In Africa radio remains a cutting-edge medium that holds its own even when media is diversifying fast and new digital platforms are replacing old, traditional and trusted mediums.
The medium, often referred to as the theatre of the mind, is largely successful because the vast majority of the population of the region no access to internet or antennas for television.
Zimbabwean broadcaster Nonkululeko Amard Dube, who now hosts The Big Show at lunchtime for ZiFM Stereo, says her journey in her the past two years at ZiFM has been exciting and very informative.
“With all things, there are pros and cons. Radio is a very powerful medium as it can be accessed by a greater number of people as opposed to television and the internet. Radio is supposed to entertain, inform and educate and in most regards, it is doing all of that but as with everything more has to be done,” Dube said.
ZiFM's Nonkululeko Amard Dube says a lot still needs to happen in Zimbabwe to fine-tune what's being disseminated to the listeners.
The shift towards digital platforms has some pouring scorn on the future of radio as a platform. Media personnel, especially radio broadcasters and producers, think that the growth of radio has peaked.
The difference about Africa is that radio seems to be thriving with this digital shift.
“Radio has withstood the test of the internet, newspapers and social media combined. There have been a lot of technological advances in media, yes, but I feel radio is one the mediums that is here to stay,” Dube said.
This year’s theme for the 8th edition of UNESCO World Radio Day is Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace. These principles are more than relevant for Africa where there are currently many shifts in political power often involving violence or even terrorism.
A growing population, poverty, migration and the growing number of asylum seekers in developing countries means amplifying the need for dialogue among citizens with leaders and communities has also grown even more important.
Radio’s power to influence many was witnessed in the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. There radio was instrumental in spreading hate speech and inciting violence but was also used for messages of peace and acceptance.
Speaking about the current situation in Zimbabwe, Dube said that though it had not been an easy balance radio has attempted to bring about dialogue through the dissemination of all the information available. She adds that this has helped Zimbabweans have more robust conversations.
The internet in Zimbabwe on the other hand has recently undergone the alarming sanction of a complete shutdown when the country’s security forces repressed protests over a hike the fuel prices.
“It was a very difficult situation to go through as it had never happened in Zimbabwe before. At most we have had social media shut down but not the entire internet
“As a radio station, it limited the quality and amount of information we could put on air as most of our research is done online. To say the least most stations were quiet and played music,” Dube said.
Teboho Mohlomi, a veteran broadcaster who now lecturers at Walter Sisulu University, says that radio exposes a listener to a myriad of views from various schools of thought.
As radio is a shaping tool for narratives, Mohlomi says the interaction of broadcasters with different personalities and people of various sexual orientations, how they engage among themselves and with their audience is influential on its own.
Teboho Mohlomi, whose stage name is Jeff Moloi, has worked as a broadcaster for various radio and television stations in South Africa. Image: Algoa FM
If radio broadcasters and producers are intentional about the messaging, and niche of the content they drive they will be able to stand lead in that area of topic and engage viewers in a healthy debate.
“It's in the music as well, some songs are about love, others about how cruel the world is, others about pain, some are in isiXhosa, isiTswana, Swahili, Shona. All leave an impression on the youth who's otherwise only exposed to one set of views in their small town,” Mohlomi said.
It’s true, nothing brings people together the way music does.
In radio the message of tolerance and peace is embedded in the entertainment factor and music played on a particular show draws the listener into the culture of the show.
Dube shares some of Mohlomi’s sentiments about how radio connects the world.
She says, “It's for the connection with presenters, newsreaders and other listeners through that platform. Be it in the form of podcasts or Facebook Live posts, radio is that medium which is there in the background drawing you in and being a part of your day”.