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14 Oct

The Brains Behind The Biggest Drive Time Show: Phila Tyekana

Mdantsane-born Phila Tyekana produces Metro FM’s drive time show, The Touchdown every weekday between 3-6 pm. One of two siblings, Phila moved to Johannesburg in 2003 to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Media Studies and English Literature at Wits University. Of the many remarkable things she is, Phila is inspired by her sister and late grandmother whom she describes as bold, outspoken and with a big heart. If you have met her you will attest to her big smile, warm hugs and sharp mind. She is drawn to all things creative: music, fashion, photography, home décor, art and spends way too much money on shoes, earrings and skincare products. In recent years, she discovered swimming as a great form of exercise and therapy for when life gets a little overwhelming. We speak to her about her career and love for fashion.

What led you to a career in the media?

I’ve always been attracted by the entertainment industry and its influence: the celebs, what they did, what they wore, the music they released, what new TV show was out and who starred in it, which DJ hosted which show on radio etc. I took knowing all this more seriously than my peers for some reason, not as a star-struck fan but genuinely intrigued by the entertainment industry itself and yearning to be part of it, especially magazines. I was always that kid at school with the celebrity scrap-book and making year books. I knew earlyon that media was the path I wanted to take.

Who are some of the people that inspired your journey and impacted your career?
My grandfather was a bookworm, a former teacher and school principal who read all day, every day. My mom, also a teacher loves magazines and so growing up there were always piles of books and magazines to read. I believe they were the first (and unknowingly) to water the seed of me pursuing a career in magazines. Immediately after graduating from Wits, I interned at Marie Claire magazine, Zodwa Khumalo who was chief bureau at the time treated me with so much kindness and respect, guiding and introducing me into this world I’d previously dreamt of being part of.

After Marie Claire, I was part of the inaugural Y-Academy, a six months radio internship programme YFM launched. Tholi “Tholi B” Bologo handpicked me to be his content producer for his new lunch time show once the six months was done. In 2010 I officially kicked off my career in magazines at BONA as entertainment journalist and later features editor, the then editor, Ntokozo Maseko guided and contributed greatly in helping me find my writing voice and style. Patti Garlick, also from BONA also helped nurture and fine-tune my writing. Dudu Mvimbi, former editor at True Love magazine poached me from BONA in 2015 making a life-long dream of being part of the publication (True Love) a reality. Caren Olsen, then programme’s manager at Metro FM hired me when I jumped ship from YFM in 2010. All these people believed, trusted and saw my potential, I’ll forever be grateful to them.

You have produced various shows at Metro FM, what’s different about this one and how do you stay ahead of your competitor shows?

The Touchdown is one of a kind, so different from the rest and a leader in the game. It’s uniqueness stems from its fluidity, the team’s synergy and the host, Tbo Touch being authentically and unapologetically himself on air. So is the rest of the team – Super Dave (technical producer), Pearl Shongwe (news) and Morena Mothupi (sports) – everyone is so talented, creative and puts their all into their work. Touch and the team are also very appreciative of the work I do for the show and expresses it often. And as human psychology goes, once you feel appreciated, you do more than what is expected.

What does a day in your life look like, when do you get to work?

I secure guests in advance and so I know the day before the feeling and tone I want for the show. I wake up at 5am every day, go to the gym for a swim to kickstart the day, at 8am I start prepping for the show and laying out the basics. At 9am I have my daily phone call with Touch to discuss the show. By 12 midday I submit the script to the team. I’m at the studio between 2 –2:30pm.

What does it take to produce a show of this magnitude?
Patience, copious amount of water, an extensive contact list and tons of experience in the game.

Do you always have to abide by the rules or can you bend them a little to give listeners a compelling show?
The core of The Touchdown is doing the unexpected and that’s what sets it apart. Which other show has had its DJ present the show while getting a massage live on air? There’s no other show that brings a human element to society’s dignitaries, dedicates a show to gospel and replenishment weekly, celebrates black fathers and so much more like The Touchdown.

What made you leave print media completely to focus on broadcasting?
I’d completed and enjoyed every minute of my 10 000 hours to the industry. Although I had worked in both print and radio congruently all these years, I felt my time in print was done, it no longer excited me as it once did. I do freelance work here and there but radio is the main focus.

Will we ever see you produce a TV show?
Absolutely, it’s definitely on my to-do list.

Who are some of your fashion icons?
I love Lauryn Hill’s colour-pop pieces, vintage yet modern and stacked jewellery style, Erykah Badu’s eclectic, bohemian look and Victoria Beckham’s chic, polished fashion. Winnie Madikizela Mandela and Princess Diana are the blueprints. Rihanna and Kate Moss are fashion chameleon queens and Tracey Ellis Ross makes everything look great. I also appreciate Kanye West’s influence.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have had to learn about yourself through the work you do?
Patience is key in both print and radio, many people need and want your attention and so it’s important to remain composed at all times. Great time management skills are also important. What’s key is also a strong sense of self, the entertainment industry is enticing with tons of perks and if you’re not careful you can be swayed in different directions. Remaining grounded and authentic is vital. Manners and respect for others will also lead you far.

Do you ever run out of content for the show? How do you make up for that?
All the time! Often news gets recycled in the different mediums and it can be tricky setting the show apart. That’s when the digging deep creatively comes in.

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