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OP-ED: Why radio is as popular as ever

Dec 02, 2021

By Shakirah Hunter

Thinking about radio always makes me nostalgic. It brings back memories of a childhood with a little red radio and a very long antenna. As children, we would rush through our school work and bang the supper dishes, with the hurry that at eight pm, we would soon listen to our fifteen-minute storytime on the radio. There was something magical about sitting huddled altogether and listening to a world that you could not see but allowed you to paint a picture in your mind. Listening to your favourite presenters and building a rapport. I grew up listening to Islamic History programs and forming a deep connection to the routine of the radio schedule.

As the world transitioned from long antennas and massive radios to hand-held devices – it would seem that this cosy world of radio would be taken over by so many faster-paced platforms.

In a world of information, we are constantly consuming on different mediums and platforms. The information technology era has made us consume at a pace that is rapid yet allows us to do as many tasks as we can at the same time. As the twitter world and other social media platforms are slowly taking over, one would think that the radio medium would be slowly dying out. Radio may seem to be the dinosaur in the room and at odds with a fast-paced world of streaming, podcasts, fleets, and tweets. Yet, radio has been standing strong and has shown us its ability to withstand both time and technology. Research has shown that people spend up to five hours daily listening to the radio.

In the past, radio has played a multifaceted role in the South African political landscape and culture. It has been the voice of politics in the Apartheid era and has motivated change in our country’s political and cultural mind frame. It is an entertainment tool and has been extremely effective in creating platforms for education and spiritual connection. In a country of over fifty-five million people, over thirty-five million people still consume radio!

Radio has been able to withstand change as it is portable and allows you to listen while you are doing so much else. It allows you to be in a room full of people, and using your headphones; you can lose yourself to a different world. One can connect from different platforms, whether your mobile device or even your TV screen or laptop.

Radio is free and allows for adaptability with changing technologies. Podcasts have become extremely popular and are an excellent way for education and entertainment – yet radio still surpasses podcasts as most podcasts are for niche audiences with very niche topics. Podcasts can also be quite difficult to find in the vast platform that is the internet. Conversely, radio is highly inclusive and allows different audiences and age groups to meld their ideas and move beyond the focused genres of most of the online world.

In an aired interview, Ml Sulaimaan Ravat discussed the growth of the radio with Thabo Shole-Mashao from Ithate media. He has over twenty years of experience in the media industry and places radio at the forefront of all information platforms. Thabo has highlighted that one of the main reasons radio is still a growing platform is that radio is constant and instant. It allows you to tune in to specific topics and fulfils your seemingly benign needs instantly. Traffic reports and weather reports seem benign, yet 39% of people tune in to get their traffic updates. It allows for the further discussion of more profound points of education and creates an intimate link with the listener.

Driving to and from work, the radio forms a nostalgic part of our memories of those moments. You could be driving your kids to school every morning with the sound of your favourite host constantly a part of those memories. You could log in from work and tune in to the Qur’an or anasheed hour playing whilst you write or move around your home. Radio has melded into the busy twenty-first-century lifestyle but has still managed to keep education and entertainment intimate and relatable yet moving at a pace that allows us to keep evolving.

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