Henry Bonsu: My Life In Media

'Colourful is the first ever British black-led radio operation that has focused on speech instead of music. People have been crying out for this for years'

Monday 11 September 2006 00:00

Henry Bonsu, 38, is director and presenter on Colourful Radio, the new speech-based digital station aimed at Europe's African and Caribbean communities. Perhaps best known as the man axed for being "too intellectual", he has been a journalist since 1990, working on BBC radio and TV programmes including Today, World at One, Public Eye and Black Britain. For two years he anchored the Drivetime news programme on BBC London 94.9, interviewing leading politicians, business people and celebrities. He has written for The Times, The Mail on Sunday, Daily Express, The Voice, New Nation, Pride magazine and the London Evening Standard. He lives in Brixton, south London, with his girlfriend Sharlene.

So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

My parents always taught me that the pen was mightier than the sword. But essentially, it was the amazing response to an article I wrote in the Oxford student newspaper about being black in the ivory tower.

When you were 15 years old, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

We took The Times. My father would always bury his head in the law reports, but I preferred reading my Latin to the latest polemic from Bernard Levin.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

My favourite TV programme was Life on Earth with David Attenborough. Radio-wise, the top 40 with Mike Read. It was a long time ago!

Describe your job

I am head of talent and programmes at Colourful, a new cross-cultural speech and music radio station broadcast on Sky Digital 0194 and on the web. I also present a drivetime programme from 3-6pm, so it's pretty full on.

What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?

As our live programmes don't start till 9am, it's still Today on Radio 4. I used to work there, and have been weaning myself off it over the years.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

Yes, constantly. After the national newspapers, Sky, BBC News and the Evening Standard. My researcher Vania checks the domestic news agencies, and specialist websites like ethnicnow.com, blink.org.uk and ligali.org. We're becoming a haven for grass-roots organisations, which get no mainstream coverage.

What is the best thing about your job?

The power to make things happen. There's no better feeling than walking into the office and seeing a dream take shape, from the programmes we're creating to the people we're hiring - first-timers who might otherwise struggle to get into the closed shop, and old hands, disillusioned with the current state of radio.

And the worst?

Resolving staff issues. I always prided myself on being a diplomat, but sometimes you just have to bang heads together.

How do you feel you influence the media?

Too early to say with Colourful, but we know we're being listened to. However, our sister website blackbritain.co.uk regularly has newspapers picking up their stories. Individually, I try to influence the media through personal appearances on Sky News, Five Live and other outlets.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Helping to set up Colourful. Remember, this is the first ever British black-led radio operation that has focused on speech instead of music. People have been crying out for this for years. And we've made it happen.

What's your most embarrassing moment?

Presenting Radio Five Live's Word Up nearly 10 years ago. I had recorded a package but both the broadcasting play-out machines failed to work, first the reel-to-reel one and then the digital back-up one. There was nothing but the sweet sound of silence, except for my breathing. I was left with nothing to say for three minutes. It was so bad that Five Live continuity stepped in and ended the programme early.

At home, what do you tune in to?

Radios 4, Five Live, Joy FM in Ghana, and, of course, Colourful.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

The Observer, and its magazine.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

I'd quite like to be UN Secretary General in a post-Blair/Bush era - the second Ghanaian to hold the post.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

I'd be in politics or international development.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Channel 4's Jon Snow. He oozes a rare kind of integrity.

The cv

1993 Joins the BBC Radio 4 Today programme as a researcher. Leaves three years later to join BBC2's Black Britain.

1998 Starts working as a presenter on GLR/London Live/ BBC London.

2002 Becomes a regular panellist on channel Five's The Wright Stuff.

2004 Axed from BBC London radio for being (in the words of managing editor David Robey) "too intellectual ... and not populist enough". Story makes the front page of The Daily Telegraph.

2006 Sets up Colourful Radio with Kofi Kusitor, founder of blackbritain.co.uk.

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