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From Studios in Toilets to Multi-Billion Media Empire: How SK Macharia Did It [VIDEO]

His philosophy was that if people couldn't hear you, then all the fancy equipment was useless

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Royal Media Services (RMS) is the largest privately-owned radio and television network in Kenya. Many across the country know of its flagship brands – Radio Citizen and Citizen TV. RMS owns several other TV and radio stations including  Inooro TV, Ramogi FM, Inooro FM, Musyi FM, Chamgei FM, Muuga FM, Egesa FM, Bahari FM, Mulembe FM, Wimwaro FM, Sulwe FM, Hot 96 and Vuuka FM – most of them broadcasting in vernacular languages.

The stations are known for their wide reach and cross-cutting audiences, with viewers and listeners from different backgrounds. RMS has been able to capture market share in both rural and urban areas and among low and high-income earners as well. It is this unique positioning that made RMS the behemoth it is.

At a time when privately-owned stations in Kenya such as NMG-owned NTV and Standard Group-owned KTN were focused on urban and middle-class audiences – airing Western sitcoms, magazine shows and news programs – RMS came in with an entirely different strategy.

As communications consultant Julian Macharia revealed in an interview with Richard Njau of Cleaning the Airwaves (CTA) – RMS Founder and Chairman Samuel Kamau (SK) Macharia chose to go the Safaricom and Equity route, targeting the mass market which had long been ignored by existing players who chose to focus on well-heeled customers.

Julian, a former RMS insider, spent 11 years at the firm between 2002 and 2013, rising through the ranks to become the Deputy Programs Director. He was instrumental in the early days of setting up the RMS radio stations, and revealed SK Macharia’s incredible ambition and focus on building up RMS in the early days.

He revealed that the early days were hectic as they set up radio stations in tiny offices and buildings around the country, converting literal bathrooms to radio studios reaching thousands.

While other stations focused on fancy offices, broadcast software and equipment in their offices, Macharia was intent on getting as many people as possible listening and watching.

For this reason, he was more keen on investment in transmission infrastructure to ensure his stations were heard across the country, disinterested in having cutting-edge studios. His philosophy was that if people couldn’t hear you, then all the fancy equipment was useless.

Communications consultant Julian Macharia. He was instrumental in setting up many of the popular radio stations under the RMS umbrella. [Photo/ Well Made Strategy]
Communications consultant Julian Macharia. He was instrumental in setting up many of the popular radio stations under the RMS umbrella. [Photo/ Well Made Strategy]
Julian revealed that in the first five years or so, they were setting up as many as 3 different radio stations a year. The strategy included creating several vernacular stations speaking to Kenyans in their local languages.

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At the time, major advertisers in the country including many corporates were focused on marketing via mainstream stations which, again, had primarily urban and middle-class audiences.

In the 2000’s however, what is now known as the ‘kadogo‘ economy blew up, transforming RMS fortunes.

Companies manufacturing common house-hold goods, such as detergent, tea leaves and flour started selling smaller packages of their products in a bid to target the masses. Their marketing strategies had to change as well, and SK Macharia’s ‘common mwananchi‘ focused stations were right there to capitalize on the opportunity.

It was time for SK to enjoy Return on Investment (ROI).

However, having already conquered radio, he took the same aggressive mindset to TV. Julian credits Managing Director (MD) Wachira Waruru with building up Citizen TV into the market-leader it currently is.

Just as they captured radio market share with relatable, localized content – Waruru spearheaded investment in localized shows which could attract mass-market audiences, such as Papa Shirandula which is considered a pioneer in modern local sitcoms.

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The station also ramped up its news production, revamping news programs and bringing in some of the country’s most popular anchors.

The rest, as they say, is history. According to multiple polls from Ipsos and Geopoll among others, Radio Citizen is the most listened-to radio station in the country while Citizen TV is the most watched TV station as of 2020.

Watch Julian Macharia speak on his time at RMS below:

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MARTIN SIELEhttps://loud.co.ke/
Martin K.N Siele is the Content Lead at Business Today. He is also a Quartz contributor and a 2021 Baraza Media Lab-Fringe Graph Data Storytelling Fellow. Passionate about digital media, sports and entertainment, Siele also founded Loud.co.ke
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