Community radio needs support to build resilience

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Building resilient community radio requires support for sustainability, trained staff who can ensure statutory compliance, and a skilled sales team to support revenue generation.

These views came out during a panel discussion on “Building Resilient Community Radio”.

The panel discussion, moderated by fraycollege CEO Paula Fray, included Thabang Pusoyabone, general secretary of the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF); Brenda Leonard, managing director at Bush Radio, and radio coach and mentor Stan Katz.

The search for financial sustainability comes at a time when radio is experiencing an increase in listeners, listening time, calls, and general engagement.

“There's a lot of evidence that shows that community media has seen an increase in engagement as people turn to trusted sources for verified information community engagement and a sense of support during this really difficult time,” said Fray. “We know that radio has just got so much to offer in a time of crisis like this.”

The NCRF is a national membership-based association of community radio stations. Its membership includes 161 of the 182 on-air stations and it works to create policies that support a conducive environment for community radio.

“So some of the issues that we think are important to ensure that community radio continues to be resilient is that we need to relook the funding dispensation,” said Pusoyabone.

In this regard, he said South Africa needed to look at continued support for radio stations with grants on an annual basis as well as funding for organisations supporting the sector: “They are there to ensure that there is a favourable legislative environment that exists within the community radio space…they need to also increase knowledge sharing around policies or income generation models and so on.”

Pusoyabone noted that while some stations were struggling with statutory compliance, there had been a vast improvement in recent years.

Leonard agreed that some stations were still not compliant and that this might impact their ability to benefit from advertising from the South African government.

Bush Radio was able to increase the number of advertisers after the lockdown as many government and NGO partners were looking for community spaces to send out COVID-19 messages.

“We signed up three new advertisers after the lockdown”, she said, adding that the organisation also applied for pandemic-related funding from local and international funders.

Leonard noted that while they were weathering the storm of the lockdown, she was concerned that funding might dry up after COVID-19.

Local business was also feeling the impact of the financial crisis and this required supporting the communities well. Pusoyabone said Riverside Radio, where he is station manager, was able to give a special rate to community businesses: “That's because local businesses are very small local businesses that don't have big budgets. And, as a community radio station, you also want to provide some sort of support to them. So you don't charge them the same rate that you will be charging to the big business because that's still a way of developing that local community.”

Katz recounted how Radio 702 built a loyal audience in the 80s by setting out to serve the audience in every way possible: “When there was a crisis we came to the rescue. We even opened a 24-hour walk-in crisis clinic for people needing psychological counselling. We ran a 24-hour helpline, staffed by volunteers. We raised millions for Operation Hunger. In winter we collected tons of food and clothing for the homeless.

“We set out to win the hearts and minds of our community. You see, we knew that we would do well by doing good,” said Katz.

“We succeeded mightily because we were a commercial station that behaved like a community station. Now, the community stations that are thriving are the ones that, while meeting their community license mandates, are behaving like commercial stations,” he added.

The second element of Radio 702’s strategy at the time was to train its salespersons to become radio marketing experts.

“Instead of flogging spots, we trained them to be solutions providers. We understood the nature of our business, which was delivering prospects to advertisers,” Katz told participants.

Asked what advice she would give other community media, Leonard said the starting point would be to keep costs as low as possible when looking at staffing positions, rentals, and other hard costs.

“Ensure that all your policies and things are in place. Besides keeping the costs as low as possible, ensure that people are trained properly,” she added.

It was also important to ensure that the station manager had the necessary skills not just to ensure statutory compliance but also for labour relations and other business needs.

Katz’ advice was clear: “If you’re a commercial station, incorporate elements of a community station and, if you’re a community station behave like a commercial station to the extent that this is possible.”

fraycollege has partnered with Stan Katz to produce the “Ultimate Radio Sales Course”. This online 10-module course is based on Katz’s best selling book “Radio Advertising: A Sound Investment. 10 Key Principles for Maximising Returns”. Click here for more information.

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