Marian Smith Mr. Logan, Professor COMM 393: Senior Portfolio April 15, 2013 Community Jukebox: The Importance of Community Radio in Todayâ€™s Society Abstract Before the invention of the Internet, the world had television. Before there was television, the world had radio. A review of the literature covers a general history of radio, the beginning of community radio, the benefits of community radio, as well as its detriments. The purpose of this study is to discuss the importance of community radio in todayâ€™s society by highlighting its benefits and exposing the challenges the industry faces. Two different cultures, the United States and Africa, were examined. They had similarities and differences in their use and development of community radio. The implications of this study could mean more citizens of both cultures enjoy the benefits of community radio, more women take an active role in the industry, and the governments of both countries need to invest in the development of the field. Introduction Radio plays an important role in American society. It is a versatile and portable medium that can influence the lives of the people who listen to it. People are able to listen to their favorite kinds of music, as well as learn about the latest events occurring in their local neighborhood, state or around the world from the comfort of their home, office or car. There are different types of radio broadcasting which have individual goals and objectives for their specific audiences. One form of radio focuses particularly on the needs of the people and issues that may affect them. This form of radio is known as community radio and it plays a necessary role in todayâ€™s
society. It is not limited only to certain regions in the United States. Community radio has proven to have a global appeal, especially in developing areas around the world. However, these types of stations are struggling to gain the same respect and notoriety of public and commercial stations. There are obstacles still ahead in the development of community radio, but people are beginning to understand the importance and value of community radio and the impact it has over the citizens who are tuned in to its programming. Review of the Literature: Community Radio in the United States Many of the sources covered the same information: the history of radio in general, the development of community radio, and the struggles in that area. William A. Richter, a professor of Communication at Lenoir-Rhyne College, wrote a book entitled Radio: A Complete Guide to the Industry which discussed the early origins and the development of radio through the years. Richter noted how radio offered people something different than they were used to at the time of its establishment. “Radio gave Americans something that they never had before: the ability to experience one special moment as a country,” he said. “Prior to radio, it might take days or weeks for news to reach across the country.” The invention of radio led to the creation of the television and television programming (Richter 2). Many shows seen on television today are in existence because they were originally broadcast on the radio. Radio became a popular form of media after World War I (Richter 31). Many stations were formed, allowing listeners to have a wide variety of programming to choose from. In 1927, about 2,834.58 hours were spent listening to the radio in New York City (Lichty, Topping 323). Of that time, 74 percent was spent listening to some form of music (Lichty, Topping 323). Colin Faser and Sonia Restrepo-Estrada wrote, “radio broadcasting leaps the barriers of isolation and
illiteracy and it is the most economical electronic medium to broadcast and receive (69).” It was a non-commercial form of media, receiving much of its funding from “individuals, organizations, or in the rare instance a municipality” (Richter 103). Richter noted community radio is a form of non-commercial radio. The feature that set community radio apart from commercial radio was all in its name. Community radio places an emphasis on the community and the topics that matter to the people who form its framework. It has allowed people to have an impact on social change and development (Fraser 70). People sometimes equate public and community radio as the same thing, but the two are different. David Dunaway, a professor in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico, discussed how a clear distinction between public radio and community radio was made in the mid-1970s in “Community Radio at the Beginning of the 21st Century: Commercialism vs. Community Power.” Public radio began in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the establishment of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Public Radio organization (Dunaway 89). He had findings that were similar to the findings of Richter. He observed community radio stations focused more on staying local and refraining from becoming commercial, while public radio stations were interested in engaging listeners on a national level. Community radio in the United States can be constructed on four characteristics, according to Dunaway’s article. Those characteristics are: “the active participation of volunteers; that with the regard to listeners, quality rather than numbers was paramount; that listeners should listen selectively rather than around the clock which suggested the patchwork quilt of specialty shows still dominant in community radio; that volunteer staff does not constitute cheap labour, but an extension of the listening community itself (Dunaway 89).” It is important to acknowledge the people who participate in community radio are people who live in or are
