Media personality Louis Otieno speaks through pain to share his story. Some of his words catch between his teeth and it’s clear he’s a far cry from the authoritative Louis Otieno of yore.
His mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Omolo, a veteran broadcaster, is trying to understand her son’s motivations , and at some point you fear she might break down in sobs.
Journalists Sophie Ikenye and Rose Kimotho discuss what was and could have been in Mr. Otieno’s story.
For a man who has worked as a star presenter in all four of Kenya’s top media houses, his story at the top and now at the bottom is a compelling study of how Kenyan media works and the banality of bourgeois life.
All of this is packed into a 23-minute podcast on Nation.Africa. It will be the first of six episodes about Mr. Otieno and will be titled Paradise Lost. It was written and produced by James Smart.
The podcast traces the rise and rise of Louis Otieno in the Kenyan media and intrigues that have hitherto been quietly talked about.
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“You know, I have a bionic ear. All I’m asking is that you raise your voice,” Mr Otieno pleads during one of his phone conversations with Mr Smart.
The Nation Podcast, which features exclusive details on the rise and fall of a man who has been one of the biggest names Kenya’s TV reveals that in addition to his declining hearing, Mr Otieno has also struggled with decades of back pain – so much so that he lives on painkillers. His speech is also slurred.
And somewhere in the first episode of the podcast, his mother tries to justify even a broadcasting legend who worked for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) for many years, which some have noticed as arrogance in Mr. Otieno during his tenure at KBC TV, NTV, Citizen TV, K24 and KTN over the years.
“He was wrong of many and that depressed me. It’s not that he hates anyone. He just wanted people to read the same script and enjoy the job equally. Neither is having fun and the other is grinning in the corner,” she says.
The first episode is titled “The Making of a Superstar” and explores the circumstances in which Mr. Otieno rose to the international spotlight.
It reveals a sense of curiosity that Mr. Otieno inadvertently pushed into the media. In the narrator’s words, Mr Otieno “didn’t really want to be on TV”. He says he didn’t even think about it.
But, as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Mr Otieno’s mother was an employee of KBC and mainly took care of the educational programs and he listened carefully to her programs to mark mispronounced words, long pauses, coughs and any weakness.
Als she returned home, he would confront her about what he had pointed out.
“He was the only person waiting to answer the door for me (when I came home late at night) . He was already on the air with pen and paper with the mistakes I made,” shares Ms. Omolo. “He became curious very young.”
And when he became a news anchor, it was the mother’s turn to be the critic and she also noticed the words mispronounced by Mr. Otieno and gave her opinion.
“She didn’t let me get a word wrong. She would be waiting for me at home with that word on a piece of paper,” recalls Mr. Otieno.
The podcast revisits the circumstances in which Mr. Otieno became a household name on Kenyan television deserve the right to have a program named after him.
“He single-handedly brought up the culture of interviewing on Kenyan television and important people paid attention to him,” says Mr. Smart.
He adds that news anchors revolutionized commerce during this period. “(Young anchors) started talk shows. They began to read news faster, dressed smarter and smarter. This was an industry-wide change. The TV revolution was televised. For Louis, he was the focus and did his part to move things forward,” says Smart.
One of Mr Otieno’s first key accomplishments, he shares, was getting then-Treasury Secretary David Mwiraria to speak on TV about the Anglo leasing scandal when everyone was talking about it.
In the interview, Mr Mwiraria (who died in 2017) replied when asked if any money had been sent to Kenya , as controversy raged over shady multi-billion dollar deals between the Kenyan government and a British company.
“He actually pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. Well, that’s live TV. If you’re still for three seconds, it’s about 15 seconds. But he went quiet and I went quiet. And he folded this piece of paper in mid-air,” says Mr. Otieno. “He cut it and gave it to me on air. He said, “I can give you that. This will show you your answer; Here we go.’”
The former news anchor predicts that while he wasn’t the one who exposed the Anglo leasing scandal, “I’m the only one who pissed the person off stops to come and speak to the country at its hottest time.”
The podcast traces Mr. Otieno’s rapid rise and how he became a household name in the television world became. starting talk shows wherever he went and even founding city halls.
However, his progress and his brand in general did not bode well for some industry gatekeepers who felt “threatened”.
“I think people were threatened by Louis,” reveals Rose Kimotho.
Mr Otieno says that when he joined NTV, the only person who supported him internally was Ms. Sophie Ikenye, who is now with the BBC. And Ms. Ikenye says: “We worked well together. We exchanged ideas; So it was quite fascinating working with him at the time and interviewing all these people.”
The podcast talks about the different perceptions of Mr. Otieno.
“The public thinks he is a proud and arrogant man (and there are) claiming to be a womanizer, a drunkard, and a deserter of the family,” says the narrator before going into detail.
Subsequent episodes that refer to the focus will be Mr. Otieno’s Fall, which will be uploaded every Saturday morning for the next six weeks. In next week’s episode, Mr Otieno will explain how his bosses wanted him off the air “so many times”. He believes he was a hunted man in the media corridors.
“Many times I stayed on the air because of pressure from Kenyans,” he will reveal.
And you too Do you know that there is a minister who died whose only one-on-one TV interview was on a Louis Otieno show? Listen to the first episode of the podcast to find out who this is and why messages once rushed to get Mr. Otieno’s attention.