Thursday, May 12, 2011

Interview with an intern at the SABC Radio Archives: Obakeng Phiri

Obakeng Phiri
Intern at the SABC Radio Archives
The SABC Radio Archives has acquired the services of four interns since March of this year. The interns are here for a couple of months to acquire valuable skills, but also to help with the workflows in the SABC Radio Archives. They have actually changed the way we work.

Obakeng Phiri is a qualified Sound Engineer.

Questions addressed to the intern to understand the type of skills that they have to offer, but also get a better understanding of what they are doing here in the SABC Radio Archives.

Obakeng, please tell us about your personal history as well as your studies. How did you become an intern here at the SABC?
I always wanted to be a DJ, so I used to have a old car radio which had a tape deck, of which I used as my bedroom hi-fi by connecting it with a Video game adaptor and also building my own speakers using the 'printing paper' box to house them in. One day my friend’s father gave me his old turntable and old LP’s for me to use. I did not have an amplifier to connect to the turntable, so I used the car radio for amplification by connecting the RCA from the turntable to the tape deck’s tape head. That’s when my passion for sound presented itself to me for the very first time. When I was in standard seven I entered a DJ competition and I came out second. I have parents who believed in me. I became a professional DJ at clubs, parties and at TNG FM and still managed to get through school at The Pretoria Technical High School. I was introduced to electronics at the high school. After I passed my matric in 2004 I took a year off. I was still confused of what I wanted to study. I then decided to go study sound. I completed my diploma in 2 years’ record time, and started working as a freelancer for different sound companies.  I later got a job at the South African State Theatre, where I worked for two years and left due to the fact that I did not see my self growing there. I got the opportunity to sharpen my skills in recording and in live sound engineering. I did a couple of radio ads and a lot of mastering and music production. I realised that sound was not a career but a lifestyle. It was always my dream to work for a company as big as the SABC, due too a stable income and a job title that required my skills and at the same time keeping me informed about what’s happening in my country. The only problem is that I did not think I would have the privilege to be here due to the fact that there is a sound engineering school within the RBF. I thought they would be given first priority to get hired by the SABC. I prayed to God, applied and He presented me with the opportunity to be here.

What does your job entail here at the SABC?
My job as a radio archivist is preserving SA's radio broadcast history, by listening to radio programmes for different stations like RSG, Ikwekwezi FM, Metro FM, SAFM and Channel Africa and identifying relevant material to be preserved and permanently archived. The audio are retrievable for the SABC for rebroadcasting, if necessary. For example: June 16 audio of the student unrests. To remind South Africans were we've been, and also for clients’ request who want interviews, radio programmes, sport programmes and other materials that is archived.   

What have you learned while you have been here?
I learned to identify the differences between news reports, actuality and interviews for Channel Africa and RSG Monitor and also to identify Radio programmes in the Afrikaans and Ndebele languages. I have done RSG programmes Jacqui praat met, Vers & Klank and Ikwekwezi FM radio dramas like Soul City and Nanje Ngisabuza. I have also learned to record from the analogue tape machine to Steinberg Wavelab software programme. I am recording in and operating Dalet 5.1. I do quality checking of airchecks which comes in the format of CDs from the radio main control and labelling the CDs to be recorded in main control. I have also learned to file the CDs in the store room called the JAD room for permanent storage.

Please tell us of any interesting anecdote or funny story with regards your internship here at the SABC
Say that the SABC was a human body and that each department was a part of that body. Journalists would be the eyes and ears and the managers would be the arms and legs. We would be one of the most important departments in SABC, due too the fact that we are the memory of the SABC and of our country.  We are very important if people want to know what happened in South Africa 50 years ago. We as archivists are the ones that knows how and where to retrieve that information.

What suggestions do you have for us with regards the preservation and digitization of our audio collections?
We must record with higher sample rates like 48 khz and a higher bit depth of 32 bits, so that when we down sample it to 44.1khz to 16 bits in Wavelab we must still preserve the audio quality when conversion from Analogue to digital takes place before burning to CD. We must store all the material digitally using big hard disk drives, to prevent us from losing all the work we have preserved all these years in a fire or damaged mediums like old LPs, tapes, and scratched CDs.

What are you planning to do after your internship?
I am planning to have learned enough too land me a job within the broadcasting industry. I want to pursue my interest in the Radio and Television and Broadcasting Industry, as well as Archiving Studies for future career expansion.  I also want to develop myself by finally registering for LLB studies with UNISA. It is only intended as personal development, because at this stage I see my future in Broadcasting. My dream is to be part of my country’s growth and vision; making South Africa a better place than it is!

Questions and blog post by Karen du Toit,
Afrikaans Archivist in the SABC Radio Archives.


  1. Big up to Mr Obakeng. Keep up the positive attitude - all the best with your career. :)

  2. This was a good library for the sound engineer's.


We welcome any feedback and comments!