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#futuretuned: Three steps to the radio of tomorrow

by Anne Odendahl

Meanwhile the Radio Days Africa are a popular conference for media makers throughout the country

Listen, watch, share: It is all about sociability and a digital strategy that will pave the way for successful radio in the future. Social media platforms help radio stations develop a social brand, which especially attracts young listeners; audience participation and interaction are key elements.

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Radio Days Africa 2017, held in early July at the University of the Witwatersrand, attracted more than 250 delegates from public, community and commercial radio across Africa. The conference kicked off with a panel discussion focusing on what needs to be implemented in order to tune in radio for the future. “Wherever your listeners are, that’s where you need to be,” said Pearl Sokhulu, Vuma FM’s station manager. The importance of serving on various platforms was also highlighted by Johan van Rooyen from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) who emphasized that “communication is a two way street because the audience is responsive”. All panel participants agreed that diversifying the medium onto other channels helps to extend the brand of the station.

Engage the audience

The conference, held in association with Radio Days Europe, has become the premier gathering of radio leaders and influencers on the African continent. Sharing the best radio of today and discussing the future of the medium, delegates grappled with issues facing the rapidly changing broadcasting environment. Podcasting for example is a growing sector but it is a tough business. Brad Brown from The Podcasting Academy explained: “There are thousands of podcast corpses out there and you will most likely not make money from it, but specialised content triggers highly-engaged audiences.” He stressed that is not about pushing content towards them but responding to their needs. A view that international consultant and author, Valerie Geller, shares. For her creating powerful radio means turning away from a self-centered view to listener-benefits: “Tell the truth, make it matter, never be boring.”

Be trustworthy

Trust is also a topic that was raised in many of the other sessions and workshops held during the conference. It even relates to the new technologies which might seem frightening, especially concerning Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning integrated in devices reaching into our private lives. “Trust must therefore be part of the design,” says tech trend expert Arthur Goldstuck. The other aspect is that radio must be a medium that people trust because in many countries across the southern African region radio is the main source of information and also a means to take part in public discussions. “People trust us to be impartial and address community issues on air rather than taking it to the officials,” explained James Peterson, a popular Ugandan drive time DJ, adding that this applied more to commercial radio than the public broadcasters in his country. However Nana Esi-Parry from the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation painted another picture. She outlined how GBC is a success story of a well-established and well-run public broadcaster “Several institutions control our work. We even campaign for higher public fees in order to be less dependent on government finances. We have been accused of being their mouthpiece, but our journalists hold politicians accountable,” she said.

Reclaim the public sphere

Another fascinating session was “The Public Radio Debate” where the need for an independent and impartial public broadcaster in South Africa was discussed by Esi-Parry, Graham Dixon (European Broadcasting Union), Mathatha Tshedu (Wits Journalism), Kate Skinner (Broadcast Researcher) and Angie Kapelianis (SABC). “We have to make it clear that a public broadcaster is a public good – open to participation and discussion,” said Kapelianis in the beginning. “We as journalists and the public must reclaim independence, transparency and accountability,” added Skinner. Just as Prof. Tawana Kupe, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand stated at the beginning of the conference: “Radio is the most democratic medium of all: it reaches the majority of people, it is available to all classes and it gives a voice to everyone.”


Listen to the audio podcasts of the Radio Days Africa 2017 conference sessions on iono and iTunes

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