In the postmodern, globalised world in which we live, whereby technology is forever advancing before our very fingertips, I for one would have suggested that social media be the go-to platform for individuals to access information and communicate amongst one another above all else. Practically every media literate person has a Facebook profile or social media account of some sort, right? Not within the development context, however. Despite the many social and economic benefits that social media can offer, it proves to be that radio is by far the most used media within developing countries, and for obvious reasons, too.
On 10 February 2017 I attended the World Radio Day London event at SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) University, which proved to be a huge success. Various community stations, local organisations and international media groups within the radio and communication technologies field travelled from all over the country to attend the event to give visitors an insight into the work they do and projects that are at hand. And the common theme linking them all together: their determination to bring radio and communication technologies into the developing world.
I spoke to numerous organisations exhibiting on the day, some of which included HCR, Radioactive and Refugee Radio, many of which aim to increase the awareness of health and social services (within disaster zones); encourage community participation or simply tell the stories of the more marginalised and underrepresented or even misrepresented groups within our communities. I also participated within a short radio production workshop led by a talented individual from RadioActive, who also delivered a short presentation expressing the advantages of radio and emphasising how simply ‘anyone with a voice can take part’, which was further reiterated within the panel discussion at the latter end of the day. This has become a sort of mantra for me – this message of how simple and effective radio within development is, particularly since the majority of households within developing countries possess a radio in comparison to a television or any other technology. So without further ado I shall elaborate on this concept.
“Anyone with a voice can take part.”
It’s fast, far-reaching and fairly cheap
The representative of RadioActive could not have been more clear on the fact that radio can be easily set up without much effort – or money. The simplest of radio stations can be manifested with a budget of no more than £1000, sometimes less. And all that is necessarily required is a microphone, mixer, cables, laptop/tablet and satellite. Radio can also reach far distances, sometimes as far as 50km – and that’s just from an immobile radio station; mobile radio stations can reach further areas when moving throughout towns and cities with speakers at the back of a motorbike.
A short video showed to us of a couple of nine-year-old girls presenting schoolwork over the airwaves illustrates the truth behind the fact that ‘anyone with a voice’ can participate. And being able to disseminate segments of education through radio helps to educate children who are unable to attend school due to a lack of funds; the distance required to travel to distant institutions; commitments within the house or at work, which highlights another key benefit of radio within developing countries. Radio can also help to raise awareness for other health and social causes, too.
Radio can cure the blind…
The front of a HCR leaflet tells the tale of a young woman whose eyesight was extremely poor, to the point of being blind. Yet, by hearing that not far from where she lives was a specialised eye clinic, her poor eyesight was soon after treated and vastly improved. This information was disseminated on none other than the airwaves of HCR. There are many stories like this which have documented lives having changed for the better because of the use of radio.
HCR also work within disaster-prone areas, with the aim to set up mobile radio stations within 72 hours of a disaster, be it an earthquake in Indonesia or typhoon in the Philippines. This enables information about local rescue centres or aid to be circulated with efficiency in order to help those in danger reach safety. This is evidently an effective method of communication within humanitarian crises, which also includes the raising awareness of such issues including Ebola and HIV/AIDS.
…and raise awareness of Ebola
As touched upon, radio is an effective medium for raising awareness of humanitarian crises, one of which includes the raising of awareness of the Ebola epidemic outbreak at the start of 2015. Within the panel discussion, Carlos Chirinos, director of Music and Social Change at New York University and former lecturer at SOAS, University of London, delivered a presentation of a study he worked on having created a song to raise awareness of Ebola in West Africa, and other surrounding countries as the epidemic spread. Within a survey conducted, it revealed that through playing the song, which included thematic lyrics on the topics of washing hands and avoiding touching infected people, on the radio, percentages increased of the populations becoming more aware of Ebola, and how to prevent the spread of it. Overall it displayed positive empirical evidence of the way in which radio was the most used source of media within such developing countries, and that it helped to some degree to raise awareness of a humanitarian crises.
Indeed, we cannot simply take this at face value, as not everyone who claims to have a radio will tune in to the particular channel, and some households simply do not own a radio of any sort at all, and in this way the study cannot be representative of all. There is also the issue of media literacy, in that without educating people on how to use such technologies, they cannot possibly have messages of aid and awareness campaigns delivered to them. It cannot be assumed that all individuals are naturally aware of how to use or set up radios. In this way, perhaps further and more recent study needs to be conducted into the fundamental concept of media literacy within developing countries. However, media literacy can be increased, and I shall explore how:
Above all else, radio can be used for entertainment. Indeed, the way in which Chirinos fell into development radio was through attempting to have his music played on air. With radio comes the possibility of having communities come together to create productions and present shows on the radio, which bestows many benefits. For example, it can be used as a peace-building tool for allowing persons of different tribes to communicate with one another amicably – and creatively – to resolve feuds and straighten out any such misinformation or lack of understanding. It also sees individuals teaching one another. Often, organisations such as HCR or RadioActive will visit a developing state to set up a radio station and teach the respected, authoritative persons on how to use the equipment and produce radio shows. In turn, they will then be trusted to teach other members within their community, which creates a rather august snowball effect of sharing knowledge with one another.
Furthermore, radio is empowering. It not only allows for the otherwise unheard voices to be heard, but it also equips people with technical skills to be able to run their own radio shows. In some cases, for example women-only radio stations (as illustrated in the above image) it can create jobs, which demonstrates the many windows of opportunities perpetuated by radio.
In this way, radio is seen to be a saving grace for some, as well as offering a window of opportunity for most. Given that most households will own a radio, it becomes quite obvious now that this is still the most relevant use of media with the development context due to its ability to disseminate information quickly, easily and in a participatory manner. Of course, there are issues of media literacy, and some households not owning a radio, but on the whole, radio is deemed the most appropriate mode of communication within developing countries above all other types of technology.
As an aside note I would also encourage you to check out the new and innovative site, Radio Garden, which is a creative and technologically-advanced way of exploring live radio across the globe as well as finding out about radio histories around the world.
So I conclude that radio continues to live on.