In hindsight, it seems improbable that a former US Marine and high school football player born in San Francisco, nearly 8,000 miles away from Nigeria, would end up becoming arguably the biggest broadcast personality of a generation in Nigeria.
But that’s exactly what happened with the late Dan Foster—the legendary radio presenter who moved to Lagos at the turn of the millennium and became a national radio sensation. Foster, 61, passed away last month after contracting Covid-19.
The scale of Foster’s popularity and larger than life personality has shone through in the aftermath of his death with tributes coming from friends, family and fans, who grew up listening to and falling in love with Foster for nearly 20 years across four stations in Lagos.
Foster’s journey to Nigeria started with responding to a 1999 ad in Radio & Records, a now defunct publication for the US radio and music industry. Cool FM, one of the the three new private radio stations in Lagos at the time, was looking to hire an American radio presenter, partly to differentiate themselves in the local market and also because of they needed someone familiar with the US industry standard software they were adopting. Foster fit the bill after cutting his teeth working with local radio stations in Maryland and got hired on an initial two-year contract.
Then 41, Foster took a mid-life career turn that became a two-decade love affair with Africa’s most populous country.
“He was an instant hit when he came and he just never left,” says Chris Ubosi, who ran Cool FM at the time. With a refreshing, witty and spontaneous style that incorporated fun games and on-air pranks, Foster’s breakfast show quickly stood out on local airwaves which had been previously dominated by formulaic styles at state-owned radio stations.
“Radio used to be boring [but] Dan Foster’s morning show format was fun and fresh,” says Jide Taiwo, a Lagos-based entertainment journalist. “His whole model became the format for Lagos radio.”
Part of Foster’s allure for listeners lay in how invested he was with fitting into local culture: from his self-deprecating attempts to learn local dialects and name pronunciations on-air to delving into local cuisine. But it wasn’t simply a radio act, says Wana Udobang, a broadcaster and poet whose first job on radio saw her co-host a breakfast show with Foster in 2009 after he joined Inspiration FM, a newly founded family-focused station. “He just really embraced Nigeria. That’s one of the things that made him very endearing to people,” she tells Quartz Africa.
It’s a sentiment Ubosi agrees with: “It helped that he was Black so he fit in. But he really took to the place and started wearing Nigerian clothes two weeks after he got here!” Foster’s love affair with Nigeria culminated in a real-life romance as he married Lovina Okpara in 2009. He is survived by his wife and their three children as well as a son from an earlier marriage.
Beyond winning over listeners, Foster’s success and celebrity on radio also inadvertently inspired many who wanted a similar career path. While radio presenters had previously been respected but mainly faceless and under the radar, Foster’s popularity shot him into the mainstream, enough to become one of the judges on Idols West Africa, the regional version of the popular singing reality show franchise as well as Nigeria’s Got Talent. Foster even landed a movie role in Nigeria’s budding Nollywood movie industry just a year after moving to Nigeria.
“He definitely brought in the idea of being an actual radio personality,” Udobang says. And while he inspired many from afar, Foster paid particular attention to grooming the talent who worked with him. “Learning was a constant thing happening with him [because] teaching was such a part of his DNA,” Udobang says.
In 2016, Foster’s radio career went full circle as he teamed up with Ubosi who first hired him back in 2000. After leaving Inspiration FM in 2014, Foster also had a two year stint at City FM, a Lagos mainland radio station focused on younger Nigerians. For his part, Ubosi had since become chief executive of Megalectrics, parent company of a group of 12 radio stations operating in four of Nigeria’s biggest cities and in London.
One of those included Classic FM, a station that primarily played old-school hits and had become a favorite among middle-aged and older Nigerians. “He was always a natural fit for Classic FM,” Ubosi says. “It’s the same audience that grew up listening to him in the early 2000s.”
Ultimately, Foster’s journey on radio ended in August last year after he left Classic FM—but his legacy was cemented long before. “Anyone who grew up with radio in Nigeria knows him,” Ubosi tells Quartz Africa. “It will be impossible to forget Dan Foster.”
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