I have a passion and a compassion for the community radio sector like no other slice of the media. I have reiterated the figures so many times: 250 stations across the country, 9 million listeners, 11 official languages. It is the part of the media serving the poorest in South Africa’s society and arguably in a position to make the most difference. And for a long time Volume (the company I co-founded with Roland Perold) was dedicated to improving the news at these stations. For two years we tried every possible angle to try to improve the quality and distribution of news at these stations. We employed community reporters. We paid for stories. We developed training manuals. We produced a technology solution. We went to conferences to present our ideas on how we were going to fix this “news problem”. We drew diagrams and travelled the country meeting with station managers and radio producers in rural and semi-rural areas. Community radio stations, despite having huge audiences, produce very little news because it is expensive and the staff are undertrained. We were hunting for a way for them to catapult themselves into the 21st century and yet stay on the dial for millions of people who needed them.
Eventually, for the good of the company, we had to abandon community radio. And it hurt. Mainly because it felt like my whole persona and career was wrapped up in the fate of the medium. I was becoming that “community radio guy” and we were getting high praise from high places for our efforts. But the figures, by god you have to bow to the figures and we couldn’t make them work.
Meanwhile, we were developing a voice note audio show called “What’s Crap on WhatsApp” with Africa Check that debunked misinformation on the chat platform. It won an international award. And we suddenly saw traction in producing a whole network of voice note radio shows for WhatsApp. They would be short, sharp, five minutes in length and sent as a voice note. We added “Read This!” by partnering with the Johannesburg Review of Books. And currently we have three more short voice note podcasts in the works. They go out over a broadcast list to subscribers on WhatsApp (and can also be found wherever you get your podcasts).
And we aren’t leaving the PEOPLE from the community radio sector behind — we have audio shows in the works that involve some of the highly-skilled reporters we met during Volume’s previous incarnation.
We see WhatsApp and micro-podcasting as the best way for it to break into Africa. Check out some of our shows at www.volume.africa.