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Bullying at the heart of my radio exit says Clarence Ford

Clarence Ford said he didn't have "any ill feelings" about his imminent exit. picture: Supplied

Clarence Ford said he didn't have "any ill feelings" about his imminent exit. picture: Supplied

Published Dec 19, 2021

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Cape Town – Radio legend Clarence Ford will be bidding farewell to Heart FM and his fans after 24 years with the station.

Ford’s show tonight between 6 to 10pm called Me Time, features “Clarrie's favourites”, is one of the most popular Sunday shows in the city.

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Tens of thousands of listeners also tune in daily for his weekday lunchtime programme. Die-hard Ford fans will still be able to get their daily fix for the next few weeks.

Ford has made a massive contribution not only to the station, but to radio in the country for over three decades. Few have enjoyed this level of unprecedented longevity in the radio game.

He is an institution in the Mother City. While Ford cut his teeth in the broadcasting game in Namibia, and then Goodhope FM, it's at P4 Radio that eventually became Heart FM, where he really owned the airwaves.

Ford said a run-in with a senior manager at the station all but brought his nearly quarter of a century stay at Heart FM to an end.

“I've had some run-ins with management. And there was a particularly bad one in February where I had to draw the line. I cannot be in a space where my values are compromised. The February experience related to an attempt to bully on a public platform. And I was on the receiving end. And I don't take to bullies very kindly. And I met the bully halfway in a language only bullies understand. And I expected the response would be, let's just call it an emotionally intelligent response. And that is exactly what has brought us to this particular time."

Ford added: "I demanded that they (management) rein in the bully and they refused to, or didn't feel it necessary. I said I can't respect this kind of behaviour. And if they're going to remain silent, they would be complicit, and I couldn't stay. And I made it clear given that scenario."

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Renee Redelinghuis serves as managing director at Heart FM. Just below her is Denver Apollus, the head of Radio Innovation. And Vernon Nel, the programme manager, is Ford's line manager.

Ford said recent contract talks were "a bit of a surprise".

"I got a WhatsApp message from my immediate superior asking me to come to the boardroom. That was on November 8. And that there would be a discussion about my contract."

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Ford explained that previous contract meetings never took more than five minutes and were often concluded in the office hallway.

"This was quite ominous, because this was a discussion in the boardroom," he said. "I thought it related directly to the impasse in February. And I knew instinctively what was going to play out. And it did. I have communicated all the issues to the board and to management, in detail. And I think that is where the issues must reside."

Apollus said there was "absolutely no truth" to Ford's claims of bullying saying "it's definitely not the reason for departure of Clarence." "I don't even engage much with Clarence. I don't know where the bullying comes from. He doesn't even engage with management much."

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Apollus was under the impression Ford and the station would put out a joint statement.

Ford said he was offered the Sunday night show only in a new deal. And that "a reposition of the business" meant he was no longer needed in the weekday line-up.

Several staffers, past and present, have told Weekend Argus of a "toxic work environment" at Heart FM.

Some staff said they were too afraid to speak out publicly for fear of being victimised by management.

A former staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "In 2019, a senior manager made us attend his father's funeral, providing transport and time-off. He bullied those of us who didn't go. Last year a black female colleague was killed, we had a two minute moment of silence. I couldn't take his bullying anymore and this year I tried committing suicide. I'm surprised I'm still alive."

A former on-air personality who asked to remain anonymous said: "I am grateful for everything I've learned. The best thing I could have done was to leave. The work environment was ... uncomfortable. There are too many things they (management) allowed to happen that shouldn't. You go to staff functions and the behaviour is gross. A sales rep groped me and a few other girls. He resigned shortly thereafter. He was given the option to resign. This type of behaviour goes unchecked."

A current employee who asked not to be named said "The culture internally is something else. Generally there is fear among staffers.

"If you raise things about the management style there will be victimisation. It is bullying tactics. They remind you that you should be lucky to have your job and you are replaceable. It's a tough place to be."

Apollus refuted the claims. "Maybe there is an environment that exists that I am not aware of. There's a very specific culture at the office. It's a culture of family. And we drive people to hold each other accountable and some people subscribe to it, and some don't. I am extremely disappointed that people still feel there is a toxic environment. There is no toxic environment."

Ford, who is gearing up for his final weeks with the station, said this had been "a tiring year".

"Both my wife and I had Covid. She's had cancer, she's survived cancer, our dog had an incurable disease, and it's been really trying on that front. I've not had leave, I've been in hospital with Covid. So I've not really had a break from radio."

Ford said he didn't have "any ill feelings" about his imminent exit. "I have made complete peace with it. I am actually quite looking forward to the prospect of the future beyond Heart. A future that I have maybe not given too much attention to, and that future talks to the entrepreneurial person that I am. I've wanted to step out and create more space and pursue such entrepreneurial adventures and now I have the opportunity to do that. For now I am going to up my game and just deliver the best of me in what remains of my time on Heart FM."

Weekend Argus

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