Radio is now ninety-three years old in Kenya and with nearly 200 radio stations, it’s one of media mediums with the widest reach in the country and fastest-growing medium for sharing information. Through specialised features and documentaries and the use of technology including using podcasts, radio has been a critical player in Kenya through the provision of information on health, education, business and politics.
With the growing number of community radios, local vernacular stations and expansion at the national and global radio presence with the related growth in listenership at the grassroots, radio is a major player in the politics of the country.
The availability of radio especially in vernacular language at the local level has provided development experts and political mobilisers with a unique opportunity for confidence building, correcting misperceptions and prejudices and educating the masses on the values of diversity and involvement on governance matters.
The radio industry is comprised of a wide range of stations in terms of coverage areas and in the type of audience they target. In Kenya, the radios are classified into public broadcasting services, private or commercial broadcasting services, community broadcasting services and signal distribution.
According to the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) quarterly report of December 2018/2019, there are over 131 commercial radios and 42 community radios in Kenya. The industry continues to witness major changes and this is evident when we see consolidation and transformation mainly to strengthen revenue collection and increase market share.
For example, whereas more radio frequencies are being allocated, existing stations are facing closure due to untenable market conditions. Also, radio stations face unprecedented challenges from digital services and the changing needs of listeners. As such, radio stations should be allowed to decide on when and where to produce their programmes which means they can invest heavily to produce high-quality programmes.
Because of poor business plans, poor management and reduced revenue streams, there are significant disparity in salaries and pay grades across the radio stations with some journalists getting as high as Sh200,000 monthly pay compared to Sh5,000 considered high pay in other radios. The radio industry is expanding rapidly and more organizations are opening new or acquiring existing radios.
To promote the growth of radio in Kenya, The Communications Authority (CA) has significantly simplified the process of registering radios stations. For example, community radio requires 1000 registration fee and initial license of Sh5000 while public (non-commercial) needs Sh2500 registration and initial fee of Sh5000. These rules encourage growth in radio for vulnerable and minority groups as they emphasize the importance of preserving indigenous language and culture.
As we mark the World Radio Day today, it is interesting to acknowledge the tremendous change witnessed in radio the industry by highlighting a few things. The Media Council of Kenya undertook a study on diversity in radio stations in Kenya. The industry is dominated by private commercial stations that broadcast in vernacular, Kiswahili and English. Community radios are making a major contribution.
Major funding for the operation of radios comes from advertising with a few supporting their activities through grants. However, there are serious lapses in observing advertisement rules with many airing adverts including on witchcraft, gambling, while relationships discussion has the highest call-in sessions.
Some of the radio stations have allowed advertisements to dominate including in prime-time and within news bulletins as sponsorships. A number are operating below returns and fully depend on volunteer staff for operations, which highly compromise the quality of content.
However, several [stations] have serious investments with high-quality content, highly professionalism and play in the league of international broadcasters including Capital FM, radio Maisha, Citizen radio, Mulembe FM, radio Ramogi, Kaya FM, Milele FM, KBC, Classic and radio Jambo, radio Namlolwe among others.
The MCK study concludes that the availability of radio programming in Kenya has been dramatically enhanced by the opening up of the sector, which has opened up more diverse programming options available, especially for audiences in rural areas and small towns with only a few over-the-air signals available.
This radio programming diversity does come, in part, from the availability of digital signals and ease of broadcasting registration processes.