The Future of Radio (Part 1)

Today, let’s talk about Radio. Before you make choices on being a Radio personality read this, re-evaluate yourself then re-engage. So I wake up in the morning and turn on the radio, am a mad fan of Kiss FM and Classic FM even though am in rural Kenya. I love the discussions and the music too but I guess I have to put up with the morning traffic updates that in no way will help me get to work faster. Now in Kakamega the only traffic snarl we experience is in December when Nairobian flocks the town with those hired vehicles. Anyway, it slowly hits me that these stations target the middle class in urban areas, not just urban but Nairobi to be specific. I still look forward to traffic updates in areas like Mombasa or Nakuru in fact the nearest mention of the coastal province we hear on this update every morning is Mombasa road.  That aside, the most trending shows are usually the morning and evening shows that sometimes it gets me thinking that Radio is surviving because of the traffic. Kenyans spend too much time on the road that the only meaningful thing we can do is listen to the radio while going to or from work. Let’s pause and ask ourselves now, what the future of Radio? And as the world elopes into a technological village, will radio survive, will our children grow up still saying they want to be radio presenters?

The truth is technology is changing the way media in Kenya is evolving and some career trajectories will need more than just the certificate. The future of Radio is bleak in my opinion and it will survive, though media owners will have a hard time providing edutainment through these platforms. Technology is changing the way we transmit, we moved from analog to FM mode then to digital/internet, my bet is that soon some courses within the radio industry might be irrelevant. It starts with auto programs and auto-plays options and soon the auto process will need to be managed by a single person, which reduced workloads and staff. Radio station owners have also realized that like any other business, they need to make a profit and hence they need to relook at expenses vis-a-vis returns. It’s no longer about just any media personality but those who can add more value other than just content to the station. I look at some core tenets of known media houses and I realize, having dreams to be a presenter in any of these stations would need more than formal education, your looks, gender, and connections.

Value proposition: What do you bring is as a person?  Radio stations have two characteristics that help them flourish in getting endorsements and enjoy the revenue from adverts. The first being fun and entertainment. Stations have noticed that other than etiquette and eloquence they would rather employ talent and creativity, these other skills can be learned, and here the creative industry has benefited a lot in this transition. I look at most of the presenters and what I see is a pattern, they are able to crack jokes or come up with thematic engagements that are interesting to listen to. Most of these presenters once employed they later enroll in media-related courses to back up their CVs. Comedy works well for Radio, this is probably why the “Gidi and Ghost” Patanisho Morning show attracts a large following since there is an element of fun and laughs, everyone deserves a smiley morning anyway.

Social Influence: The second characteristics is having a media personality with a large following. Influencers would generate traffic to a particular station hence most of these personalities should already be self-made socially. The truth is that the more famous you are on Tik-Tok, tweeter or Instagram the most likely you will land a media job or even an interview. But once you are in, media houses will pay you “influencers allowances” until you get a valid certificate for this job, that’s why most of them are going back to school to study. So a message to our young lads, be ready to put in the work socially. Eat, sleep and think social media, education will only take you halfway. I listen to many interviews nowadays, the invited guests are usually those who have been trending either currently or at some point. I consider them newsmakers which means it attracts a lot of interest when you host such guests in your show.

But then Radio is evolving begs the question what is the future! With the emergence of numerous stations exploring different platforms like digital and hybrid. In earlier days we waited for “on the clock” news to get updates but now with access to the internet, some breaking news is no longer breaking as most of the people would have shared this already on their social media platform. We are moving a lot to visual media and this trend is making some morning shows to share snippets of their discussions on youtube just to capture the mass that relates more to visual media. From a college room, someone can now broadcast any information to anyone who cares to listen. Digital radio in my opinion still needs more controls, I personally see the need to introduce digital radio policies in the country to protect and guard information flow and also support millions of journalists, advertisers, technicians, and technology manufacturers to adequately benefit from revenues generated by radio in future.

In my next article, I will be explaining in detailed my thoughts around the future amidst digitization, the competitive edge, and niche market focus for radio stations, why it cannot work. Keep listening

©JMS 2021

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