familiar with the community. People who are stakeholders in the specific community will understand what appeals to others in the same community. Their understanding will be evident in their programming. In a study conducted by Chambers and Callison, research “showed people were more likely to perceive individual programs as local than station ownership” (Hubbard 409). Their study indicated there was a correlation between how respondents viewed individuals on the radio as local and their partiality for the station (Hubbard 409). Dunaway noted that the type of people in the field of community radio, following its emergence in the 1970s, were people interested in protesting events and occurrences in society (90). He made a statement which summed up the agenda of people like this: “if they couldn’t make the revolution through radio, at least they could make a good radio in search of a cause.” As time progressed, the characterizations of community radio changed. This form of radio was seen as unconventional and Leftist (Dunaway 90). From the 1980s on, radio experienced many changes. It went from professionalization to rationalization, which had a major effect on how community radio stations were funded. Bart Cammerats emphasized the idea of community in community radio in his article, “Community Radio in the West: A Legacy of Struggle for Survival in a State and Capitalist Controlled Media Environment.” His study noted that localism is counted as a characteristic of community radio and media. He found “community radio contributes both to external pluralism – by being a different voice among public and commercial broadcasters – and to internal pluralism – by being basic-democratic and providing a platform for diversity of voices and styles, often lacking in mainstream media” (Cammerats 639). However, Cammerats found Western society tends to place negative connotations on community, such as homogeneity and confinement (639). Connotations of this nature lead to restrictions being placed in the realm of
community radio. What happens when peopleâ€™s perception about community radio are deemed reality? The genre of programming gets overlooked and neglected. A Review of the Literature: Community Radio in Africa The review of the literature for Africa focused mainly on South Africa, but provided information about other countries in Africa impacted by the invention of community radio. According to an article written by Eronini R. Megwa, millions of Africans depend on the radio more than new forms of communication (337). Community radio has not been available in Africa for the same amount of time it has been in the United States. However, it has become popular because â€œit is owned by the community, relatively affordable, and enjoys a certain unique intimacy with its owners and audience, pertinent to the illiterate and rural population, and the local culture and tradition â€œ(Megwa 338). Itai Madamombe agreed with Megwa on the impact community radio has had on Africa. He found community radio stations are giving a voice to the voiceless on issues ranging from education to HIV/AIDS (Madamombe 1). Community radio has gained momentum through the creation of more radio stations around Africa. In South Africa alone, there are over 100 radio stations that have a license to broadcast in the various communities (Megwa 338). The types of radio stations range from religious stations to stations based on college campuses (Megwa 338). There does not seem to be any sign of a discontinuation of the development of community radio. If groups continue to show interest, more broadcasting licenses will be distributed (Megwa 338). The lack of technology appeared to be the one of the major problems community radio stations in Africa faced. Madamombe noted that transmitters only reach a few miles and development does not happen at a rapid pace (1). In his article, he also found there are factors
that contribute to this region’s slow radio expansion. One factor was the existence of state controlled governments. The other factor was the cost of communication infrastructure (Madamombe 2). Megwa focused on the categorization of what kinds of technology radio stations, primarily in South Africa, used. He found that most stations used the computer and the internet, but the programs were not utilized to their full potential. The types of technology Megwa found community radio stations in South Africa used most were telephones, facsimiles and photocopiers (344). The telephones were traditional landlines, but staff members utilized personal cellular phones to receive calls and text messages. An interesting component of the literature review of community radio in Africa was the role of women. According to a study titled “Giving Voice to Invisible Women: ‘FIRE’ as Model of a Successful Women’s Community Radio in Africa,” women living in third world countries have to deal with issues that deter their advancement (Gatua, Patton, Brown 165). The article focused on “how community radio provides a model for the empowerment of women through radio and the Feminist International Radio Endeavor (FIRE), a network that successfully takes advantage of this approach” (Gatua, Patton, Brown 165). The authors hoped African women would find their voice in the world of community radio. They discussed a radio station which markets itself as “community radio” and is one of the only stations to do so (168). The radio station is 101.7 Mama FM. The station made history in the world of radio because it was the first community radio station in Africa and the third community radio station in the world (Gatua, Patton, Brown 168). Although the station markets itself as community radio, the researchers for the study found there was a considerable amount of government influence. FIRE is the type of organization to speak up about that kind of influence and focus on keeping community radio, especially as it pertains to women, focused on the needs of its audience.
