There are big things happening in the broadcast world. The country is waiting with bated breath for the launch of four new pay-TV channels, and then there are the technological changes that will increase South Africa’s broadcast frequency.
But, despite all the fancy new gadgetry and possibilities, perhaps radio is still king. After several delays, two of three radio stations awarded licenses by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) are finally on air. M-Power Radio and Capricorn FM were awarded two second generation licences last year, while Radio North West, the third player, was meant to launch on 3 November last year, but was delayed due to various problems with Sentech, Telkom and Eskom.
These licences were awarded for provinces that are not considered the primary market: M-Power Radio broadcasts in Mpumalanga, Capricorn FM serves Limpopo, and Radio North West is based in the platinum province.
The Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) says the entrance of the three new radio stations into the broadcast sector is important as it gives South Africans more choice. “The more you have a diverse thread that covers provincial interests and differences of information, the more of a choice you are providing to citizens and deepening democracy,” says MDDA CEO, Lumko Mtimde.
Mtimde is also excited by the diversification in ownership that is happening with the issuing of these licences: “This is a key component. We are also diversifying ownership and control with new owners and controllers of the radio industry.
The bringing of new players can only serve to grow the economy and empower people.”
He does raise concern about the sustainability of these new commercial ventures in terms of advertising revenue:
“Certainly there will be a challenge in that regard. We do not have a big advertising cake, which means they will struggle. They will have to position themselves very strategically.”
But Mtimde believes Icasa would not have issued more licences if the market could not sustain the newcomers.
Talking rands and sense
Launching from scratch is certainly no easy feat, yet feature radio newcomers management at all three radio stations are confident they will see a constant increase in advertisers and listenership. (All three are targeting audiences in the LSM 7 Ã¢Â€Â“ 10 categories.)
Radio North West’s head of sales, Tyrone Sharnock, says that their audience are Tswana-speaking and probably currently listen to Jacaranda 94.2. They are hoping to have 450,000 listeners by the end of the station’s first year on air, and Sharnock says they are confident of a 100,000-strong audience within its first three months.
M-Power Radio is forecasting 200,000 listeners by the end of 2008, while Capricorn FM is hoping to attract a million listeners by November. Marketing manager, Jerry Ramodike, is confident that by July they will have reached 750,000.
These are stations that are immersed in the communities they serve. This recognition Ã¢Â€Â“ that not all South Africans living in other provinces dream of a life in Gauteng Ã¢Â€Â“ is what they all have going for them.
“People living in Rustenburg or Mafikeng are tired of listening to a traffic report that tells them what is happening on William Nicol,” says Sharnock.
Rivak Bunce, managing director of United Stations and RadioHeads at African Media Entertainment, the owners of M-Power Radio, says that, up until now, Mpumalanga residents have not had much in the way of choice:
“Traditionally, Jacaranda 94.2 has been very strong in this market. But they really focus on Gauteng. We think we have the edge because of our local content.” M-Power’s newsroom is indicative of this. It is driven by two writers, and the station has entered a partnership with African Eye News Service that gives it more coverage of the province.
“We do the national story, but it is the story in your back yard that catches your attention. So everything has a local angle. With the power outages, we aren’t doing stories about how it’s affecting Gauteng; we are showing the impact of it on this province.”
Bunce further adds that M-Power reflects the lifestyle of its listeners: “The focus is on Mpumalanga. We are passionate about the province, and when people tune into the station, this is apparent. We are also here, living this life.”
Capricorn FM is a station that is trying to live by the credo of giving back to the community. In January the station sought sponsors and arranged to take 1,000 children to Montecasino to watch The Lion King: “We want to give something back. Some of these children never dreamed of going to Johannesburg and watching one of the world’s best productions. Our New Year’s resolution is to give,” says Ramodike.
It costs M-Power Radio R500,000 a month to be on air, including salaries, marketing, news services and distribution with Sentech. In the four months prior to its launch, the station signed R7-million worth of advertising. It set up what it calls a foundation advertiser programme Ã¢Â€Â“ it identified and focused on bringing local advertisers who were given discounts and other incentives if they signed a 12-month contract with the station.
“National advertisers are harder to hook. They wait to see the audiences you deliver before they come in and give support.
So our best solution was to focus on local advertisers,” explains Bunce, whose sales team set about creating relationships with the local businesses.
“The support has been phenomenal. Our biggest clients are a family that own three or four Spars, local motor dealerships and retailers.
Bunce says the station planned on being profitable within three years: “We’ve worked hard to ensure that the station would be able to wash its own face quickly and now we are in that position.”
Radio North West, although not yet on air at the time of this article going to print, had already secured pre-launch advertising worth R4.8-million. They followed M-Power’s foundation advertising programme and have actively built up relationships with local businesses. Now the station is focusing on retaining these relationships until it goes to air on 14 February.
Shanock says the delay has not affected the station’s business plan. Their clients have all signed on for a 12-month period from launch, so they have guaranteed ad revenue.
Capricorn FM wouldn’t reveal how much it costs them to stay on air, but based on their footprint and the figures from M-Power Radio, one can assume that it’s somewhere in the region of R500,000 per month. Ramodike admits the station did get off to a rocky start. It was meant to launch in September last year, but eventually only went to air in November.
“We lost three months. Time is money and the delay did cost us. If we’d launched in September, we would be in the RAMS. We had to rework our model,” he explains. Asked if they would be around in a year, Ramodike does not hesitate to say “yes”.
“We do have a good business plan. In terms of our running costs and broadcasting costs, we only plan to break even in the next 18 to 20 months. We are confident that we will be around.”
The confidence also comes from the support the station has received from local advertisers: “People were waiting to see what the station would sound like. I think now people have found a new home in this radio station around the province. We have several provincial government departments who advertise with us, as well as local business.”
In good company If the ease with which they’ve attracted staff away from Gauteng-based stations like YFM and Kaya FM is anything to go by, these stations have strong business models in place.
Kaya FM dream team, Meo and Queenie, have jumped ship to M-Power in Nelspruit. The husband and wife team were looking for a change in lifestyle and grabbed the opportunity.
Bunce says the fact that the two are married, makes for a more crackling show in terms of intensity and humour: “They are passionately in love, but have their own minds and ways of seeing things. The interaction is interesting.”
The hosts on the afternoon drive are Dave Watts and new local talent, Buyi Shongwe. Many of Capricorn FM’s staff are also from Limpopo or grew up in the province.
“We’ve tried to attract talent from the province,” says Ramodike. “I myself was at SABC with a Gauteng lifestyle. But I know my province and we all see the potential and have a vision of what this station can bring to the province. We all believe in it.”
The morning show is hosted by Shoni “Ashisashabba” Muleya. He comes from Limpopo and used to host the breakfast show on YFM. He’s also a comedian, and hosts a TV show on SABC 2.
“He is one of the people who left Gauteng and came to Capricorn because he wants to make a difference to people’s lives on a daily basis,” says Ramodike.
The afternoon show is hosted by S’Khubuzo Mbatha, who worked for the SABC in Limpopo. He is well-known in the province and connects well with the youth.
Radio North West was unable to provide details of its drive time shows. Detailed RAMS figures for the three stations should be available in October.
Ã¢Â–Â This article was first published in The Media magazine’s March 2008 Radio Collection.