RADIO DEBRIEF: Sometimes we forget this radio business is not only about the right formatted music, personalities, news and content but also the notion that is is a medium that stimulates the mind. It’s the images we create and provoke in our heads, based on what we hear that has the strongest recall. Having been involved in radio drama’s in the early part of my career I have always been a strong believer in the creation of ‘theatre of the mind’. So it was with much pleasure to hear that this notion still exist amongst young students like Stephen Mina who writes about the real assets of radio. – Guest editor of Radio Debrief, Gavin Meiring
Radio truly is a marvellous medium. It can go with you anywhere, and take you anywhere, all within a few minutes. You can also get away with a lot more. With just the right sound effects you could be reporting live from somewhere in the Bahamas, or you could walk right out of bed and into studio and no one would know better. I have done both. As an ex- radio student who fully advocates the theatre of the mind, I’ve learned, I’ve played and I’ve experimented with the airwaves, learning the possibilities and also adding a little bit of myself to them in the process.
But what does it all mean to a young South African journo like me?
Radio is a personal medium: it broadcasts like a conversation between you and the anchor, yet it can also play a role in building communities. Radio is immediate: it brings updates, news and opinions in a heartbeat, yet it often takes days to plan segments. It is a multi-task medium: for all Twitter’s immediacy, you can’t look at it while driving. Radio is an intriguing medium, made all the more so by its many paradoxes.
At the recent conference in Oregon, asking ‘What is Radio?’, Pippa Green answered that it is the most important medium for news in South Africa. In many ways she is right. The strong need for opinion in radio, combined with the intimacy mentioned earlier, can form a powerful platform for debate. The immediacy of the medium also gives listeners a sense of being involved in an active, often heated, conversation (Talk Radio 702’s slogan: “You’re invited to join the conversation”).
The real power of radio does not lie solely in news, but in entertainment. From music, to anchors that make you wait those extra 10 minutes in the car. To me radio dramas are the best part of radio (kind of lousy coming from a journalist). I listen to them every day. From 1940s plays, to ones only produced last year, I enjoy the stories, the engagement with imagination and the fact that I could be driving or out for a walk while doing so. If a narrator tells you about a horribly deformed villain, everyone will imagine him differently – and everyone will be right.
In radio lies the power to cultivate your own mind, take you to wild and exotic places. You make your own pictures, not buy someone else’s version of a dashing rogue as you would on TV. It is that special person telling a story just for you. It is truly wonderful.
So, it is quite sad that such wonderful potential is not exploited in the South African media landscape. Commercial radio is bound by advertising and competitions to rake in the revenue, while other stations focus too much on the music and what people want. Icasa makes sure the SABC keeps producing radio dramas, but only on one or two stations.
The BBC on the other hand has a celebrated tradition of some excellently produced radio dramas, showing their relevance in contemporary society. While there’s traffic, there’ll be radio. Yes and no. It is much more welcome in our lives than just those two spaces in the day. It buzzes while we are in the kitchen, rattles on merrily while we’re in the garden, stays up with us while we’re writing assignments and travels with us when we’re going on holiday.
It offers us news, opinions, lifestyle tips, comedy, tragedy, entertainment and music. It offers us a slice of life because it is so much part of our lives.
Radio, I salute you.
This post was first published in the Rhodes Journalism Review Viva Radioonline publication and is republished here with their kind permission.
Stephen Mina graduated from Rhodes University with a BJourn in 2013, specialising in radio. He currently works with all forms of media in advertising at TBWA. Follow him on Twitter @Funklordsteve
IMAGE: Wikimedia Creative Commons