Forgetting what day it is, is a sure sign of cabin fever if ever there was. So it was with some alarm that I noticed a little earlier today that I had posted Lockdown Chronicles #7 as Tuesday 1 April.
Now there’s no excuse for not remembering the day because Tuesday is my wife’s yoga day. Usually she goes off to her yoga class but when I segued into her while she was doing the Handstand Scorpion in the passage, I should have realised it was a Tuesday. In my defence, I was so engrossed in listening to Katie Derham’s Sound of Dance podcast on iPlayer BBC3 that I momentarily lost control at the height of my pirouette.
Isn’t that one of the most marvellous things about radio as a medium during #Lockdown2020? Theatre of the Mind! Streaming radio can transport you anywhere in the world without having to actually go there. Yesterday I was in London at Royal Ballet and today I’ve been listening to blues at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago.
On Monday #Techcentral reported that, as a response to the #Covid19 crisis, ICASA has extended the validity of existing radio frequency spectrum licences until 30 June 2020. That is very welcome indeed and hopefully it signals the dawn of a more consultative approach from ICASA in mapping out a viable future for broadcast industry in South Africa.
In reality though, you may be able regulate bandwidth, but you can’t regulate human behaviour in a digital landscape.
In 2016 I was in London with a colleague and he took me for a ride in his Tesla. We were doing 50mph down the A1 and the car was driving itself. Close your eyes and imagine that. It’s like something out of a space odyssey. But that’s not even the most amazing part. My colleague, an ex-South African, has a real fondness for Knysna and Knysna FM in particular. It’s his favourite radio station.
Now close your eyes and imagine that again. Driving around London in a space age electric car which is tuned in to Knysna FM. From a media perspective, it’s the Knysna FM that blows my mind more than the fact that the was car driving itself.
Entrenched broadcast stakeholders and ICASA need to realise that the confines of a radio frequency spectrum licence cannot regulate my listening behaviour. The continued use of leave-behind weekly diaries to establish the RAMS listening currency is increasingly at odds with the reality of listening behaviour of South Africans. The PPP_Fusion2019 study reports that 36% of Digicons (digitally connected consumers who have accessed the internet in the past month) listen to online radio on a daily basis.
It is no longer where I reside that defines what radio station I listen to, but rather where my mind resides. You can’t measure that with a diary.
Another limitation of the current RAMS setup is the ongoing under-representation of community radio stations. Collectively the aggregated power of community radio is widely documented, but at an individual station level, audiences continue to be under-reported at best. Podcasts which are one of the fastest growing listening platforms globally and locally simply don’t exist as a currency in existing industry currency measures.
As the enormity of #Covid19 crisis and the reality of Lockdown2020 takes hold, the real tragedy of having an under-geared and under-supported community radio sector is painfully apparent. The government’s attempts to communicate from the top and to stop the spread of fake news have been tragically inadequate. Remote and isolated communities need reliable news from a reliable source.
Newspapers can’t reach these communities but community-based radio stations, klank koerante as I recently heard them called, would transform the accuracy and speed of government communication at this level. It is time to rejuvenate the MDDA (Media Development & Diversity Agency) and, in partnership with ICASA, major broadcasters and advertisers, to develop a master plan to put communities at the centre of radio broadcasting in South Africa.
In advertising terms we all know about the power of sound. During these turbulent times what these isolated communities desperately need is to hear the instructive and reassuring voice of this country’s leaders. They need to hear the sound of power.
Gordon Muller is Africa’s oldest surviving media strategist. Author of Media Planning – Art or Science. Mostly harmless! Read his Khulumamedia Blog here.
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