Radio as an ever-changing industry has struck the hearts of child patients at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. RX Radio is a children’s radio station at the hospital which is presented by young reporters. The station is situated in the hospital’s outpatient foyer area where visitors are able to see the children in action.

RX Radio began being operational in December 2016. The initiative aims to create a platform for communication between hospitalised children, their families, and the health services by providing children with the skills and support to produce and broadcast radio programmes across the hospital.

Though still in its infancy RX Radio hopes to improve children’s experiences of hospital and of their illness; and also increase adult understanding of children’s experiences of chronic illness and hospital.

Picture: RX RADIO

The children’s hospital radio initiative was piloted eight years ago. RX Radio manager Dr Gabriel Urgoiti says there was always great support for the initiative from all the hospital community. However, some of the concerns that needed to be addressed with the Hospital management and the Provincial Health Department were issues around liability, privacy and consent before being able to establish the radio station in December.

Urgoiti traded in his stethoscope for a microphone in order “to improve the children’s experience of being in a hospital”, he said. Urgoiti, a medical doctor and children’s media expert, facilitated the project as a means to provide a safe platform for children to talk about issues that are important to them and to promote the well-being of children in the hospital.

“Given that the children are central to the initiative, due and proper consent processes always apply as a crucial prerequisite for the children’s participation. RX Radio is designed to ensure that all parents/caregivers are well informed of the project through meetings and workshops, so that they can participate and ask questions to enable informed decisions in considering the participation of each child. In addition to consultation with caregivers, children also participate in consent workshops that explain the process and outcomes of the project in terms that enable and enhance their own understanding so that they can make their own decision about their participation. Formal consent forms are signed by caregivers and children who choose to participate”, says Urgoiti. However he mentions that getting consent from the children and parents is on an ongoing basis and not a once off process.

Picture: RX RADIO

A developmental training process, facilitated quarterly over approximately two weeks, is designed to enable children to express themselves in a safe environment and to engage with those around them. Through participatory activities, children build self-confidence and the necessary trust with each other and with the facilitators to speak about their experiences, and learn a range of basic communication and technical skills necessary for the production of personal radio stories. Upon completion of the workshop, participants have recorded the personal narratives, interviews and sounds needed to tell a personal audio story (radio diaries) of their choice. These basic life skills and radio technical training is followed up by ongoing further training in different radio programme formats, more advanced production techniques, producing and anchoring live shows. The children become integral to the functioning of the hospital radio station.

“We have trained about 38 young reporters since we started RX Radio on December 2016. Working with children that have chronic illnesses require flexibility to accommodate each child situation and specific needs”, says Urgoiti.

These young reporters are patients from the hospital, some who have been diagnosed with cancer, some who’ve had kidney transplants, burns, or other chronic illnesses since they were infants. Through their radio diaries these young reporters interact with fellow child patients, nurses, doctors as well as family members in their radio production.

All the shows on RX Radio are anchored by children and are made to entertain and engage other patients. Some of the shows are prerecorded, while others are live programmes. RX radio is also broadcasting through the TV Hospital network, streams through their own website and also through MP3 — specifically geared for those children in hospital that are not well and can only listen when they are ready.

The shows are broadcast daily from Monday to Friday from 13:30 to 15:30 or 16:30 and on Saturdays from 09:00 to 12:00. Music is played over the rest of the time.

Speaking at the Radio Days Africa conference, Noluyolo Ngomani, senior producer of RX Radio said that radio allows children to be at the forefront and express themselves. Ngomani explained that when there is no radio production, these young radio presenters also get a platform to express themselves on social media and they also use the intercom at the hospital to broadcast messages.

Picture: RX RADIO

RX Radio is in the process of becoming a full-fledged radio station. The radio shows also incorporates news, sports, music,and a variety of magazines and features including interviews with health workers and parents. Dr Urgoiti says RX Radio has been receiving remarkable feedback as it allows the children voices to be heard and hopefully taken seriously by adults.

“It is amazing to observe the power that the mic gives to the children to engage adults and for the kids to ask their own questions and give their own opinions”, Urgoiti says.

RX Radio also aims to investigate the impact of a child participatory radio intervention on hospitalised children, their caregivers and on the health services. In order to evaluate the success of RX Radio, Urgoiti says they are doing research on the impact that the radio has on the different stakeholders within the hospital community. RX Radio has partnerships with the University of Cape Town Film and Media and Health Sciences faculties as well as with the University of Stellenbosch Psychology department to conduct research by undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Want to stay up to date with the latest journalism and media innovation news from the African continent? Subscribe to our newsletter.



Everything you need to know regarding journalism and media innovation in Africa – fortnightly in your inbox.