By Deva Lee
When the name Mike Smurthwaite is mentioned, not many lift an eyebrow, but you’d struggle to find a student who hasn’t heard of Wigga. When he started DJing, Mike wanted a pseudonym and asked his res mates to help him out. Mike was a student that didn’t fall into the existing moulds at Rhodes because the way he spoke and behaved wasn’t something people were used to – and he listened to R&B, Hip Hop and Kwaito. They nicknamed this anomaly “Wigga”, and the DJ name that was meant to create anonymity ironically did quite the opposite. He soon became a renowned DJ in Grahamstown, and today it’s a name that most Rhodents are familiar with.
Wigga first joined RMR in 1999 as a pastime, and after finishing his degree in 2001 Wigga became the permanent station manager for RMR. Rhodes University had wanted to shut the station down after it had experienced financial difficulties, and Wigga was part of the team that drafted a five year plan for recovery. Wigga says he doesn’t feel like a student anymore but that doesn’t mean he’s lost touch. “I have to continue to maintain a student mentality so that I relate”, he says.
When asked about the infamous cap that he never removes, he produces a familiar smile. “In school I shaved my head, so the cap started as sun protection. But then I got used to it and now I feel naked without it.” The cap goes wherever Wigga does. “Unless it’s mandated, the cap’s on”, he says. “I once presented a proposal to ABSA with a cap on. I told them I was representing the student lifestyle”, he jokes with a grin.
Although he is primarily an R&B and Soul fan, Wigga’s taste in music is diverse. He is also a known to be master on the decks. “I’ve played with some famous names, but my best gig was with Mlu” (now a 5fmDJ). Wigga says that the energy of the crowd is what makes or breaks the event for him. “The gig went on until the cops shut us down at four [am], and the crowd didn’t get smaller”.
RMR will be hiring first years in 2007 to incorporate some new talent, and Wigga says that they are looking for people whose personalities fill particular roles that enhance the feel that the station is trying to present. “Don’t apply if your primary reason for wanting to be on RMR is because you think it will aid you in your career. We want people who are dynamic and are willing to go the extra mile”, he says. RMR intends to hire students with a broad range of interests, as their staff and market are diverse. You don’t have to be a Journalism student to apply and no prior radio experience is necessary.
Wigga plans to finally leave RMR in about two years, when his contract expires. He believes that RMR needs a change and so does he. He plans to either become an entrepreneur or join the industry, possibly in community radio. Although he plans to leave Grahamstown someday, he hasn’t set a definite date. “When the time is right I’ll know its right”, he says.