Welcome to Radio Raves. At the outset, I have to confess to being a radio junkie, and must admit that I miss being involved at the sharp end of the business. Having left 5FM in 1994, people often ask me about the “old” days and whether I still think about radio – to which I reply that I miss radio so much that I think about it all the “back-time”. (Insider joke – sorry!)
In future articles I will critique various stations and programmes as I see fit. I do still have friends in the business but I would not be doing you, the reader, a service – nor would I be doing my friends any favours – by not being impartial and honest in my critique.
So, active radio personalities be warned: You’re going to get answers to the proverbial “Does my bum look big in this?” question, whether you want them, or not.
In 1995, not too long after I left 5FM, I wrote an article: “Time for the IBA to Apply Its Own RDP to the Airwaves” which was published in the media and marketing section of The Saturday Star. I recently reviewed this article and I still feel that the core of it is as relevant today, as it was back then.
The essence of the article was about the allocation of frequencies to broadcasters in a “free and fair” manner, in order to broaden the spectrum of radio offerings, give the listener a broader range of choice, and level the playing field for all in the industry. Unfortunately, the IBA back then (and now ICASA) has never really paid attention to – or developed an understanding of – the business of broadcasting. In particular, radio.
The excuse for there being so few radio commercial radio stations is that there is no space within the frequency spectrum to accommodate them. It’s ironic that in a city like New York, as far back as 1993, there were 108 FM stations operating in a 30km radius.
When ICASA began to allocate licences to new broadcasters in 1995, it initially focused on licensing Community Stations. And some community stations managed to get licences, even though they were really commercial stations dressed in community clothing.
While there are several arguments for Community Stations, ICASA should never have allocated these the licences it did, on the area of FM spectrum that it did. My 1995 article examined the British model of dividing the FM Frequency Spectrum and recommended that the South African FM frequency spectrum be allocated as follows:
Proposed South African FM frequency allocation plan:
87.5 to 88.0 MHz – Short-term, restricted services (sports events, limited period coverage, special events, etc.)
88.0 to 94.6 MHz – SABC national Public Service Broadcasting and SABC regional radio
94.6 to 96.1 MHz – Localised Community Radio
96.1 to 97.6 MHz – Independent local commercial Radio
97.6 to 99.8 MHz – SABC national commercial radio (5FM and Metro)
mce_keep=”true”99.8 to 102.0 MHz – Independent national and local radio
mce_keep=”true”102.0 to 103.5 MHz – Independent local radio
mce_keep=”true”103.5 to 105.0 MHz – Additional local radio (high-density demand areas)
105.0 to 108.0 MHz – Independent radio (high-density demand areas)
If ICASA were to allocate frequencies along the lines of the above, and enforce strict signal power and polarisation rules, we would be able to have a whole raft of new stations on air. This would give listeners a broader range of choices and would require that broadcasters sharpen up their acts in order to attract listeners and then attract advertising revenue.
While there are a finite number of listeners, some stations would thrive, some would barely survive, and some would die. But isn’t that what a free media market is all about?