How to launch a successful radio station

Setting up a successful radio station is not a smooth task but broadcasting relevant content built on a sustainable business model can ensure your station’s longevity on the airwaves.

These are some of the tips behind Mike Daka’s 17-year-old community-based commercial radio station Breeze FM’s success which he shared on FreeSpeak, a Namibia Media Trust podcast hosted by the trust’s chairperson Gwen Lister.

“It took some time, the problems were many, of course,” Daka said.

However, he said that localising Breeze FM’s content to make it relevant to its eastern Zambian audiences helped “build trust up” between the radio station and the communities.

“We initially tried to find out what it is that the radio stations that they had been listening to were not giving them,” Daka said.

Daka said Breeze FM which broadcasts in Nyanja and English had to “demystify” what radio is to their listeners because the voices and issues aired on radio are often distant.

“We localised [BreezeFM] to the extent that the description for instance of studio which could be translated to mean “padded room” fascinated our people and many of them wanted to see this padded room and so we opened our station,” Daka said.

He added that any villager who came to see the “padded room” was shown around the studio and “treated like royalty”.

A popular Breeze FM personality is Gogo Breeze, a “radio grandfather” at the station who tells African stories and idioms in Nyanja. He also offers advice on different issues such as marriage and education.

“They used to write letters but now they text or come to the station to see him,” Daka said.

While a radio station may be able to gain an engaging audience, Daka said radio stations must be mindful of their funding models.

“People think you set up a radio station and that everyone will be coming over to give you money,” he said.

He added that a radio station has to figure out who is going to pay and at what levels.

“The model that came out was that we knew individuals who had lost goat or a relative had gone missing may come in. Of course, there is stuff you don’t charge for like death or illness,” Daka said.

“We had a guy going to all our markets. It is amazing what kind of announcements come out of those markets. They are interesting. They help them to sell their goods but they are also putting money into the station,” he said.

The Wits Radio Academy Academy’s The Healthy Community Radio Station is a comprehensive guide that details building and maintaining a sustainable community radio station in Africa from scratch. You can find it here.

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