Radio is the medium to reach the widest audience especially in Africa where people are reacting to new technological forms and devices, according to the World Radio Day conference held in the UK on 13 March.
This follows on from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) approval at the 36th General Conference on 3 November 2011 when World Radio Day was launched.
The initial idea for this special day came from the Spanish Academy of Radio four years ago.
UNESCO proclaimed the date as an occasion to draw attention to the unique value of radio and announced that the day “raises awareness about the importance of radio, facilitating access to information through radio and enhances networking among broadcasters’.
The conference revealed that since its first broadcast over 100 years ago, radio has proved to be a powerful information source for mobilising social change and a focal point for community life. World Radio Day was celebrated with a variety of practitioners, academics and service providers who met and explored ways in which this traditional platform reaches even the most remote and vulnerable communities – such as in Africa.
“Radio services have transformed in the present times of media convergence, taking up new technological forms, such as broadband, mobiles and tablets. However, it is said that up to a billion people worldwide still do not have access to radio,’ notes UNESCO.
Over the years significant attention has been given to revolutions in information communications, including social media, yet it is important to remember that radio is still the world’s most active, localised broadcast technology.
UNESCO promotes radio as a low cost medium, specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in public debate, irrespective of one’s educational level. Radio also has a strong and specific role in emergency communications and disaster relief.
New perspectives, old medium
Under the theme New Perspectives on Traditional Radio, World Radio Day explored the new technology and devices now used in radio communication in the developing world and Africa featured strongly in the discussions.
Radio experts, enthusiasts and broadcasters also explored how to improve international cooperation among radio broadcasters and encourage decision makers to create and provide access to information through radio, including community radio.
They touched on challenges of how different technologies – whether a solar powered radio or a mobile phone for audience interaction – can change the way in which radio is used as a platform for engagement. Discussions covered entrepreneurship in radio stations’ business models, obstacles of politicisation, the challenges in staying financially sustainable, as well as access to radio broadcasts.
The main speaker at the event was Guy Berger (director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO). He was joined by Dr Chege Githiora (Chairman of the Centre of African Studies at SOAS); Birgitte Jallov (Empowerhouse/ Panos London); Amy O’Donnell (FrontlineSMS: Radio); Carlos Chirinos (SOAS Radio); and Linje Manyozo (LSE). Lucy Duran (SOAS, BBC Radio 3, Human Planet) moderated the panel.
World Radio Day was jointly hosted by SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) Radio, FrontlineSMS: Radio, Lifeline Energy and Empowerhouse – all organisations that have carried out extensive work worldwide.
SOAS Radio is an online station and social media enterprise by SOAS at the University of London and works with students, academics and professionals to produce radio programmes, and share research and interests of SOAS with a worldwide audience including Africa. The station also consults to and provides training for development projects around the world.
Lifeline Energy improves the quality of life of vulnerable populations by providing renewable energy alternatives to those in need. This includes solar and wind-up prime radios and Lifeplayer MP3s, which are designed for large group listening. Since 1999 more than 500 000 self-powered radios have been distributed reaching more than 20 million listeners mainly in Africa.
FrontlineSMS:Radio is a tailored version of FrontlineSMS – a free, open source software which assists with the management of text messages. It uses a laptop or computer connected to a mobile or GSM modem without the need for Internet access.
Empowerhouse assists communities, non-profits, governments and funders with finding integrated solutions to create and strengthen community radio. With 30 years experience, it offers online training, coaching and networks for sustainable, participatory processes, and carries out evaluation and impact assessments.
FrontlineSMS:Radio is undertaking trials and research in Zambia (with Breeze FM) and Uganda (with Radio Buddu). In Burundi, fundraising is currently ongoing for radio receivers to benefit poor communities who have limited access to electricity; and wind-up, solar-powered radios are preferred.
Uganda’s MAMA FM in Kampala, is one of the country’s first (and few) community radio stations. MAMA was planned in 1997 and has been on air since 2001. Started by the Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA) it focuses on the plight of the underprivileged and minorities and is the first radio station for women in Africa.
In her new book, Empowerment Radio, Birgitte Jallov notes that: “..any small radio station has the potential to become a community radio station, where the empowerment of individuals and the community grows from the power of being in control of the station, taking part in determining an editorial line, broadcasting hours and organisation.
“It is empowering to broadcast in the local language spoken in the way that only this community speaks, with all the cultural and traditional references and sayings which belong here.’
Compiled by Martin Chemhere
Screen Africa magazine – May 2012