Back in style: Radio Days presents amplified audio


Africa Radio Days is back in force! The theme for the 2021 edition of the conference is Audio Amplified, which aims to address the growth of audio consumption in a multi-platform broadcast environment.

One of the many broadcast platforms available is campus radio, and to whet delegates’ appetites from the start, the morning session included an engaging discussion among some of the key stakeholders in the South African sector.

The first of this year’s 21 unique sessions, The Campus Radio Question was hosted by Shoeshoe Qhu (Head of VoW FM Station) and included commentary from Precious Pheelwane (Head of SMU FM Station), Michael Bower (Head of Program Tuks FM), Charonike Nel responsible for PUK FM station) and Refilwe Modipane (Radio Turf Music compiler).

Campus radio stations are typically based or attached to higher education institutions, and have a rich history of providing experience, training and development to radio enthusiasts who dream of long careers in front of or behind the microphone. . As Nel so vividly put it, “It is so important for us as skill developers to train well balanced radio professionals ”.

The great irony of campus radio as a training ground is that the area itself receives little formalized help and training elsewhere. This creates challenges that hamper their ability to amplify the work they are already doing. During a global pandemic, however, “what they do” may simply be to keep the lights on and their presenters on air day to day.

Pheelwane offered an optimistic view of how the pandemic has affected his station, in large part because SMU FM is directly linked to a university of health sciences. According to her, people have actually started to notice the station more as a reliable (free) source of reliable COVID information.

The panel agreed that they needed to be creative about this and their programming during the first lockdown, in order to properly educate and inform their audience. Mental health has been one of the most prevalent content topics that has surfaced over the past year. “We started talking about it more and running ads as well,” Pheelwane told the panel.

According to Michael Bower, the same is true for GBV, alcoholism and other community issues that have grown in importance due to uncertainties and concerns over the pandemic.

Bower also touched on the fact that TUKS FM didn’t have fiber-optic internet in the studio when the lockdown hit, and how the presenters had to pivot into the lockdown by starting remote streaming via WhatsApp.

The challenges of connectivity and data

The other panelists echoed internet connectivity and data issues as a barrier to entry for listeners’ streaming and for their presenters (mostly volunteers) to broadcast remotely. Assuming a move to streaming for listeners with limited data to use between social media, radio, podcasts and more, that might be asking too much. This is a notable obstacle in addition to the reach of campus radio which is already limited by the specific geographic footprints that ICASA allows them to broadcast to begin with.

Challenges aside, there is hope for the future. Pheelwane suggested more interactions between campus radio stakeholders as a way to better support each other, which in turn will help nurture the sector more collectively. “The more we can share ideas, the more we can learn from each other,” she added.

Bower nodded, but not without adding how crucial it is for campus stations to do what they can to stay relevant in a competitive digital broadcasting landscape. Charonike closed the session by reminding everyone that with university radio “we are not talking to an age group… we are talking to an age group. mentality”.

The second session of the day – and the official opening of the conference – was chaired by Franz Krüger (Head of Journalism at the University of Wits). His opening remarks referred to the fact that camaraderie is “at the heart of what we do” in the radio industry.

Listen to the audience … anytime

Nadia Bulbulia (Executive Director of NAB South Africa) echoed these sentiments and reiterated the role of radio in keeping communities connected and engaged, especially during what was (and continues to be) a very difficult for people from all walks of life.

The session also turned out to be a recording of how radio stations were coping in the midst of these trying times, while also planting seeds on how radio is positioning itself in the changing landscape of audio consumption. This is a topic that will be discussed in depth throughout the conference, but in this session contributors Ian Plaatjies (Chief of Operations at SABC in South Africa), Nsinazo Waraka (CEO of Radio Kaya in Kenya) and Alan Swan (Head of Branded Content Partnerships at RTÉ in Ireland) presented their ideas to help set the stage for further discussions.

Plaatjies quickly called the changes in the audio landscape “an opportunity, not a threat.” He suggested that the power of radio has not been diminished, and on the contrary, an integrated business model (like that of the SABC) presents new opportunities for audiences and revenues. Although he spoke enthusiastically about the “annual migration of around 30% from traditional to digital radio in South Africa”, it was clear that he was still somewhat cautious, also stating that the public broadcaster has opted for a dual strategy (slow and constant), in order to protect the existing audience base.

Alan Swan also works for the national broadcaster, although in his native Ireland, and one of the first things he reiterated during the session was that he should listen to his audience. always. He sees countless opportunities alongside a long list of challenges for radio over the next decade, not least given how audio consumption habits have changed over the past year. The South African market may be testing DAB + (something to which Nsinazo said the Kenyan market is also open), but Ireland has already moved away from this digital technology due to slow adoption, high costs and geographic logistics problems.

Swan sees 5G streaming as the next big way to consume audio, but if data costs and connectivity issues in Africa (which also surfaced in today’s first session) continue to be a hindrance to entry, DAB + may well be the best scenario for the medium term.

Regardless of how audio will be consumed in the years to come, the session reiterated that radio should always be something that gives the listener exactly what they want. During the early stages of the pandemic, radio stations across the continent tapped into this kind of thinking by increasing the dial of empathy for listeners who have lost their jobs, loved ones or have fallen themselves. sick. Despite the decimated radio advertising during this time, an upbeat view from a content creation perspective has helped millions of people around the world keep going, even just one day at a time.

At the same time, resorts and brands have been forced to innovate and merge partnerships that may never have been considered before the “new normal”. This not only helped the major players in the industry survive, but if Bulbulia’s projections for the upcoming RAMS are to be believed, this type of thinking may also have led to a sharp increase in the audience’s viewing numbers. radio.

“We have to look for the opportunities that may arise during this difficult time,” Kruger said as he closed the session. In doing so, we might just enter a new phase of audio amplification that can take the industry to a whole new level.

Conrad Schwellnus is a freelance writer specializing in content, ghost and fiction projects.

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