South Africa may see the licensing of three more commercial radio stations with the proviso that the feasibility study commissioned by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) yields positive results.
During February 2008, ICASA appointed a service provider to conduct a feasibility study into the possible licensing of commercial radio stations in the primary market. In part, the regulator seeks to establish the viability of the identified markets, which would enable it to make a decision whether to call for applications for new commercial radio services in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.
If the outcomes of the study are positive, the licensing process will be following hot on the heels of the secondary commercial sound broadcasting licensing in which three consortiums were awarded licences in Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga. In Limpopo the licence was awarded to Capricorn FM, in the North West to Radio North West and in Mpumalanga to M-Power Radio.
According to the latest Radio Audience Measurement Survey (RAMS, August 2008 release), Radio North West leads the pack in terms of listenership with a past-seven-days listenership (large urban only) of 162,000; followed by Capricorn FM at 42,000 and M-Power at 16,000.
Although the Northern Cape was included in the Invitation To Apply (ITA), no-one showed interest and therefore no licence was issued for the province.
There are those who would argue that the market in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape is nearing saturation levels.
Mashilo Boloka, a media economist and the director for broadcasting policy in the Department of Communications, is of the view that if another commercial radio station is to succeed in KwaZulu-Natal, it would have to be based in the Pietermaritzburg area. Two of KwaZulu- Natal’s commercial radio stations, East Coast FM and Gagasi FM (formerly P4 Durban), are based in Durban.
The Western Cape currently has three commercial radio stations: Kfm, 567 Cape Talk and Heart 104.9. Cape Town could present a better opportunity for growth if the licensed radio station was to “adopt an urban contemporary format,” according to Boloka.
Conversely, Gauteng may present fierce competition for a number of reasons. The province is considered to be the economic hub of South Africa and many would like to lay their hands on a radio station licensed in this area.
Gauteng has more radio stations than any other, including six commercial radio stations: 94.7 Highveld Stereo, Classic FM, Jacaranda 94.2, Kaya 95.9 FM, Talk Radio 702 and YFM. Boloka believes that, although it may seem as if Gauteng is over-saturated, there is still an opportunity for growth – particularly if a radio station was to operate from the Tshwane metropolitan area. Presently, almost all the commercial radio stations in Gauteng are based in Johannesburg.
Chris Kgadima, an independent media analyst, believes that the market in all three provinces (Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal) has the capacity to sustain new commercial radio stations.
However, he says, innovative ways need to be found for this to happen. “There needs to be some form of strategic content syndication amongst players in order to sustain the market.”
Kgadima says it is possible that a radio station could succeed if new operators come with unique radio concepts that will attract new markets. “In essence they will need to tap into new ideas in programming, like using more vernaculars in commercial radio stations and not recycling talent.”
Over the past 10 years, South Africa has seen steady privatisation and liberalisation of broadcasting services and the industry at large.
In particular, the liberalisation of the radio market can be traced back to the recommendations contained in the Triple Inquiry Report of 1995, commissioned by the now defunct Independent Broadcast Authority (IBA).
The report recommended that seven of the SABC’s regional stations be sold (not all the recommendations were implemented). These were Good Hope, Kfm, Algoa (and its split, BRFM), RPN East Coast, Oranje (and its split, Goudveld), Highveld and Jacaranda (and its split, RMFM).
The report further recommended that radio stations licensed as alternatives to SABC stations in the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei (TBVC), be incorporated into the SABC’s portfolio of stations.
Another recommendation was that a number of private radio stations be licensed at a regional, provincial and local level to create competition and offer choice to listeners.
It was this process that saw the licensing of such Gauteng-based radio stations as Kaya FM 95.9 and YFM. Previously Radio 702 had been the only commercial radio station in the province.
Community radio stations were subsequently licensed in large numbers.
Sekgoela Sekgoela is a former lecturer in broadcast journalism at the Tshwane University of Technology and ICASA’s current manager for media and stakeholder liaison. He writes in his personal capacity.
- This column first appeared in The Media magazine (October 2008).