Mary Myers
Publication Date
August 1, 2008

This 58-page paper was prepared for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to guide the "Radio, Convergence, and Development in Africa" research programme, designed to explore traditional radio and gain an understanding of how information and communication technologies (ICTs) can enhance the sector, as well as the current impact and potential of radio as a development tool in Africa. According to the paper, radio is still the dominant mass medium in Africa, with the widest geographical reach and the highest audiences, compared with television (TV), newspapers, and ICTs. The author states that radio seems to have proven itself as a development tool, particularly with the rise of community and local radio, which has facilitated a far more participatory and horizontal type of communication. According to the paper, there has been a rediscovery of radio in the context of new ICTs, with technology making radio into a more two-way medium. Radio can also help bridge the digital divide by providing a powerful tool for information dissemination and access, especially for hard-to-reach rural audiences.

The paper explains that one of the main challenges for developing content on African radio is the need to produce programmes on a tight budget. The prevailing culture of African radio is that of the live broadcast, rather than pre-prepared programmes (i.e., dramas, magazines, talk-shows involving experts), although there are many excellent examples in the latter categories. Advantages offered by the internet are still hampered mainly by cost and infrastructure problems, but there is a definite trend towards African broadcasters gradually getting online and using the internet to network with each other, enhance their output, connect and promote themselves to the wider world (websites and blogging), and build their own capacities. There is still little research on the ways in which the internet is impacting African radio, although mobile phones have revolutionised radio reporting and audience participation.

This report identifies and discusses some of the challenges facing radio, including: issues of gender and minority access and inclusion in radio broadcasting; the issue of inciting violence and radio's "double-edged" nature in vulnerable societies; questions of sustainability and whether or not development - and/or 'public-service' - radio is viable from an economic standpoint. Underlying all these questions is the challenge of how to measure the impact of radio; finding appropriate methodological tools and forums to do so; and the problem of defining and researching behaviour change.

According to the author, looking at future trends, technology is changing fast but seems to be enhancing, rather than replacing, radio. Future developments involving the convergence of radio and mobile telephony are particularly exciting, but internet-based radio, podcasting, and “any time any place” radio-listening via mobile devices such as MP3 players are still in the future for most listeners. Radio is likely to be challenged increasingly by television, although this is actually a slower process than it may first appear. At the level of international donor support, radio has been brought back into the ICT family, and there is renewed interest at the policy level.

The paper suggests that systematic and reliable data on the radio sector are underdeveloped or non-existent, and this is hampering commercial and aid investment. Thus, there is a need for “Radio, Convergence, and Development in Africa” to conduct research to better understand the sector and the potential impacts that can be had from enhancing the medium with the use of ICTs. The report suggests that research be undertaken in the following areas:

Baseline data:

  • statistical information and mapping of radio stations and audiences, in particular, quantitative audience information about rural areas and complete, up-to-date directories of media in Africa;
  • existing patterns and trends in technology access by radio, and more data on how broadcasters are using new ICTs; and
  • qualitative baseline data about African radio audiences and about content providers, in particular, governments.

Impact evidence and analysis:

  • indicators, field methods, and analytical tools developed for rigorous evaluations;
  • socio-political analyses of how radio improves debate and what difference debate makes to development;
  • research on the impact of new ICTs and technology convergence on the radio sector;
  • evidence of ways radio broadcasting can/could reduce corruption, influence public policy agendas, influence pro-poor policy-making and service provision, and reach the chronically economically poor;
  • cost-benefit analyses of radio use in development projects;
  • analyses of the relative capacities of public, private, and community radio to reach the economically poor;
  • analyses of the real individual behaviour and social changes brought about by radio, especially over the long term; and
  • documentation of the impacts of training, capacity-building, and organisational development in the radio sector.

Analysis of future trends:

  • how Africans are likely to use and experience radio in the future - particularly the future of wifi radio and convergence with mobile telephony;
  • where public-service broadcasting is going, in the context of economic liberalisation; and
  • future revenue streams and how pro-economically-poor radio can develop existing sources of income, generate new ones, and develop corresponding new business models to help sustain itself into the future.

IDRC website on July 27 2009.