“Community Radio Provides Women a Way to Have Their Voices Heard” was another article included in the review of the literature that focused on African women in community radio. The writer, L. Muthoni Wanyeki, discussed how the community media is focused on the development of women’s roles in the industry. Wanyeki noted, “Most of the community radio stations are not specifically managed by women, but women’s representation and gender are key components of their mandate” (76). The development involves training and an exchange of information between communities (Wanyeki 77). Like the FIRE network, these women are determined to make a voice for the thousands of women who are underserved and underrepresented in the African society. Community radio stations can be found in countries, such as Malawai, Senegal, South Africa (Wanyeki 76). Synthesis and Conclusions Community radio in the United States and Africa share differences, but there are similarities that link them together as well. Both societies believe community radio has an underrepresented power to influence multitudes of people. Both believe a form of media that focuses on the people is important to the development of communication in society. Many sources agree. In the United States, technology has helped community radio become more common. Nevertheless, the lack of funding is placing restraints on the growth of the industry. In Africa, the issue seems to lie in multiple places. The society lacks technological advancement, funding, and government support in some cases. What the African society does have in contrast to America in terms of community radio is a female presence. These women are committed to making a difference in their society where having a woman who expresses her views and opinions are very uncommon.
What needs to be done to prevent the demise of community radio? To answer this question, one must focus of the benefits and potential this form of radio offers. Community radio is important. It is an affordable way to get important information to a vast number of people. The people who are influenced by community radio are from different walks of life. Some are wellto-do, while others are from underdeveloped nations. Community radio has the ability to push the differences aside on the basis that, no matter the person, the communication of necessary information is important. Another benefit of community radio is the emphasis of the community. There is something inspiring about people showing concern for others in their area. It seems as though the radio personalities would be more passionate about the information they are sharing because the information affects them also. Volunteers are the driving force behind most community radio stations. For them, there are no paychecks. They do not receive benefits or paid vacations. They are producing shows and programming because they have a passion for their community. As a listener, it should create a sense of encouragement to know that the person relaying information to you could be a neighbor or a familiar face from the neighborhood. As a Communications Arts major, the topic of community radio is one of much interest and importance to me. As the end of my educational career approaches, it is important that all possible areas in the Communications field are investigated so an informed decision can be made for my future and career. An opportunity presented itself that allowed me to experiment with community radio. While involved with community radio, I found it to be a diverse network of people working together to share information with the community that they serve. There is a need for the volunteers (who insure the success of community radio) to meet each other, bond and collaborate so that the best product possible can be produced and a uniform message can be
shared. This is often times easily accomplished as like-minded individuals who understand they are working toward a common goal. I learned first-hand that the obstacles listed in the articles reviewed were also true here in the local community. The lack of funding for community radio exists worldwide. Limited funds prevent community radio from having a truly competitive presence with commercial and public radio. Stations rely on grants and donations from stakeholders, such as friends, family members and local businesses. Without the proper funds, community radio will be forced to cut down programming. A smaller amount of programming would reduce the amount of diversity community radio stations offer to the communities they serve. Community radio has seen growth with the use of the Internet. Some community radio stations can be found on the Internet, which allows the message that is to be shared to be shared with more than the local community. This Internet usage increases the number of listeners and expands the community that is being served, which in turn, assists in increasing the awareness of and interest in community radio. Radio was already a mobile form of media, but it will become more mobile since smartphones have become commonplace. Applications, or apps, now pair with the Internet to make it easier to access the radio. Locally, I experienced the same phenomena as what was discussed with community radio in Africa. My experience showed there to be more men involved in community radio than women. However, this could change as the local manager of the community radio station with which I was involved is a female. Additionally, people involved with community radio could make an effort to recruit more women, which would directly address this problem. Women have
voices and opinions that need to be heard. In order for community radio to truly serve its purpose, all kinds of people should be able to participate in the field. Community radio stations typically have a smaller listening audience than that found with commercial radio stations. Though the reason is not documented, I feel that one of the major reasons is the format of community radio. Unlike with commercial radio stations, community radio stations change their formats and genres more frequently based on the personnel that is involved at the listening time. Most commercial radio stations have a set musical genre or programming format. Though this leads to more consistent and larger audiences of listeners, it does not allow for the flexibility that community radio stations have. Though community radio is not as well-known as commercial radio, there is a lot of value that can be learned from it. For people who are interested in radio, community radio stations can serve as a stepping stone or an entrance for a fulfilling career in the industry. Attempts could be made to provide alternate funding sources which would allow community radio to be more competitive with commercial and public radio stations. Personally, the information learned while researching this topic and the experience gained from volunteering in community radio, has expanded my knowledge and will enable me to make more informed decisions about my career goals. Community radio is an industry with potential that is waiting to be discovered.
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