Tuesday, January 1, 2013



What Is a Healthy Radio Station?

By Boniface Mpagape.

By its nature, community radio is as diverse as the communities it serves.  At the same time, donors look for some measures of effectiveness.  These organizational benchmarks are useful guides to evaluate whether it is a Healthy Station.

Naturally, no radio template fits all communities; each country has a unique history, culture and legal framework.   These must be respected.  Radio serving a Maasai village of 1,800 in rural Tanzania will be very different than one serving a densely populated peri-urban township such as Soweto in South Africa.  Regardless of the differences, however, effective, healthy local radio stations have these benchmarks:

·      A clear mission that informs programming, advertising and outreach decisions.  Each staff member and volunteer understands this mission and uses it as a guide star.

·      A defined audience and ongoing engagement with that audience

·      A clear voice (or style of presentation) that is confidently and distinctively community radio.  The station does not copy or duplicate an existing service.

·      A community-wide reputation of being independent of outside influence and adhering to professional journalism standards of accuracy, fairness and balance in information programming.

·      Local content and music.

·      Strong and fair leadership combined with the ability to empower the staff by engaging them constructively.

·      On-going evaluation mechanisms to gauge effectiveness of programming, management and service to the community.

·      Open relations between stakeholders, including board, staff, donors, advertisers and listeners who encourage creative programming.

·      Financial independence.

·      An active board of directors that is engaged with the station and representative of the community.

·      A written code of ethics supported and used by staff and volunteers.

Now stations can use SMS text messaging as a new tool for community engagement by soliciting topics for programs and polling listeners to evaluate the programming.

One other quality I found that effective stations had in common was a culture of candor, of constructive self-criticism.  One station had adopted the Japanese idea of kaizen, continuous improvement.  Rather than hide problems, they bring them into the light so they can be fixed.  Criticism is not personal; rather it is in the interest of striving for excellence for the station as whole.

One last point: All too often donors, NGOs and governments focus on using media to bring information to people and under value the importance of dialogue or horizontal communication.  Radio is unique in giving voice to people to air and solve their problems, to hold public officials accountable, discuss taboo subjects and change harmful behavior.  This is the essence, of course, of Radio for Peace Building.

While stopping horrific violence with peacemaking remains a challenge in too many African countries, we can also take a new broader look at peace building.

We know that the ‘enemies’ in the world today are actually conditions - - poverty, infectious disease, political turmoil and corruption, environmental and energy challenges.

We know from our own experience and research that effective local radio programming can make significant progress to improve each one of these conditions.  Few other social investments can have broader reach or affect more lives than an effective local radio station.

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