The New York Times Pays Tribute To Late Dan Foster

Dan Foster, the American-Born ‘Big Dawg’ of Nigerian Radio, Dies at 61

Mr. Foster, a former U.S. Marine, pioneered a new style of on-air personality in his African home, becoming a top celebrity. He died after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Dan Foster had a big voice, a love of giving away gifts and a light touch with a story. And when he arrived in Nigeria to work in radio in 2000, he found a public that was ready for him.

The country’s airwaves had only recently emerged from state control, and Mr. Foster’s mix of plain talk, folksy humor and American swagger — calling himself the Big Dawg or the Top Dawg — made him a new kind of morning radio host, one of the most popular in the country.

“It was the first time in Nigeria we had someone who sounded different from us, who brought that American flavor, brought stories and just changed the way everybody saw radio,” said Osikhena Dirisu, a morning host at The Beat, a station in the main city, Lagos.

The Big Dawg parlayed his celebrity into roles in movies and on reality television, as a judge on “Idols West Africa” and “Nigeria’s Got Talent.” He also promoted concerts. The Nigerian website Pulse called him “the God of radio,” waxing, “There are two eras of radio in Nigeria. Before and after Dan Foster.”

Mr. Foster died on June 17 at a hospital in Lagos a day after receiving a positive test result for the coronavirus, his wife, Lovina Okpara, told Nigerian media. He was 61.

Daniel Leon Foster was born on Sept. 26, 1958, in San Francisco, and grew up mainly in Prince George’s County, Md., outside of Washington, the oldest of four siblings. His father, Samuel Leon Foster, was a 21-year Air Force veteran; his mother, Sarah, died when Dan was 11, leaving him to spend much of his childhood with his grandmother.

He played football in high school, and put on neighborhood shows with his sisters and brother. After high school he joined the Marines, then enrolled at Towson University and, later, Morgan State University in Baltimore, studying drama and communication.

He worked at various radio jobs in between stints in college, but by the mid-1990s his life seemed headed in the wrong direction. He was arrested and pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated stalking in Florida, and was sentenced to three years of probation.

He kept working and married twice in the United States, fathering a son, Joshua, before receiving a job offer in Nigeria.

It was the beginning of a new life. He was an instant sensation, embracing his new country and being embraced in return. He told stories about his father and his time in the Marines, and struggled on-air with the local languages, which only endeared him to his audience. His romantic life and career moves became fodder for entertainment websites.

Unlike previous radio hosts from the United States, who never fully settled in, Mr. Foster immersed himself in Nigeria’s culture, dressing in local fashions and dropping phrases from the local languages into his on-air patter. “I love what I am doing here and this is my home,” he told Modern Ghana in 2009.

He married Ms. Okpara, a Nigerian woman, and started a new family, sometimes inviting their three young children — Kayla, Daniella and Somtochukwu — onto the air with him. They survive him along with his father, three siblings and son in the United States.

Late last year Mr. Foster told Owen Gee, a top comedian, that he planned to start his own radio station. “It was something that we were waiting for, for a long, long time,” Mr. Gee said, adding, “Dan is the best thing to happen to modern radio in Nigeria.”

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