Monday, August 15, 2011

Formative Target Audience Research: A Case Study of Five Community Radio Stations in SA

This 138-page research document, published by the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership, shares experiences and lessons in community radio listenership research, challenges and successes as a way of allowing other community radio stations to learn from these efforts. The report includes a literature review of research conducted on the subject of community radio in South Africa, results of a survey undertaken with radio stations and focus groups with stakeholders, as well as five case studies of community radios. According to the publishers, insights from audience research processes can be used for marketing purposes to advertisers and for making informed programming decisions.

The study found that few stations participating in the survey had ever conducted their own audience research, or had accessibly written audience research available to them. Few stations had taken initiative to use other accessible sources of information to gain insight into the issues facing their communities. Some stations had conducted research around health programming, had used community mapping, or have accessed government demographic or statistical information.

The report includes the results of in-depth research with five radio stations, which uncovered challenges and successes related to three key areas: management, programme content, and listener interaction. According to the study, programme managers have multifaceted roles which extend beyond their role of managing and developing content, and include ensuring that capacity building of presenters also takes place. Managers were concerned with lack of commitment from volunteers stemming from a lack of basic stipends or very low stipends. Few stations had a structured process for selecting presenters and volunteers; they also often lost presenters to higher paying commercial and public broadcasters.

The study found that most presenters are selected from ordinary community members with little or no radio training or from students doing internships; thus the station is responsible for providing training. Some stations rely on knowledge sharing between colleagues, others turn to training opportunities offered by other organisations. At one radio station, Bush Radio, training is a core aspect of the station's activities, and trainees are formally trained and mentored.

Programme content and structure varies widely across different stations, although presenters generally develop their own programmes, select topics, conduct background research, and deliver the packaged content during their time slot. The study found that presenters who spent time preparing had less difficulty on-air, and presenters who work with producers also seem to deliver well-structured programmes.

The research also found that some programme slots are bought by local government departments and the private sector. The problem with government content is that some radio stations are unable to get local departments to respond to questions about service delivery. Presenters do not open their lines for calls from the public, or listeners are advised to stick to the topic when calling during programmes with local government guests. Similarly local businesses whose service is poor or questionable refuse to be interviewed by station staff on their business practices. This can result in self-censorship, as presenters do not want the station to lose advertising.

According to the report, presenters find obtaining fresh ideas for their programmes, especially those relevant to locals, as a challenge. In terms of sources for news and programme content, research and community participation is important to understand community networks and enable presenters and journalists to identify relevant sources.

In terms of audience interaction, all five radio stations visited mentioned the lack of resources to conduct research and community participation forums. However, some have set up simple feedback mechanisms. Some methods used to obtain feedback are SMS, telephone, suggestion boxes, bluetooth, social networking systems including Facebook or Word of Mouth Forum, and on-air programmes. Direct community participation methods include outside broadcasts and in the case of one station, a small research survey.

As stated in the report, some key activities are taking place to counter some of these challenges. These include partnerships and exchanges with other radio stations to facilitate capacity building, cut costs, and access news that would otherwise be difficult to come by; and using new technologies - for example Bush Radio broadcasts off an iPod linked to their transmitters when they experience power failures.

Author: Johanna Mavhungu, Cathy O’Shea

Contact Information:

Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership (SPI) Rhodes University P O Box 94 Grahamstown South Africa Tel: +27 (46) 603 8851Fax: +27 (46) 622 9591
SPI website