Celebrating World Radio Day with Diversity and Harmony

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“Community radio stations serve as a catalyst for driving change by providing a platform for grassroots engagement, promoting inclusive dialogue”

1960s: Jean Wanjiru, a disk jockey at Mount Kenya radio station (Courtesy)

By Ann Mikia annmikia@gmail.com and Jesse Abisheck abijessyshi@gmail.com

Have you ever imagined a world without radio? How boring would it be? What would we listen to? As we celebrate the World Radio Day, these are some of the questions we think about. How did we find ourselves here?

First things first. Let us define what is radio. According to the Webster Dictionary, Radio is the transmission and reception of electromagnetic waves of (radio) frequency, especially those carrying sound messages.

“cellular phones are linked by radio rather than wires. The activity or industry of broadcasting sound programs to the public also known as radio.

According to the KBC website, transmission by radio started in Kenya in 1927 with advent of the East African Broadcasting Corporation (EABC) which relayed BBC news to the colonies. English Radio Broadcasting begun in 1928. The broadcasts targeted white settlers who monitored news from their home and other parts of the world.

In 1964, Kenya became independent, the corporation’s name was changed to Voice of Kenya. In 1989, the Kenyan parliament changed the corporation’s name back to Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).

The colonialists run the station “The General Service” then but in the mid 60’s started hiring locals and training them in an effort to Africanize the broadcasting services. A re-known broadcaster Elizabeth Omolo says that when she joined the Voice of Kenya, she was thoroughly trained by the then White broadcasters. “The training entailed being taken to the music library, learning how to select relevant music for different programme segments, researching about the musicians and scripting what to say before playing the music to educate your listeners as you entertain them” she said.

So much water has since passed under the bridge from the 60’s to date. The radio now broadcasts differently. From that massive radio that used batteries to power it, what can be defined as micro-radio that one can listen on the-go via phone. Daystar University media studies lecturer Dr. Rosemary Nyaole says “I may be alone but never lonely. Radio is my intimate friend who cheers me up without reservations or boundaries.”

“When I was in college in the late 80’s, we used to say radio is blind. Today it is no longer blind as through Facebook the audience is able to listen to radio content and see the presenter live doing his/her things in the studio” says James Mwaura, one of the legends of broadcasting at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. In fact, some media outlets like Spice FM run content concurrently on radio and on Kenya Television Network (KTN) Home channel giving a consumer of the information the choice to watch or just listen.

When one wanted to communicate with the presenters a few years ago, they were forced to write and post either letters or greetings cards to be read on air but today with technology communications happens instantly. Many radio stations have social media platforms where they get instant (live) feedback from their audiences making programmes interesting. This also enables the presenter tell whether audiences are listening or not depending on the feedback.

Another veteran former broadcaster Sammy Lui, remembers with nostalgia how they were trained to prepare the content with the listener in mind. “Today so much has really changed from the introduction of ‘my names are’ instead of ‘my name is’ to having presenters who seem to go on air without any preparation. I know of one programme that has stood out called ‘The situation room’ on Spice FM where the presenters seem to plan and prepare before hosting guests” says Sammy Lui.

World Radio Day (WRD) is celebrated on 13th February each year.And  this year’s theme being “World radio Day’s theme in 2024 shines a broad floodlight on radio’s remarkable past, relevant present and promise of  a dynamic future”  The then Director- General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proposed the formation of United Nations Radio on February 13, 1946 and subsequently at its 36th session, UNESCO proclaimed February as World Radio Day.

In essence, radio has become an integral part of daily life for many, offering a blend of information, entertainment, and community connection, and education among others. As we celebrate World Radio Day today let’s appreciate the enduring impact of this medium in shaping our lives and fostering a sense of unity in the global community.

“Radio is still the undisputed King-diverse, portable and easily accessible making radio a true friend” says Wanjiru Kago, a media trainer and former re-known radio broadcaster.

Dr. Joseph Nyanoti, a journalism and media studies lecturer at the United States International University (USIU) concurs with Kago. “Radio is still King and is not going anywhere soon. The fact that you can listen to it and multi-task makes it very special. My radio is ever on in the car as I drive anywhere I go” he says. Dr. Nyanoti says he only misses the segmentation that was done by VOK and KBC where content was predictable and one would listen to it anywhere with anybody without feeling uncomfortable.

“The proliferation of radio stations in Kenya serve a certain ignored audience thus fulfilling a need but in terms of content very few are producing relevant content” says Dr. Grace Githaiga, the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET). Grace says the stations seem out to compete and outdo each other in an effort to attract audiences and entice adverts around such content. “The idea of some shallow debates and flimsy bashing of either gender to earn click baites to get advertisements may not necessarily serve the audiences that stations serve. What does washing dirty linen in public add to a listener’s life?” Grace asks.

Former vernacular broadcaster Wanza Mbuvi observes that many radio presenters today are mere comedians and not educators. “Even the music played in some stations is unfit for broadcast since its embarrassing to some listeners”

Moses Provabs the  programs manager  Kenya Community Network (KCOMNET) says, “Community radio stations serve as a catalyst for driving change by providing a platform for grassroots engagement, promoting inclusive dialogue, and empowering local communities to actively participate in shaping their socio-economic and cultural landscape, epitomizing the essence of World Radio Day 2024: ‘Radio and Diversity: Driving Change.”

Training for good content creation is key since many stations seem not to understand their content consumers well.  Many prepare content for young people neglecting the older audience who may be interested in different content. The Media Council of Kenya is playing an important effort of training and mentoring young content creators to help them understand the journalism terrain well  so as to prepare palatable content.

With over 200 radio stations in Kenya, the sun rises on World Radio Day, the country stands not just as a nation of stations, but as a testament to the enduring power of voices raised in harmony, echoing across the airwaves, shaping the destiny of a nation and its people.

 

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