Kevin Mabonga: Why Radio has stood test of time
By Kevin Mabonga
The power of radio
“The power of radio is not that it speaks to millions, but that it speaks intimately and privately to each one of those millions.” Hallie Flanagan couldn’t have given a better description of what radio is to society.
As the world marked the 10th celebrations to mark Radio World Day on 13th February 2021 and over 110 years of its existence, I have had reflections on the impact of radio both as part of the audience and communications scholar.
Without any doubt, radio is the mass media reaching the widest audience in the world in the process having the ability to shape people’s culture, beliefs and values and providing a platform for everyone to be represented and heard.
This is despite the rapid technological disruption that we have witnessed in the last decade. From cities to rural areas, people have embraced radio as part of their lives.
In Kenya, audience measurement and industry for 2019/2020 by the Communications Authority of Kenya shows radio leading in terms of access to media, this has been the trend in the previous years. The Media Landscape report (2018) by the BBC Media Action shows the radio sector in Kenya thriving with over 100 radio stations.
Why is Radio so popular?
I have on many occasions, during chats with a friend in my rural home, been challenged to prove whether a piece of information I shared was factual on account that it had not been broadcast on radio or rather he hadn’t gotten the information through his favourite radio station. This shows that people trust radio.
The fact that radio is portable makes it convenient for people to use it anytime anywhere. In addition, it is a free medium- it doesn’t require any form of subscription thus accessible to everyone regardless of financial status.
Another advantage of radio which resonates with this year’s theme, ‘New World, New Radio’, is its adaptability – it adapts with the changing with the changing technologies and consumer trends. You can now access radio through laptops, computers, phones and other devices.
With all these, still radio offers an opportunity for feedback from the audience thus making it interactive. When people feel their voice counts, they tend to be part of it.
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Impact of Radio
The significance of radio cannot be overemphasized. Through radio, many people are empowered with information on what is happening locally and beyond. Radio stations often air educational segments and features that could enrich one’s knowledge in specific areas for instance farming.
I remember when I was in primary school there was a popular programme on the national broadcaster that educated people about farming. In the run up to elections, citizens were educated on their rights to vote and details on how to vote. We still have such programmes to date.
Radio is reliable during crisis and emergencies. When access to the mobile network is down or when there is no electricity, most radio sets can be battery operated thus important announcements can be made to mobilize and direct people.
In a situation where there is a humanitarian crisis, radio could be one of the reliable channels to reach out to the affected.
But as we know, in every seed of good there is always a piece of bad. Radio can also be dangerous if not well used.
In 2008, radio, especially vernacular radio stations were partly blamed for the chaos that rocked Kenya after contested elections in 2007. Such situations happen if journalists are not well versed with the code of conduct as provided by the Media Council Act and continuously trained.
Radio stations should ensure that only relevant content is shared with the audience and at an appropriate time as stipulated in the regulations. There should also be stiffer penalties to those who go against the set laws.
“Radio was supposed to die in 1945, when TV came along. It turns out that radio grew and grew, and it’s a bigger business today than it has ever been.” – Alex Blumberg
The Author is the Communications Officer at Katiba Institute