Bush Radio on the ropes

At the time of going to press, Cape Town based community radio station Bush Radio was R200 000 in arrears and facing a possible lock-out from its Salt River premises, as well as the prospect of going off air.

The station has been broadcasting since 1995 and has trained thousands of radio personnel over the years.

Bush Radio MD Brenda Leonard told Screen Africa on 30 August that a last-minute public fundraising appeal conducted via the press had raised only R4 000.

“In the past weeks we have had numerous meetings with several potential funders, including the Media Development & Diversity Agency (MDDA), which has a sustainability fund for community broadcasters. However, should the MDDA come on board it will still take a few months before we receive their funds. We have also tried on several occasions to meet with the Department of Communications but no-one ever returns our calls.

“On 31 August we will meet with our landlord and propose a payment plan as we have been in rental arrears since the beginning of the year and currently owe him R200 000. We aim to put money on the table and have requested advance fees from our advertisers to this end. It’s essential that the Bush Radio board of directors has the time to make sensible decisions around raising the necessary finance,’ said Leonard.

She noted that the station has been facing financial difficulties since 2009, with a spiralling loss in advertising due to the recession, as well as a reduction in donor funds. “It costs R2.4m a year to run Bush Radio; 25% of that is spent on rent,’ explained Leonard.

Bush Radio’s long term plans include a pledge drive in October, a fundraising concert at the end of November and the creation of a non-profit organisation called Friends of Bush Radio.

The station’s footprint is the Cape Flats and surrounds. According to the South African Advertising Research Foundation’s Radio Audience Measurement Survey (RAMS), Bush Radio has 85 000 listeners.

Said Leonard: “As a community station our programming is largely educational and looks at issues within the Cape Flats, including gender and human rights. We also produce public service announcements that are of use to our listeners, such as what to do if your child goes missing or how to prevent cervical cancer. We have even produced our own radio dramas based on short stories by black writers. Two of these dramas have been purchased by the BBC. However, dramas are very expensive to produce.

“Bush Radio is committed to South African music but also has programmes for specific genres such as hip hop, blues, reggae and world music. We always try and educate our listeners around the lyrics and the artists.’
There are four permanent staff members and 12 trainees at Bush Radio at any one time, supported by “about 100 volunteers’.

Bush Radio’s premises cover 700 square metres and include four studios – a 24-hour on-air studio, a news production studio, a production studio and a drama studio.

The idea of Bush Radio was initiated in the 1980s when community activists and alternative media producers came together to explore ways in which grassroots media could be used for social upliftment and as an alternative voice to the media available under apartheid.


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