MR. Chukwuma Aligekwe, a.k.a Chico of Classic FM, is no doubt the most popular on-air personality of that radio station. His programme, The Drive Time Show which he presents from Monday to Friday from 4 p.m to 9 p.m, is a must listen to by most matured radio listeners within and around the city of Lagos. Chico, as he is popularly called is as witty as naughty on air. His husky voice and throaty laughter is an icing on the cake for most listeners of the programme.
The father of three girls who had his education both in Nigeria and United Kingdom told ENCOMIUM Weekly in this interview how radio broadcasting started for him four years ago and how it has brought him happiness and a lot of goodwill and much more…
How did radio broadcasting start for you?
I was at home one evening when I got a call and someone telling me about a new radio station coming up. He said the new station was about music way back and looking into the future. He asked if I was interested and if I was interested I should come over. I got to meet Chris Ubosi and a couple of people who were in the studio. We had a chat and they were excited. They interviewed me and as they say the rest is history. It is something that I took to like a dog to water. It surprises people when I say that this is the first time that I ever did radio presentation.
Yes, I think in fairness, my Theatre Art background helped. I studied Theatre Art and did Film and Media. I believed this is related industry. That helped because I draw a lot on the things I learnt when I am doing radio.
What then were you doing before joining Classic FM four years ago when it started?
I did quite a bit of writing. When I moved back to this country, I went into a construction company. I also had a property interest in the U.K. That interest still exists. I did a bit of consulting when people are putting together a movie. I do branding. We have a branding company as well. I also do voice-overs.
So, what was your first day like on the radio?
It was scary. I was so nervous. I started out with The Drive Time Show and it starts at 4 p.m. Once it gets to 3 p.m, I got butterflies in my tummy. I needed to dash to the toilet. This went on for at least a month.
Four years down the lane on radio, how will you describe the experience?
I give glory to God, because the best jobs, the best form of employment, the best way of earning a living is doing something that you actually enjoy doing. I enjoy broadcasting. You get to meet people and you get to impact on people’s lives. It’s been an adventure and the adventure continues. I am enjoying it.
What do you think attracts listeners to your programme, The Drive Time Show (TDS)?
People who attract a lot of listeners to their programmes on radio are the people that are really themselves on the radio. So, the personality that is Chico that comes on the radio is actually the personality that is Chukwuma Aligekwe. We are one and the same person. I am really mischievous. I am.
In real life?
Yes, in real life. I am. In fact, half of what I get up to in real life, some of them I can’t do it on the radio. And I am funny, I am. I believe radio shouldn’t be all serious stuff. There are a lot of things happening, particularly in our country. But if you dwell on those things, a lot of us will just hang ourselves. The situation is really bad. So, what we want is not to ignore those things that are happening but provide some form of escape. So that man who has just lost all his property to some charlatans, that guy whose wife has just left, that person who just lost his parents, that person who is at the lowest point right now has some sort of escape where they can recharge or be entertained. Where they can learn something new and where ultimately they get a bit of hope that it’s going to be alright. I think that is what it is.
Have you ever been embarrassed on air before?
Loads of times. So many times.
Do you care to share one of them with us?
There was a time a listener was having a go at me and he said, ‘Chico, you talk too much. Just play the music and stop talking. I know that just starting on radio those sort of things will throw you off a bit. I normally say that a radio presenter day’s work is not complete unless at some stage he ends up with his foot in his mouth,
He must have a foot in the mouth moment, where you use bad English. You said ‘was’ instead of ‘is’ or you use a past tense instead of present continuous. These things do happen. With radio once you’ve done it, you can’t really take it back, it’s gone.
When will you consider your best moment on air in the last four years?
They are many. The very first time I spoke Igbo on radio because my Igbo is fluent. I speak Igbo very well. One day, I slipped into Igbo and I said a few things in Igbo and the reactions and the emotions that poured in through phone, text messages made me feel good.
The second one is related to the first one. Although I am not good at pronouncing Yoruba names or words very well, but each time I do it and I get a phone call or text message, that says I am trying and that I should keep at it, I feel really good. Or when someone calls in and sent you a message and tells you how you really impacted on their lives. These are the things for me that are the high points of my being on the radio.
What has being a popular on-air personality done for you?
I have got this distinct voice and this distinct laughter. People don’t really know you when you are behind the mic. But when you speak or laugh in a public place, immediately I get people coming over saying you are Chico of Classic FM. They want to do you favours, they want to buy you a drink. I was once in a supermarket and I was on the phone. When I finished on the phone, I went to the counter to pay. The lady at the counter asked me, if I am Chico of Classic FM, I said yes. She said the person ahead of me has told her to put everything I bought on her account. I ran outside to look for the person and the person had gone. Everything I bought that day was about N7,000.
The second thing is the men in uniform (the police, LASTMA officials). When I get to check points and I identify myself, they will just say you are Chico, go, go. It sort of gives you open visa or license. It opens door and make things a lot easier for you.
What are the pains of being a popular on-air personality?
It is tough. I will tell you a story. So far, I have had three major stalkers. Two showed up at the station here. Yeah, you look at me and feel that I am a big guy that I can handle such situations but it’s a scary thing. Someone who has been sending you messages repeatedly on air now walk into the station. You don’t know the person but the person knows what you look like. When she left, she sent a message to me that read, “Yes, thank God. Now, I have seen you face to face. I was the one who just came into the station and who you just spoke with. I have seen you and I know exactly what you look like.” That is scary.
That particular person, I don’t know how she got hold of my phone number and in four days she called me 84 times and sent 72 text messages to my phone.
She said she has fallen in love. The scary thing about it all is that she will send a message and response to herself as if we were having a conversation. Which means somehow she has convinced herself that we are in a sort of ongoing relationship.
At a point, I gave the phone to my wife at home to answer. My wife asked her, ‘Why are you disturbing my husband’ and the lady responded that she (my wife) should ask me. That I can explain better. I just thank God I have a very strong wife. This thing doesn’t really bother her that much,
The second one (stalker) showed up here as well and I got the security guards involved and they asked her to go away. She sent a message saying that she can’t believe she would come to the station and I will refuse to see her. That is the down side to the sort of thing.
Can you tell us a little about yourself including, educational background and so on?
I have got two sisters and two brothers. We were all born in the UK. I started schooling in the UK, came back to Nigeria with my parents. I finished my secondary school and university education in Nigeria and went back to the UK, did a little more university and then started working.
Which secondary school and university did you attend in Nigeria?
I wnet to Holy Ghost College, Owerri (Imo State). I also went to College of Immaculate Conception, Enugu. Then, I went to University of Calabar and University of Port Harcourt, where I graduated. I studied Theatre Arts. In the UK, I went to the University of North London. I did some training stuff with the BBC. I have a novel that I am writing, it’s called the Patriot. Hopefully, it should be completed early next year.
What about your marital life, when did it start for you?
I’ve been married since 2001. I’ve got three daughters. The eldest is 11, the second is 10 and the last one is 9. I love my family. We have two dogs that we consider as part of the family. I can see my second daughter following my footsteps. She likes radio, she sings as well. My first daughter is academic in nature. I can see her becoming a professor. She loves reading a lot. I am still trying to figure out the little one.
Most radio listeners believe you must be old to play the kind of music you play on radio?
I am older than the way I look, I am 47.
But you look younger?
Maybe because I am always in jeans, trainers and a T-shirt. I don’t own a single traditional outfit. I believe when I am 80, I will still be wearing jeans, T-shirts and trainers. That is just me. That is what I feel comfortable wearing.
– TOLANI ABATTI