For years radio has had the ability to select the type of music and news to share with audiences, however the emergence of new media platforms has allowed for audiences to select the type of content they want to listen to or watch.
Radio must now compete with these platforms, said Plot Mhako from earGROUND, a media house in Zimbabwe that aims to amplify new voices and celebrate local media content. Mhako, who was speaking at the Zimbabwe New Media Summit along with two panellists, explained that media platforms such as Spotify empower people by allowing them to choose what they want to listen to. He said radio is forced to try and catch up because of the speed of the internet. By the time radio broadcasts the news it is already in the public domain. “The internet and new media platforms are leading conversations but, in the past, it was actually radio which was leading these conversations from politics to economics,” said Mhako.
He noted that the radio stations that have managed to compete with these new media platforms have incorporated these platforms, so that they are not only radio stations but interact and engage on social media platforms. “It is a tricky balance, but a lot of radio stations are actually able to manage both the new technologies and conventional technologies that radio was using,” said Mhako.
Khaya Moyo from SkyzMetro, a commercial radio station in Zimbabwe, said that social media, particularly Twitter, has made it very difficult for radio stations to be the first platform to break news. “Oftentimes we are catching up with what’s already trending on social media and then just bringing it onto the airwaves,” said Moyo. She added that “this plurality of platforms means that the accessibility of information is at our fingertips so what radio stations need to bear in mind is how to be relevant even though there are so many other options to obtain news or information”.
Moyo said that the availability of information has led to a change in how people consume radio, adding that in the beginning of the pandemic consumption of radio increased, however the amount of time people are now spending listening to the radio has decreased. However, she noted that “radio is still a resilient and go-to platform for a lot of people in the country”.
Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa from Neko Incorporated, a broadcast media house, had a different take. She said that the idea or discussions around radio being redundant in Africa and other developing countries was misplaced. Parirenyatwa said that most of the population in Africa uses radio to access information and news, emphasizing that the conversation about radio being redundant was relative to which country a person lives in.
“Radio remains one of the cheapest tools of access to information and it is accessible because it does not require data or the internet,” she noted. Parirenyatwa said for people in the rural areas, radio is where they get their information such as the number of Covid cases and which vaccination sites to go to. “The platforms for Africa remain traditional”, she noted. Mhako agreed with Parirenyatwa that radio remains the cheapest medium to access information, however, he noted that there are still communities in Zimbabwe that do not have access to local radio. He said that these communities, due to a lack of signal, are listening to radio stations from Mozambique and South Africa but largely Zimbabweans have access to radio.
“We should totally let go of the traditional form of radio as it is still a very powerful tool”, said Moyo. She said that digitalising radio would be “us trying to catch up with the rest of the world but radio stations should look at their particular context and understand their audiences’ habits and who is their primary audience. For example, a community radio station works in the traditional sense”. However, she said that radio stations should think about diversifying the format of how content is packaged and delivered, but emphasized that traditional radio plays an important role and should not be discarded in Zimbabwe. “It is important to develop African solutions for African problems, our problems are unique to us and are not necessarily the same as what is happening in a developed country,” she said.
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