The late Ivan May, who founded the Radio Today Academy, would be proud of his media protégés who, through the effort of his community radio training ground, have transcended mostly underprivileged backgrounds to take the powerful medium of radio to new heights.
“Despite the high visibility and significant infrastructure of television, newspapers and the internet, we know that South Africans get most of their news and information from radio. Ivan envisioned the power of radio – specifically community radio – to further democracy in this country,” said James Kinloch, Radio Today’s current station manager.
As such, over the past five years, Radio Today has provided on-the-job, hands-on training in all aspects of radio to over 60 students. Most of the students are able to find work at major commercial radio stations, which Kinloch deems is no less than remarkable.
“We have trained many intellectually impaired people… We had a student suffering from bipolar mood disorder that crippled his employability and ability to work. But through intensive training, patience and love, he is now working successfully at a large radio station,” Kinloch said.
Two of the academy’s students, Frank Malaba and Simone Heradien, are products of this education and host a fascinating, well-informed show targeting a lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and intersex (LGBTI) audience, aptly coined Outspoken.
“Most African countries are vehemently homophobic and raising awareness of the violence and murder directed against the LGBTI population is paramount,” said Malaba, one of May’s passionate charges.
The academy is primarily funded by the Taco Kuiper Trust, but Kinloch explains that more funding is needed to keep the academy afloat. He adds that community radio stations are consistently on the back foot and can be “trampled” upon by the larger commercial radio stations.
“It’s tough out there and we have to work hard to prevent being marginalised.” Nevertheless, Radio Today has a wide footprint, and beyond Gauteng, can be heard in eight southern African countries, DSTV and even the BBC.
Why community radio?
While Radio Today broadcasts to a more affluent group, community radio is particularly relevant to poverty reduction and sustainable development.
Itai Madamombe, as quoted in the Africa Renewal journal, says that community radio enables the ‘voice of the poor.’
“Their transmitters may reach only a few miles, but community radio stations are enabling isolated communities across Africa to voice their own concerns. On air, ordinary citizens discuss issues that are central to them, such as gender relations and combatting HIV/AIDS. They share farming tips and income generation ideas and explore ways to improve education.”
Community radio is alive and vibrant across the developing world. Madamombe continues that community radios provide profound new opportunities for more inclusive sustainable development.
Bush Radio in South Africa is an example of a thriving community radio station in South Africa that is also deeply relevant to the communities in which it is broadcast.
Noam Chomsky, American linguist and political activist described the station thus: “It was one of the high points of a very exciting and instructive visit to Africa, and I was really pleased to have the opportunity to be with you for a few hours.”
Meanwhile Radio Today, as with other community radio stations, is primarily and whole-heartedly concerned with local charities and initiatives, which empowers people to get involved and which affords a voice to largely overlooked programmes.