The year is 1997, it's three years since Nelson Mandela's long walk to freedom led him up the stairs of the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Liberated South Africa is just starting to come to terms with its bad self. Up until 1994 all relevant cultural production was purpose-built to bring down the apartheid system. Now three years into freedom and a fledgling youth scene is starting to take shape, in the clubs, pumping from the sub-woofers of countless minibus taxis and transmitting on the airwaves. 99.2 YFM. Pulsing from the dusty old suburb of Bertrams in downtown Jozi (aka Johannesburg). The sound is kwaito, the song is TKZee's 'Phalaphala' and everybody is feeling it. This is kwaito, ruder than a rude sound pumped loud on a burnt out speaker stack. And no one but those involved know what the hell it's all about. Underground style. Take a four to the floor house beat, slow it down a bit and locate the groove, add some of the raw energy of the toyi-toyi protest dance; the well-practiced social weapon of a thousand student marches, spread repetitive, licentious and light-hearted lyrics over the top in staccato refrains in Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa and Tsotsi Taal (street slang), give it all the attitude of victory and liberation, mash it up and you've got kwaito. In 1997 there is one radio station that owns kwaito. The rest are caught napping. One station that embodies the emerging culture and takes the risk by playing it. The audience responds by loving it and buying it. The station also happens to be affiliated to Radio Freedom, the ANC's mouthpiece during exile, broadcasting from Lusaka, Zambia. It has serious struggle credentials and a huge grass roots following. Dirk Hartford, the man who started YFM, is an ex-trade unionist and political activist. All of a sudden you've got a bonafide, original, post-apartheid South African cultural scene burning up the airwaves. Kwaito is huge, it becomes synonymous with the emerging South African youth culture and everybody wants a piece. Albums are selling between 200-300 thousand copies which in South Africa - where people generally dub tapes - is big time! Other radio stations catch the wake up and start taking their cues from YFM to try catch up. Until YFM, local music has been playing the small marimba to imported R&B and hip hop from the USA. Suddenly kwaito is a household word, YFM is a legend, the downtown studio a meeting place for the demi-gods of the scene, the DJs are celebrities and the parties are palpable representations of what the rainbow nation is supposed to look like. But most of all, on South Africa's quality starved airwaves, there's finally a station worth listening to.

Fast forward seven years and YFM has moved out of the ghetto and followed the money North. Now broadcasting from a plush mall in the arterial suburb of Rosebank. Manifestly a commercial radio station now, YFM still views kwaito as a cornerstone but has diversified its playlist to include African and South African house music, hip hop, R&B and soul. The station has a 50% local music quota, by far the largest quota handed down to a commercial radio station from ICASA the broadcasting watchdog. All the state owned commercial stations have 25% local music quotas. What was once considered an impediment, has become YFM's biggest selling point, namely their commitment to playing local tunes. The state's national youth station, 5FM struggles to attract half of YFM's listenership and they broadcast to the entire nation, while YFM only has a small regional licence for the province of Gauteng only.

Such is the success of YFM that in 1998 they launched a magazine. However unlike the radio station's radical success and centrality to South Africa's burgeoning youth culture - communicating to close to two million listeners - the magazine barely achieves 18 000 sales every two months. Like many things in the South African media landscape, the reasons for this are not entirely understood. Perhaps it is the lack of a commuter culture in SA, with no trains and buses and no kiosks selling reading fodder for the commute, or perhaps it is because the written word only arrived in South Africa when Bartholomew Diaz rounded the Cape and left an inscribed cross behind as a monument. Until such time language was fluid, words were spoken and good stories remembered. Whatever the reason, the magazine's mix of investigative journalism, profiles and music, all dealing with the local scene YFM helped to establish, is starting to make some headway with readers.

The studio's mall front facade also doubles as a clothing shop purveying hip fashions from local fashion brands such as Darkie, Magents and a range of smaller labels. Seminal SA fashion labels like Loxion Kulcha and Stoned Cherrie have long since graduated from the Y shop to their own stores.

In the rush to be Proudly South African, the marketing drive that is currently gripping South African business, YFM stands back somewhat bemused that it took the largely white owned business sector so long to appreciate the buying power of the 'new' South African market. As commercial interests sycophantically usurp anything South African to turn a quick buck, Sanza, the Rastafarian DJ on the Harambe show is a little more perceptive.

'Me I'm not into that bullshit. I'm not like Mobutu. I want to play interesting things on my radio. I don't just want to play Brenda Fassie over and over again. It's much more authentic to say I want to be the kind of youth who listen to interesting things from around the world. That makes me a better South African.'

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