listening to a radio station in Ibadan one day. The way the guy was murdering pronunciations was annoying. Even as a novice in broadcasting, I was scandalised. I was like how did this fellow get on the air? What is the solution? How do you ensure that your staff can uphold these standards? Training? Recruitment?

The first thing is if it’s not good enough, it won’t appear on our platform. That’s why we don’t have too many people here because before they come, we screen. I take care of that. So, if they are not good enough, no way.  We have the trainable ones, some you can’t even train, you would be wasting your time to even train. Their mannerisms, attitude, the way they appear, and the way they dress are unprofessional. It’s not like you will come here, you will just open your chest. The ladies know it, they say this man is hard, he’s a churchman o. Let it be. Outside, do anything you like but in here, no way. These are the values that we cherish and which endear us to our fans. When you see us, you will know that this one is a work in progress, and it can be better, not that you don’t have anything, no plan at all. 

As a business manager, you’ve been in this for a very long time. What are your strong points and what do you consider the areas you know you need to work on? 

On the business aspect, I scored zero. If I had been able to marry my business with my skills properly, I would have been a bigger person.

Why do you think so?

I should have given the business management aspect to someone to handle because people like to take advantage sometimes. People like to get things done for free because of their closeness to you or to someone you know. That tendency kills business.

I think it is a trend with most media practitioners. We are so good at what we do but the business side of it, we are deficient.

True. Honestly speaking, if I get a good Business Manager, even with the little time we have left to manage ourselves, to hand over to the younger ones, we would be able to meet up. On that, I left a big gap, I should be able to close it up. It’s a nice thing we are having this discussion. 

For aspiring and budding entrepreneurs, what would you advise?

One, they must have a strong passion for whatever they choose to do. They must not be complacent, they have to keep reinventing and rejigging themselves because if you don’t rejig, you die. If you think yours is the best, just take a little step outside your confine, you will see something that will give you the jitters. Just make sure that, first of all, you have a passion for this job, and you also have to be hands-on as a business owner, otherwise, you will be messed up. You are the one who gets the job for them, and you would also think for them. It is sad the staffing challenges we face. Competency is a big issue.

Let’s look at the state of the Nigerian media industry, what are your thoughts, what are your views? So far, so good, so bad?

I think the ones that have made some sad impressions on our lives are the blogs and the ones on social media because you cannot even hold anybody responsible there. They write all sorts of nonsense, assassinating people’s characters. Bloggers, I don’t know why anyone should ascribe that to the media, I don’t know why they can’t just stand as bloggers and not be related to the media. 

For the mainstream media, most of them seem to have forgotten what we learned in school that if you are in doubt, leave out, don’t sensationalize. Quite a lot of that is going on. You don’t broadcast a news item if you are not sure and you don’t malign people. Most of these stations are facing libel litigations just because they allowed themselves to be compromised and manipulated for some personal gain. The regulators, as you said, are more proactive than reactive but in fairness to them, they have been doing that but they need to buckle up and close that gap. 

Let’s talk about knowledge management. You are packed with so much knowledge and experience. Do you have any plans to train young people? Set up an academy or something? 

What we were doing here earlier on was that we were inviting professionals in different areas to brush up on our people. We bring people who are vast in editing, scriptwriting, elocution, news reading, etc. Bimbo Oloyede and Manny were among the experts we brought. That was how far we’ve gone but this other one you talked about is one of our plans. A lot of people have also suggested to me that we should have a school of broadcasting. We are exploring this possibility. 

Let me add this to my response to your question on success principles. My greatest strength apart from God is my wife. If I fail to mention this, it will be unforgivable.

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Awesome. Tell us about her

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. So, we met just casually but she had known me for years, in Ibadan. Her father could be said to be as rich as the Dangotes of this world at the time, in the ‘70s in Ibadan. He was an educationist. He was an Alhaji, a Muslim to the core, I am a Christian. That should have disqualified me, but she chose to overlook that for my sake. She told her dad, I know you are rich but this is the man I want to go with. 

Why did my Christian background become an issue? My wife’s elder sister (the woman she knows as her mother because she lost her biological mother when she was 40 days old), was married to a Christian. That was hard for the family to bear. They were struggling to overcome the shock when I showed up. My father-in-law threatened to disown my wife if she didn’t dump me but she stood her ground. She was ready to forfeit all the wealth and the comfort that comes with it. She joined me in my one-room apartment on Ayorinde Street in Ibadan. It is owned by Professor Bolanle Awe, who turned 91 in January 2024.  I was working at Radio O-Y-O then and you can imagine, me in my 20s looking forward to getting married.

She has stayed with me through thick and thin. We have been together for 43 years. The major impact she made in my life that I have been talking about everywhere I go is how God used her to keep me alive till today. When this COVID thing came calling, she was negative but she stood with me for a whole month in the same room taking care of me. If I didn’t have that care, there’s no way I would have survived it and you can’t have a better selflessness than that, that’s what she did. My wife of 43 years is the champion. I am eternally grateful to my wife and Pastor Wole Oladiyun, Senior Pastor of the Christ Livingspring Apostolic Ministry (CLAM) for standing by me. 

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