Video fails to kill the radio star: How to build a media empire, Malawian style

Story highlights

  • The entrepreneur grew up with little, but a love of radio gave him the incentive to improve his circumstances
  • Denied a radio license three times, he eventually set up what would become the biggest private radio station in Malawi
  • After nine years in radio Kazako transitioned into television, maintaining a focus on ethical businesses
  • The station supports female students in Malawi and has an scholarship fund sending women to international universities

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(CNN)Gospel Kazako knows that sometimes it's best to follow the light.

The eldest of eight children, the Malawian entrepreneur had a typical upbringing in the southern town of Zomba. One night, sitting out on his parents' veranda, he spotted a mysterious light flashing atop nearby Mount Mpigi. He asked someone about it, who told him it was a radio transmitter. "I got very fascinated," Kazako recalls. A lifetime obsession was instantly born, setting the young boy on a path that would see him transmitting to millions of people every day and eventually becoming a major media mogul.
    High school and a diploma in journalism later and Kazako found employment at Malawian state radio MBC. There, he produced a variety of shows but after seven years he left to set up his own company, which created adverts, features and documentaries for other radio stations.
    Kazako's ambition would take him further; first he was at the helm of his own station, Zodiak Radio (Malawi's leading privately-owned station), and later on he successfully expanded into television. The process was arduous and required no small measure of perseverance. Here, Kazako tells CNN how he fought his way to the top, why it's important to look back, and how ethics are at the core of his business.
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    Perseverance is key. Whilst running his production company, support from clients bolstered Kazako's belief that he could go it alone and set up his own station.
    Things didn't start well. "In 2002 I applied for a license and it was rejected twice. In 2003 I applied again [but] it was also rejected," Gospel says. In 2004, and at the fourth attempt, he was granted a national broadcasting license. He was ready to go as soon as it arrived -- "By that time I had bought around three transmitters," he cheekily admits.
    Start small but always think big. "We started very, very simple, with very, very simple gadgets," Kazako explains. "When people [came to] the studios they were fascinated. 'Are you broadcasting to the whole country using these simple gadgets?' I said yes.
    "We continued, struggling, expanding. We started with five transmitting sites... now we have I think over 34-35 transmitting sites across the country."
    Being the largest private radio station in Malawi was not enough for Kazako. After nine years in radio he wanted a new challenge and decided to expand into television.
    "Realizing the dream of running or owning a television station [was] a very, very difficult journey," he says. "The day we switched on the television... expecting that every moment, any second, we're going to see a Zodiak signal... I don't know how to describe it... it was a very, very emotional moment."
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    Businesses should be ethical. Gospel says Kodiak's mission was always clear. "From the onset we told ourselves that we are going to be a radio station that should be fair, balanced, ethical, professional and non-partisan. A station that was going to be one that everyone must trust.
    "I feel I have a personal responsibility as a broadcaster, as a journalist, to ensure that people are well informed. So they can make decisions about their future; decisions about their lives."
    Everybody should have a voice in society. "[Radio] is a very powerful tool that can change people's lives," Kazako says. "It's a voice, loaded with information. It's a voice with content that can be used effectively to change how people think, to change [the] attitudes of the people, to change so many things."
    Gospel is now using his station to help others. In 2007 he introduced the Zodiak Girl Awards, recognizing the best female students in high schools.
    "I have always been a very strong believer that for us to move forward everybody must be included. And when I say everybody, this includes women. You cannot talk about human rights without women rights."
    "For us to develop as a country we need to make sure that we are not leaving our women behind," Gospel argues. The awards, which are now paired with international university scholarships are "empowering our women," he says, "empowering our girls through education."
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    Humble beginnings should not restrict you. "I didn't grow up with a lot of resources around me," Kazako explains. "I know the pains of sleeping with an empty stomach... I know the pains of sleeping on a railway line without a blanket... I know the pains of almost having nothing."
    Speaking of the media empire he has built, Kazako is self-deprecating. "Anybody can do this. I'm like you... Wherever you are in [your] corner of the world, you can become someone. In the very small corner that you are, take off fear and believe in your idea. Believe in your idea, work very hard, and make sure [it] is going to happen... Sometimes it can be very frustrating, sometimes you feel you are bashing a dry hard wall, sometimes people look at you like a crazy fellow, but just believe and keep on walking."