In the age of internet and social media, as well as digital and high definition television, one would have expected that the older medium of radio (some call it “steam radio”) would have died out long ago.
In fact, due to the immediate nature of radio as well as its portability, and the fact that it remains one of the cheapest of the media both to produce and to receive, radio has not only survived but gone from strength to strength.
Current developments such as live streaming over the internet, podcasts (recorded radio programmes that can be downloaded and listened to at a time and place suitable to the listener) have kept radio abreast with the times and, despite its age, it is a medium that remains popular, especially with the youth.
This concept of internet radio is now also popular in Namibia, and new online radio stations such as Namcol (www.namcol.edu.na) and the Polytechnic of Namibia (‘NUST FM’) have being established to cater for the trend towards listening online.
The NBC DTT decoder has also allowed Namibian radio to move away from the original apartheid ‘divide and rule’ strategy. The engineering behind this was that the SiLozi service would be heard in Katima Mulilo, the Damara/Nama service in Khorixas and the German service in Swakopmund, etc. The South African strategy was that the transmission of radio would synchronise with their ‘homeland’ policy and not only persuade people to stay in ‘their areas’ but also divide them up into small units. The nine radio services therefore spoke only to their particular ‘tribal’ audience, rather than a ‘national’ Namibian audience.
The DTT decoder now means that every Namibian, throughout the country, can now listen to every NBC radio service and the apartheid broadcasting master plan for using radio to divide the nation has, at least, been destroyed.
Three final year Unam media students explored aspects of this changing pattern of listenership in their research projects this year. Juliet Anebe investigated ‘The effectiveness of Unam Radio based on the listenership habits of students and staff’. Her study found that listeners to this station used not only traditional radios for listening, but increasingly mobile devices such as smartphones. In fact, her study of 50 participants revealed that the use of mobile devices for radio listening is in the majority (46%), compared to listening in a taxi (24%) or at home (14%).
Frans Jambeinge studied attitudes towards the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation. He not only investigated viewing habits on the new NBC DTT decoder (discovering, interestingly that NBC 3 is the most popular of the three NBC channels on offer), but also established that many of the respondents now listened to radio on their decoder (their favourite station being NBC National Radio, and the second most popular NBC Oshiwambo Service).
Magano Naimbale put these new developments into a broader perspective, with her investigation into the impact of radio in the northern rural areas of Namibia. Here, not only are traditional FM radios the most popular means of receiving radio broadcasts, but the majority of her participants in Emono village (50%) only possessed one FM radio device. In Ohakuyela village the findings were similar, with 45% owning one radio set. However, the listenership here was extremely loyal, with 75% of the respondents listening to their radio every day.
So radio, despite increased competition, remains the medium of choice for many Namibians, whether in the traditional sense, or, increasingly, the new devices for broadcasting and for receiving radio broadcasts.
• Robin Tyson is a lecturer in media studies at the University of Namibia.