The EBU’s Head of Radio Graham Dixon spoke this week at Radio Days Africa, the annual conference for the African radio sector, about the role of radio in growing social capital, building communities, underlining shared values, and giving communities a voice for their shared experience.
“Radio needs to be both stable and flexible: it needs to be completely reliable for news and emergency situations, but at the same time responsive to the new possibilities offered by developing technologies,” Dixon told the meeting in Johannesburg.
He shared European radio developments centred around social media, personalisation and third-party devices, as well as the projects supported by the EBU Innovation Fund.
It was also an opportunity to ensure that the African radio sector was fully informed about the dotRadio launch, which goes live towards the end of August.
There is also a lively ongoing debate about public media in South Africa, and Dixon took part in a panel discussion on the subject, arguing that PSM can foster a unique relationship of trust between the broadcaster and audience, which is ever more important in the world of post-truth.
He observed that “The youthful, engaged audience for the conference sessions, and their commitment to radio, makes me extremely optimistic about the future of the medium on the African continent”.
Radio Days Africa brings together representatives from the radio sector from across Africa, both commercial and public service. It exists to share best practice and look at the challenges facing the medium across the continent. The event is closely related to the dynamic educational work of the University of the Witwatersrand, which plays a significant role in training the radio industry, running courses in radio while providing practical experience through the respected campus radio.
Radio is thriving in South Africa in an incredibly diverse market, covering a large number of languages and with audiences from major urban areas to remoter settlements. The radio offer ranges from the public service channels provided by EBU Associate SABC to small community radios, relying on volunteer effort and sometimes serving isolated communities. Some of these stations serve communities with low literacy levels, and for whom radio is the sole source of information, television being too expensive in some areas. The responsibility of providing information for day-to-day life, including health issues, is public service at its most vital and basic. In more urban environments, technology is advancing speedily, with, for example, a commercial internet radio station being launched specifically to serve people travelling in taxis.
Radio continues to be a real lifeline in South Africa, enjoying a 93% reach on a weekly basis, and remarkably long listening hours, extending to five hours per day in some areas of the country, and around 4.5 hours per day for some language groups. The key genres are music, news, religious broadcasting and phone-ins, and all these areas attract both young and older listeners – 88% of 15-24s consuming radio music, and 77% radio news.