Meet Tim Modise, tackling SA’s big story, partnering Biznews

The most exciting part of being involved in a young business is developing new partnerships, sometimes with people you’ve known and trusted for years. At Biznews we are privileged to have strong, committed partnerships with SA’s best health journalist, Marika Sboros, and her counterpart on the media beat, Gill Moodie. Today is another red letter event for us with the announcement of our partnership with  broadcasting icon Tim Modise who will be our new Transformation section. There are many sides to Tim, as his devoted listeners have realised over the years (he is currently the morning show host on Power FM). Get to know Tim better and discover what the new section will focus upon by listening to the interview below. – Alec Hogg

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Broadcasting icon Tim Modise and Biznews.com’s Alec Hogg got behind their microphones to talk about their new partnership that will tackle SA’s biggest story – Transformation.  So how often is the consummate broadcaster himself the subject of the interview?  

Very rarely I must say, Alec.

What drew you to broadcasting?

I just love doing this kind of work.  I enjoy broadcasting.  It was initially music, by the way, but as soon as I saw the reach and the popularity of it, especially when I worked for Radio Metro – in 1988, to be precise…

How did you get into Metro?

I actually worked as a journalist/reporter for the SABC based in Mafikeng at the time, so when Metro launched, I applied and went over.  It was in existence for one month when I joined them and did the Morning Show.  We had fun but I felt we could do more, notwithstanding the constraints of the time, where you couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that in terms of Talk Radio.  I was inclined toward the sharing of information with our audiences.  In 1988, I started a talk program around consumer rights and legal issues – those types of things that people needed some public education on, such as health.  That’s how I got going.  By ’89, when the first members of the Rivonia Trial came out, I was privileged to be in a position to interview them – talking to Mr Govan Mbeki and Mr Walter Sisulu.  Of course, when 1990 came, it was almost as though the platform was already created for that.

We were at the Presidency a couple of months ago and the incumbent referred to you as ‘King Tim Modise’.  It is in many ways, a position that you’ve earned – of being the king of broadcasters here in South Africa.  Nobody in this country will turn down an interview from you…or is there?

Well, let me deal with the first part – the king.  I don’t regard myself as the king of broadcasting, but it’s okay.  I’ll take the compliment any time from you, Alec.

JZ who described you that way – a lot more credibility…

I suppose that in his case it’s based on the fact that when he came back from exile, I was the person interviewing him and many other people who came back. So it’s a case of ‘I’m familiar with you and we’ve done a lot of work together’. I’ve enjoyed some of the interviews and the coverage that I’ve done; not just on him but on other people as well. I do welcome that compliment.

Has anyone turned you down?

Mr Clarence Makwetu of the PAC is the one person I’ve tried many times (unsuccessfully) to interview, and I never succeeded. He was media-shy.  He’s about the only person, especially in the lead up to the 1994 elections, but since then until now – not really, no.

So we can expect the new section on Biznews – Transformation with Tim Modise – to get some pretty serious personalities giving us their views about South Africa…

Yes.

The whole country’s transforming.

I think so Alec, and I like the subject of transformation by its very nature; that when you transform something it is for the better.  It’s a given/anticipated outcome.  What interests me are the forces that bring about change, the individuals who influence that kind of change, the institutions that are impacted by the change, and the broader society – the benefit of change, if any.  As I said, it’s something that you expect to come out of transformation.  To my mind, you can’t talk South African politics, South African economy, and life generally, without talking about transformation.  It’s a subject that I find particularly younger members of our society are focused on and seized by. And technology of course, we know, brings that transformation about around the world.  Whether you want it, expect it, or agree with it, it happens all around us all the time.  I think it’s a big, interesting, fascinating subject that needs to be pulled together to make sense and I’m looking forward to that.

How do you remain balanced? You always listen to all sides of the story, a rare and a very good quality in an interviewer…

I think it’s because I don’t think that I’m the story or that I should be the centre/focus of an interview or any story that I do.  I think the story/subject/interviewee is more interesting than myself.  Mine is to tease as much information out of the person as possible and invariably, informed by curiosity more than anything else.  If it’s informed by curiosity, it means I’m seeking to understand.  I’m not really seeking to put anybody down, embarrass them, or show them up.  I move from a curious position and a seeking to understand.

What keeps you curious?

Events, things that happen around me, why things work the way they do, and why human beings behave the way they do.  What informs us?  Our fears, our aspirations, hopes, and all of those things.  I actually love history.  I love the evolution of mankind as a subject matter.  I’m curious.  I actually think about it almost every day (this subject).  For us to be where we are now…  we were somewhere else as human beings (civilisation-wise) and there are epochs in the history of mankind where things change from this to that.  During the Stone Age for instance, tools were made of stone and we probably lived in caves.  Then we became agrarian, etcetera.  We are warlike as well as adventurous.  We seek to understand things.  We send people into space and in the meantime, we’re developing technologies etcetera.  Think about it, Alec.  Over the past 100 years up to now, almost all the technologies that we use did not exist 100/120 years ago.  How many things are there that we take for granted, though?

Electricity.

Electricity, for example.

Well, not so much in South Africa anymore…

Cellphones, motor vehicles, aeroplanes, television sets, and even the platform on which we’re speaking.

The Internet…

Exactly.  Some of those things didn’t exist 20/30 years ago and here they are now.  What kind of world are we going to have in the next ten years?  I’m curious from that point of view.  Now that we know what we know, what’s going to happen next?

What can visitors to the Transformation section expect to see?  Some more understanding of the way the world is changing?

What people can expect to see is more of the forces, discussions, and focus on the forces that drive change through the people who influence those events.  Those particular individuals (and they always stand out) are going to be my main area of interest.  If you look at contemporary history – the past 25 years – of South Africa, the best way of telling the story, is through people who brought about that change.  Everything that we as societies and communities do is based on the ideas, motivation, and influence of specific individuals.  Even now, as we speak for instance, the new power battery, Elon Musk, the electricity comes, Tesla, and Steve Jobs (the influence at Apple).  These are game-changers.  Maybe in summary, I think we’re going to hear more from the game-changers, not only here in South Africa (but predominantly South African), but those game-changers on the continent as well, in particular.

Tim, I’m sure the millions of listeners of yours would love to know.  What’s the best interview you can remember?  You can say ‘Madiba’ if you want.

Of course.  Most definitely.  I was very privileged by the way, Alec, to interview him on several occasions.  In a strange sort of way, I think now when I reflect on it, he looked forward to the interviews.  As much as it was work for me and it was work for him too, it was also a sort of catch-up type of time.  I’ve enjoyed talking to former President Thabo Mbeki, actually.

A very smart guy…….

A very insightful thinker and ‘ideas’ man, so if you want to understand something or you want to have some provocative conversation, which may take you some place (especially on how societies function on history and the economic system), Mbeki would be your man.  Over time, I’ve enjoyed talking more to artists, actually – creative people.  Many interviews that I’ve enjoyed the most would invariably be with creative people.