Friday, May 25, 2012

Radio and the Internet: creating a sense of community

By Linda Kunene

Much has been said about the effect of the internet on print media, with circulations of newspapers and advertising spend that they attract steadily decreasing in the developed Western world.

Television has also been negatively affected by the internet, with many people opting to watch YouTube videos and downloading movies to their personal computers. However, what is the impact of the internet on radio?

Radio is part of our everyday lives. According to the MDDA Report (2009), 94.1% of South Africans have access to radio. Broadcast and print media access are lower, sitting at 83.8% and 40% respectively.

As children, our parents listened to radio in the car on our way to school, listening to traffic reports and news headlines. The voices of Jeremy Mansfield and Bob Mabena are ingrained in our minds. As we got older, we started to listen to radio on our phones. With an endless amount of media content available online, our attention is increasingly becoming a scarce resource. How will radio listenership, a passive activity, compete with more interactive online activities?

Listeners want more control over their media consumption and the internet is an attractive platform. Pandora Music is a US-based online music recommendation service that gives users the power to choose their playlist. This works for those in the developed world, who can afford to stream radio on their phones or computers, but this is not affordable to most people in South Africa and Africa.

Moreover for indigenous/vernacular language speakers, how much choice does internet radio give its listeners?

Radio stations in South Africa seem to have not been negatively affected by online media. Looking at the listenership numbers of Ukhozi FM, 5FM, and Metro FM, their positions are still strong. Why is this? Well, for vernacular radio stations, they have little – if any-- competition online. Most content on the internet is in English, and this is the same with radio stations. One would struggle to find an online radio station in vernacular. Also, radio stations offer local content.

Danika Marquis, a radio journalism lecturer at Rhodes University, adds that the SABC stations provide enough variety in content for local listeners. For English speakers, there are stations such as SAFM, 5FM, Radio 2000 and Classic FM that cater for listeners who want analysis on political and economic events, or classic, rock and contemporary pop music.

However, there are listeners who look to the internet for more choice in radio stations. Many local stations are aware of this and are creating a strong online presence to remain relevant to their audiences. 5FM and Metro FM, for instance, are active on social networking sites. By doing so, they have a better chance of getting your attention while you are online.

Some stations have used the internet to complement their activities. For example, blogging is used by DJs to create a conversation with their listeners and open space for comments. The use of social networking to interact with listeners has also become important. The internet allows for a high level of interactivity, which, if used intelligently, can help analogue stations create a strong online presence. Social networking is being used to engage frequently with listeners. For example, 5FM’s DJ Fresh and 94.7’s Anele have a huge following on Twitter. They are also encouraging listeners to use SMS and phoning-ins for dedications, song requests and competitions.

The issue of access to the internet is another factor. Internet bandwidth is expensive and therefore it limits the amount of access that people in South Africa and Africa have to internet products/ services. FM radio, as Marquis observes, is not only free to the listener, but also much cheaper to produce than TV and print.

Masixole Mdingane, Station Manager of Rhodes Music Radio (RMR), says one of the greatest things about radio on your phone is that it is everywhere you are: in your home, your car, and your pocket. This makes it so much more easily accessible than online streaming, with bandwidth being so expensive in South Africa. Patterson and Modisane (2011:32) say that “21.6% of all radio listeners tune in via their cellphones”, and indications are that this number will continue to steadily increase.

According to the AMPS June 2011 data, “total radio listenership percentages are slowly but steadily increasing, with both commercial and community radio stations improving compared to 2010” (Patterson & Modisane in The Media magazine, 2011: 32).

This is because listening to the radio gives you a sense of community that listening to your mp3s cannot provide, according to Terry Volkyn, CEO of Primedia Broadcasting (The Media Collection. Radio Edition, 2012). It is a space where the audience can engage with the DJ/ host and other listeners about local issues. This is very different to the often solitary activity of listening to your own music. And since humans are social beings, they are likely to gravitate towards activities where they can interact with other members of their communities.

All radio stations need to make use of the internet to interact with listeners and therefore provide a sense of belonging and community.


• 2011. Radio’s feel-good effect. [Online]. Available: [26 April 2012]

• 2012. Commercial Station Summary.'11%20-%20Feb'12.asp. [22 April 2012]

• Bunce, R. The real trends in the radio sector. In The Media Collection. Radio Editionmagazine, April 2012.

• de Araujo, G. 2012. 2012 Trends. Reasons not to ‘touch that dial’. [Online]. Available: [22 April 2012]

• Marquis, Danika. 2012. Interview with Rhodes University radio journalism lecturer on 11 May 2012. Grahamstown.

• Madingane, Masixole. 2012. Interview with Rhodes Music Radio station manager on 28 March 2012. Grahamstown.

• Patterson, G. & Modisane, O. Latest AMPS heralds big changes in the media. In The Media magazine, November 2011

• Rotherham, S. 2011. South Africa’s Fundamentally Flawed FM Radio “Listenership”. [Online]. Available: radio-listenership/ [22 April 2012]

• Sheikh, C. 2011. The business of SA radio advertising: where to from here? [Online]. Available: re-to-from-here/. [26 April 2012]

• Smith, D. New Media: where is radio going in Africa? In Mdlongwa, F. (ed). Doing digital media in Africa. Port Elizabeth: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. p. 41-45.

*Linda Kunene is a student on the Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management at the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership at Rhodes University, South Africa.